NBA

Spurs face Mavericks; Heat open title defence on TSN2

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The Sports Network
4/20/2014 10:53:28 AM
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For the sixth time since 2001, the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks will square off in the playoffs, starting Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center.

Watch the game live on TSN2 starting at 1pm et/10am pt.

For the 17th consecutive season, the Spurs will be in the postseason.

For the seventh time since 1997, the Spurs finished with the best record in the Western Conference. The Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili returned intact and key contributors did exactly what Spurs' role players do - they played sensationally.

Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and, especially newcomer Marco Belinelli, played brilliantly for stretches this season.

Popovich is a master of resting his players as the season progresses and San Antonio heads to the postseason in good health.

"We had an unbelievable regular season, we put ourselves in a great situation to be No. 1 overall," said Ginobili. "We're going for it, like every year."

If there was ever a season the Spurs could've folded, this would've been the one. Their longevity is stunning, but this season could've very easily been a championship defense until Ray Allen stuck a dagger in the Spurs' hearts.

Miami's Allen made a crazy 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of the NBA Finals, a game the Heat went on to win. Miami took Game 7 to win back-to-back titles, but the inevitability of a San Antonio win in Game 6 was so clear, tape was being put up around the floor in Miami to prepare for San Antonio's celebration.

"What does impress me about the group is that they've gotten themselves in this position after a devastating loss in the Finals last year," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said earlier in the week. "I thought they were pretty amazing after Game 6 to play as hard as they did in Game 7, when I think a lot of teams would have just given in. Beyond that, they came back, put it aside and have done what they've done. I think that's pretty impressive. I don't think a lot of people have picked up on that but I have and I'm really impressed with them."

The Mavericks are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence, meaning Dallas has been in the postseason 13 of the last 14 years. They earned the eighth seed after a gritty overtime loss on Wednesday to the Grizzlies in Memphis.

"Yeah, we'll be OK," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said immediately after the loss in Memphis. "I feel good about our team. I really do. And (Wednesday night) is a great indication of the fight we have in us. We're going to take that fight to San Antonio."

The Spurs have won nine straight against their Texas rivals, including a four- game sweep this season, but that doesn't mean Dallas doesn't know what it takes to beat San Antonio.

"What you've got to do against San Antonio is you've got to be a little smarter than we were in the last couple of outings," said Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. "We feel like one little, two little mistakes and boom, it's a three. A brutal missed boxout, pass out and three. Against that team you've got to be smart, you've got to execute perfectly and we've got to shoot the ball well."

Nowitzki made yet another All-Star team with averages of 21.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg. He shot 90 percent from the foul line, almost 50 percent from the field and just about 40 percent from long range.

Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon joined the Mavs in the offseason and formed a very strong backcourt. They combined to average 30.4 ppg and 10.4 apg.

After the All-Texas match-up, the Miami Heat begin their title defense in earnest on Sunday afternoon when they welcome the Charlotte Bobcats to American Airlines Arena.

Watch the game live on TSN2 starting at 3:30pm et/12:30pm pt.

Miami has won the last two NBA titles and lost in the Finals three years ago to the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat have made the playoffs 10 times in the last 11 years and earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Miami has won four straight Southeast titles and is trying to become the first three-time champion since the Los Angeles Lakers from 1999-00 to 2001-02.

"I don't need extra motivation. I'm motivated enough," said LeBron James. "This is the best part of the season, it's the best time of the year. I'm happy to be here once again."

The Heat had a real chance at the No. 1 seed, but head coach Erik Spoelstra elected to sit James and Chris Bosh the last two games. Dwyane Wade missed significant time toward the end, but he played late to get some timing back.

"We've got to carry the load," said James, who said all Heat players participated in practice for the first time since training camp. "It's great. I guess guys are ready for the playoffs."

The decision to concede the No. 1 seed could hurt later in the postseason, if the Heat advance. Last season, Miami won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers and Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs in South Beach.

The Heat come into the postseason in a bit of a rut. They lost the last three games of the regular season, although, they did rest some key pieces. However, Miami did drop six of its last eight and James and Bosh were in the lineup for most of those setbacks.

Charlotte is in the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history and was swept in four games by the Orlando Magic back in 2009-10.

The Bobcats surprised the NBA world with just the second record of .500 or better in team lore at 43-39, one season after going 21-61 and compiling only 28 wins in the previous two years. What was the difference this season? That would be the offseason addition of Al Jefferson.

Jefferson, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month for April, averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds for the Bobcats, who were 20-9 after the All-Star break and ended with 14 wins in the last 19 games of the regular season. Jefferson was the only player in the Eastern Conference and one of only five players in the NBA averaging at least 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds on the season.

New head coach Steve Clifford infused the team with a defensive mindset. The Bobcats finished fourth in opponents' scoring and sixth in opponents' field- goal percentage.

Charlotte did have some trouble scoring this season. The Bobcats finished 23rd in points, while Miami was 12th. The Heat ranked fifth in opponents' scoring.

The Bobcats won their last three regular-season games and eight of their last nine.

The Heat swept all four games against the Bobcats in the regular season and are undefeated in the past 16 games between the teams. Charlotte has lost nine straight and 12 of its last 13 trips to South Beach.

Duncan drives vs. Nowitzki  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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