||01-08-2010 01:33 PM
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While the Dallas Mavericks have set the early pace in the Southwest Division, the San Antonio Spurs are starting to catch up.
The rivals will meet for the third time this season Friday night as Spurs host the team with the most road wins in the Western Conference.
Dallas (24-11) started strong to build a lead atop the Southwest, but San Antonio (21-12) has gone 12-3 since a 9-9 start to pull within two games. The teams have split two meetings with the Spurs playing without an injured Tony Parker both times.
Parker is back and coming off consecutive 23-point outings, while Manu Ginobili appears to be flourishing in more of a playmaker role. He averaged 5.3 assists over his last seven games for San Antonio, winner of four of the last five division titles.
"We've got to go out there and do what we do and contain him (Parker) and contain Tim (Duncan) and Ginobili," Mavericks forward Shawn Marion said. "They've got a good team and they've been playing a lot better than they started."
Dallas is concerned about how it will defend Duncan, particularly if center Erick Dampier misses a third straight game with a knee injury. Coach Rick Carlisle is unsure who will draw the assignment if Dampier can't play.
"A big part of our game plan is trying to slow him down in transition and pick-and-rolls and so forth," Carlisle said about Duncan. "Our whole team is going to have to do a good job. Otherwise he's great at getting into the paint, finishing and causing havoc."
This will be the fifth road game out of six for the Mavericks, who are 12-6 away from home. They split a four-game trip before returning home and struggling past Detroit 98-93 on Tuesday.
"It was ugly," Nowitzki said. "It looked like we had a little West Coast hangover. We didn't have any energy. But (Terry) carried us offensively all game long. He kept making shots."
The Spurs are eager to see how they measure up after they had an easier time with Detroit in a 112-92 win Wednesday. San Antonio shot 58.1 percent and had six players score in double figures.
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