Dirk Nowitzki picks Spurs, praises Pop

If Dirk Nowitzki can't play in it, he's darn sure going to watch the Western Conference finals between the Dallas Mavericks' oldest rival and their newest.

The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder tip off on Sunday night. Who's Dirk got?

"I think San Antonio's going to do it, just because they've got one more home game," he said during Tuesday's appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Galloway & Company." "They really came on strong late in the season and they snatched home-court advantage away from OKC. So, I got to think just by that there is a little slight advantage. But honestly, both teams are good enough to win on the opponent's floor, so I would give a slight advantage to San Antonio, but, man, OKC is looking really good."

He should know. The Thunder rode the Mavs out of the first round in four games, handing Nowitzki the wrong side of the broom for the first time in his career.

Nowitzki's had his classic battles with the Spurs, including the amazing Game 7 in the 2006 semifinals that propelled Dallas to its first NBA Finals. It was a Spurs team that still included the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, yet, as Nowitzki pointed out, it is an entirely different style of ball those boys are playing these days, and the reigning NBA Finals MVP says all credit goes to this season's Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich.

"To me, he's the best coach in the league, he's a genius on both ends of the floor," Nowitzki said. "The adjustment that he goes through -- at the beginning they win all their championships with defense, and he saw where the game's going; the game is going to free-flowing and more movement, you need basically four shooters on the floor at all times, and he's the man, he made it all happen.

"With [general manager] R.C. Buford helping him, finding people left and right. I mean, they draft people in the second round that nobody gives them a shot and they turn them into players. They have an amazing franchise and they really do a great job finding people that play well in their system and Pop makes them believe in their system. They're really fun to watch, they're rolling."

Dirk said he's ready to get this series going now, but unfortunately we'll have to wait until the end of the weekend. So, he's got the Spurs getting back to the NBA Finals for the first time in five seasons, but he's looking for the thing to go the distance, strictly from an entertainment standpoint.

"It's going to be spectacular. Hopefully, it's going to be a long series and we can all watch some great basketball," Nowitzki said. "The whole thing is full of great matchups. Just off the bench with Ginobili and [James] Harden going at it, the two point guards, obviously [Russell] Westbrook was phenomenal against us all series, but Parker is having a phenomenal year, probably in the prime of his career and Duncan is still looking really good this year. And now they got another week off to rest everybody.

"So, it's going to be an incredible series to watch."