Mavs must improve to rekindle Spurs rivalry

DALLAS -- For years, the close proximity near the top of the Western Conference standings and on the map made the rivalry between the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks one of the most intense in the NBA.

The teams are still separated by less than 300 miles of Texas highway. The Mavs, however, have fallen off the map as far as being legitimate contenders, while the Spurs keep on keeping on.

As a result, the flames of this rivalry don’t burn nearly as bright as they did for more than a decade.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban half-kiddingly takes credit for the cleaner version of the River Walk that flows through downtown San Antonio these days. (He’s always been a villain in the Alamo City for his classic trash-talking take on the dirtiness of the tourist attraction during one of several Mavs-Spurs playoff series.) But it’s the Mavs who have much work to do if the rivalry is going to be restored.

That’s a truth that Cuban, one of the few faces left in Dallas from the rivalry's glory days, can’t deny.

“But it doesn’t mean we don’t want to beat them up and beat them just as badly,” Cuban said.

The Mavs just haven’t satisfied that desire in quite some time. The Spurs’ 116-107 win Thursday night in front of a sellout crowd sprinkled with a lot of black and silver was San Antonio’s sixth straight victory over Dallas.

The Spurs (23-7) are well on their way to the franchise’s NBA-record 15th consecutive 50-win season. Fresh off their fifth finals appearance during the Tim Duncan era, San Antonio is likely to be in the mix for the West’s top seeds again.

That means the Spurs might face the Mavs (16-13) in the playoffs if Dallas, fresh off its dozen-year playoff streak ending and two years removed from its 50-win streak being snapped at 11 seasons, can fight its way into one of the West’s final seeds. That would be the sixth playoff meeting between the teams during the careers of Dirk Nowitzki and Duncan, two of the premier power forwards of all time, and a step toward rekindling the rivalry.

“Obviously, after the championship, we had two rough years,” said Nowitzki, whose and-1 drive in Game 7 to force overtime in San Antonio during Dallas’ march to the 2006 Finals is one of the most memorable moments in Mavs’ history. “That already by itself is not the rivalry that it used to be, where both teams won 50 games plus every year.

“We’d love to go back there. We feel like we had a better team the last two years. It’s tough. We’re letting some games slip away here and there. It’s going to hurt our playoff chances, but I still think we have more than enough to make the push at the playoffs.”

The Spurs, on the other hand, have a roster that’s been proven through many playoff battles. While the Mavs stripped down their aging roster after the 2011 title run, the Spurs’ core of 17-year veteran Duncan, 13-year veteran Tony Parker and 12-year veteran Manu Ginobili keeps rolling, complemented by a supporting cast headlined by blossoming, do-it-all star Kawhi Leonard.

That continuity was apparent down the stretch Thursday night, as the Spurs pulled away after Dallas sliced a 15-point deficit to three. The Mavs, a defensively flawed team, simply couldn’t get the stops necessary to beat an elite outfit.

Right now, the Mavs-Spurs rivalry resides only in memories of fan bases that got to witness historically great runs for each franchise. The Spurs’ run hasn’t stopped. The Mavs are working to get another started.