Pop: Mavs playing harder than Spurs

DALLAS -- Whether he really meant it or just used it as a motivational ploy, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich played the “Mavs want it more” card Sunday morning.

With the Spurs down 2-1 in the first-round series against the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, Popovich challenged his team to try harder.

“They got a lot of guys playing well, and they’re playing hard,” Popovich said. “They’re playing like it’s really important to them. And I think we need a few more people doing that.

“I don’t think the guys are disrespecting Dallas because we beat them in the season four times. They know it’s the playoffs. But at the same time, I’d like to see a little bit more nastiness, a little bit more physicality, a little bit more fire from people.”

Has effort been the difference in this series so far? Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t buy it.

Nowitzki said he actually thought the Mavs stole Game 3 despite being outplayed by the Spurs. He thought both teams battled, recalling several hustle plays made by the Spurs, and pointed out that a team that scores a go-ahead bucket with less than two ticks on the clock tends to almost always win.

“Ah, I think the Spurs always play hard,” Nowitzki said. “Pop is such a hard coach on them. If they don’t compete, you know what’s going to happen in the film session the next day, so I think they always compete hard.”

Sounds like the Spurs had one of those film sessions Sunday morning, when they studied a lot of the things they did wrong to allow the Mavs the opportunity to win on Vince Carter’s miraculous, pump-fake-and-fadeaway 3 from deep in the left corner at the buzzer.

“Everybody’s a little pissed off, and that’s good,” Spurs star Tim Duncan said. “We’ll come out tomorrow and we’ll be ready to go.”

The Mavs, who have plenty of defensive execution mistakes to clean up after Game 3, are stressing the importance of keeping their edge and disposition.

Nowitzki made a point to call the Spurs “still the heavy favorite” after the euphoria of Carter’s buzzer-beater died down a bit. The Mavs have seized home-court advantage in there series, but that will be gone when they board the team jet if they let their guard down for Monday’s Game 4 at the American Airlines Center.

“We definitely don’t want to get comfortable now,” Nowitzki said. “Yeah, it was a big game, but if we lose tomorrow, we’re tied going to their place with two home games for them. We want to keep the same mentality we’ve had this whole time. Play hard.”

Pop’s challenge to the Spurs: Match the underdog Mavs’ intensity.