Late free throws by Finley, Duncan mark Spurs' 7th straight win

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Against a team that has a new look and new marquee player, the San Antonio Spurs kept up their winning ways Thursday by sticking to basics -- namely, their own franchise player.

Tim Duncan, called the "backbone" of the team by coach Gregg Popovich, led the Spurs with 31 points and 15 rebounds in a 97-94 victory over the made-over Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night.

"Offense, the ball goes through him. On defense, he's our defender, our rebounder," Popovich said. "Everybody rotates off him. He's just really special. We don't get anything done without him."

It was the Spurs' seventh straight win and put them a game ahead of New Orleans in a tight Southwest Division, where Dallas is third and only 2 1/2 games separates San Antonio from fourth-place Houston.

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Mavericks and dropped them to 3-2 since acquiring guard Jason Kidd from New Jersey.

"I thought we had some good looks, maybe a foul here or there," said Kidd, who had 10 assists and seven points. "But at the end of the game we had our chances."

Manu Ginobili added 17 points for San Antonio and Michael Finley had 16.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 28 points for the Mavericks. Josh Howard and reserve Brandon Bass each added 16.

"Every time we come down here it's a highly contested game," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "It's a big-time rivalry. Hopefully next time when we play ... we can finish with one more point."

The Mavericks will get their chance next month, when they host the Spurs.

"This game didn't mean much, we'll see them again," Dallas guard Jason Terry said. "We're still a work in progress."

The Spurs were up by one, 73-72, heading into the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 94, Erick Dampier fouled Duncan, who sank both shots from the line to put San Antonio up 96-94 with 34.5 seconds to go.

Nowitzki missed two shots with less than 30 seconds on the clock, and Terry's shot was blocked by Bruce Bowen with 3.9 seconds left. The Spurs got the ball back with 3.3 seconds to go, and Dampier fouled Finley with 0.4 left. Finley hit the first of two from the line.

"The effort was huge for both sides," Ginobili said. "When you play a game like this, you know the effort is going to be there."

Kidd came out for the last 30 seconds, but said he supported the decision.

"They've been together down the stretch," Kidd said. "I understand what play they're looking for, so I'm over here cheering for my guys to knock down a 2 or a 3."

The game was tied four times in the fourth quarter as the teams traded baskets and neither took a lead of more than five points in the period.

Bowen added 14 points for the Spurs and Tony Parker had 10.

After coming out of halftime tied at 47 and staying close more than 5 minutes into the third quarter, each team took turns holding the momentum.

The Mavericks went up by 10 after a 16-4 run that included a 3 from a pumped Nowitzki off a feed from Kidd and ended with a goaltending call against Robert Horry that gave Terry a basket and put Dallas up 67-57 with 3:44 to play.

But the Spurs answered with a 13-1 burst, including two free throws thanks to technicals called on Terry and Johnson in an increasingly testy atmosphere. Finley scored nine points in the surge that gave San Antonio a 70-68 lead with 1:20 to go.

Ime Udoka's last-second corner 3 put the Spurs up 73-72 with one period to play.

In the first half, Kidd, who has brought a passing mentality to the Mavericks since his return to the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 1994, accounted for seven of the team's 11 assists.

Game notes
The Spurs lead the season series 2-1. The Mavericks and Spurs meet for the final time on March 23 in Dallas. ... Popovich talked a little presidential politics pregame. Texas' pivotal primary is Tuesday, but Popovich wouldn't say who will get his vote. ... Nowitzki went to the line 21 times and hit 17 while the Spurs went to the line 22 times in the game, sinking 16.