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Mavericks set to renew I-35 rivalry against Spurs in Southwest showdown

Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks get a look at the division rival San Antonio Spurs for the first time in the 2020-21 season on Friday night.
Credit: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle watches play against the Minnesota Timberwolves during an NBA preseason basketball game in Dallas, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

In one of the most unpredictable years of NBA basketball to date, there’s a soothing feeling from seeing an old rival kick up a little nostalgia. 

For the 221st time and 185th time in an NBA regular season, the Dallas Mavericks will square off versus the San Antonio Spurs (Friday, 7:30 pm CT. AT&T Center) in a rivalry that divides the state’s basketball fandom.

The Spurs, like all great things in Texas, were born in Dallas. Charter members of the American Basketball Association in 1967, the Dallas Chaparrals became the Spurs in 1973 and joined the NBA in 1976. 

The Mavericks joined the league soon after in 1980, and for the last 41 years, the teams have traded punches as interstate cousins and left joyful and painful memories for both cities alike.

With both teams in the middle of new eras as their franchise stalwarts from the previous decade have moved on to retirement, the Mavs arrive in the Alamo City facing a Spurs iteration that is statistically average.

The Spurs are currently 17th in the league in points per game (110.3) and 15th in the league in points against (110.5). 

The scoring punch has come from pending free agent Demar Derozan (20.2 ppg) and fourth-year player Dejounte Murray (15.8 ppg). These two have seemingly become the face of a new generation of Spurs basketball along with 22 year-old Lonnie Walker and 21 year-old Keldon Johnson, who have seen their minutes increase as the Spurs commit to youth.

Dallas, meanwhile, is still missing rotation fixtures Maxi Kleber, Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Dwight Powell to the league COVID-19 protocol. 

A shorthanded Mavericks squad will be looking to build on their 124-112 win over Indiana from Wednesday as they begin their tour of the Texas Triangle, with the Houston Rockets looming Saturday on the second leg of the back-to-back.

The Mavericks will surely have it in the plans to keep feeding Kristaps Porziņģis, who led Dallas with 27 points off stellar 80% shooting in the win over the Pacers. 

The Spurs’ transition defense has been shaky this season, and perennial triple-double machine Luka Dončić’s elite court vision is likely to pick it apart on Friday night. 

The 21 year-old enters the game tenth in the NBA in scoring (26.1 ppg.) and is averaging nearly a triple-double per game with 10.1 rebounds and 9.5 assists. 

The inside matchup of the recently returned Porziņģis against 35 year-old LaMarcus Aldridge particularly bodes well for Dallas. Aldridge has begun to show his age defensively against athletic bigs this season, making for an exploitable area to attack for the Mavericks and coach Rick Carlisle. 

Aldridge’s offense, which saw a staggering uptick as a surprising three-point threat in 2019-2020, has plummeted from 39% to 25% from three-point range this year, with his lowest scoring totals (13.5 points per game) since his rookie year coming out of the University of Texas at Austin. 

The Spurs outside shooting has been poor across the board so far, with bench player Patty Mills as their lone threat over 40 percent. 

While the Spurs' chances may not look good on paper against the Mavs’ bevy of offensive weapons, San Antonio still possesses arguably the best coach in the league in Gregg Popovich. 

As the Spurs rely more and more on their younger players, the architect drawing up the plans has remained the same. 

Popovich – now the elder statesman for active coaches – has been leading San Antonio as head coach since the 1996–1997 season, and the 71-year old is the league’s current active leader in wins. 

Popovich has racked up 1285 wins in his career to date, and is 50 wins shy of former Maverick coach Don Nelson’s NBA record of 1335. 

On the opposite side of the court, Carlisle is 3rd among active coaches with 801 wins, and will look to deny Popovich another victory on his ledger as the two great basketball minds go toe-to-toe once again.

Do you think the Mavericks will come away with a win against the Spurs in their first matchup of the season? Share your predictions with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.