The Dallas Mavericks are coming off a solid trip, but with the position they're in, it needed to be better.
Dallas will try to rebound from its first loss in five games on Friday night when it opens a potentially crucial stretch at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Going for a season-best fifth consecutive victory - and an undefeated four-game stretch outside Dallas - the Mavericks (30-34) lost 92-91 to Western Conference-leading San Antonio on Thursday. Dallas scored the game's final seven points, but Vince Carter's 3-pointer in the final second missed.
The Mavericks, targeting a 13th consecutive playoff appearance, trail the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers by three games in the Western Conference.
"It has been the motto for our year,' Dirk Nowitzki said after scoring 21 points with 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double. "We are right there, we just cannot get over the hump.'
Maybe a stretch of eight of nine at home will help Dallas, which will face a Cavaliers team trying to move on without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. The reigning rookie of the year could be done for the season after suffering a sprained left shoulder in Sunday's 100-96 loss at Toronto.
"I think it gives us a golden opportunity to continue to develop our team concept," coach Byron Scott, whose team defeated Washington 95-90 on Wednesday without Irving, said following Thursday's practice.
With Irving sidelined, rookie guard Dion Waiters should get plenty of opportunities to develop over the final six weeks of the season and prove to Scott that he can carry the Cavaliers (22-42), and close out a game. The No. 4 overall pick scored 12 of his team-best 20 points in the final 7:29 on Wednesday.
"Coach told me to keep attacking,' said Waiters, the league's second-highest scoring rookie with 14.8 points per game. "Either to get to the basket or find an open teammate. That's what I was trying to do.'
The Cavaliers will try to slow down Nowitzki for the first time this season after the big German missed the Mavs' 103-95 victory in Cleveland on Nov. 17 following offseason knee surgery.
"Tristan (Thompson) starting off on him is going to have his hands full," Scott said.
Thompson, though, could also cause headaches for the Dallas frontcourt. The second-year forward is averaging 12.5 points and 11.5 rebounds while posting a career high-tying four consecutive double-doubles.
Thompson had 10 points and 12 boards in the previous matchup with Dallas.
Mavs forward Shawn Marion scored 10 points with 10 rebounds in that game, but he could miss a fifth straight game with a bruised calf. He's scheduled to be examined on Friday.
"We don't have anybody that can replace what Shawn does," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "There just aren't any 6-8 guys that can guard point guards or centers and can do the playmaking or running and all the different things that he can do.
He's been our leading rebounder all year, so it's a loss and it's a hit we've got to take here."
Dallas, though, has won four of five in this series and nine of 11 with the Cavs in town.
Cleveland, 2-9 visiting West opponents, will try to match a season high with back-to-back road wins.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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