SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Everything is on track for the San Antonio Spurs. They're staying healthy and coasting toward the home-court advantage they prize in the playoffs.
The Dallas Mavericks, meanwhile, are still banged-up and sliding.
Tony Parker scored 18 points, DeJuan Blair had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and the Spurs won their fifth in a row while handing the reeling Mavericks their fourth straight loss, 101-89 on Friday night.
Dirk Nowitzki missed his ninth straight game because of an ailing right knee and the once-mighty Mavs lost for the seventh time since the All-Star forward went out. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said after the game Nowitzki could be back as early as Saturday against Memphis.
``They didn't have Dirk and we took advantage of it, but it doesn't mean nothing because they're not the same team without him,' Parker said.
The Spurs (34-6) beat Dallas for a second time with Nowitzki sidelined. The injury has prevented a full-strength showdown between the NBA-best Spurs and Mavs, who have slipped seven games behind their Texas rivals in the Southwest Division.
Shawn Marion had 14 points as Dallas matched its worst loss of the season. This one could've easily taken the top spot before the Mavs' bench shaved down a 24-point deficit with both sides sitting most of their starters in the fourth.
``We're taking our hits right now and it's no fun,' Carlisle said. ``I'm a believer. I like all these guys.'
Nowitzki didn't speak to reporters after the game, but he told ESPN during the broadcast he hopes to return as early as Saturday. Carlisle also said it's a possibility.
``Then again, maybe not,' the coach said. ``We can't mess with that.'
Nowitzki's return can't happen soon enough for Dallas. The Mavs trailed the Spurs by only 3 1/2 games when they last met Dec. 30, three days after Nowitzki sprained his knee in a win at Oklahoma City.
That deficit has doubled since, a tailspin that was accelerated when Caron Butler sustained what was likely a season-ending injury on New Year's Day.
Even before Friday's game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich mentioned how the Mavericks might have been the NBA's best team before losing their two biggest stars.
``If you're going to pick somebody, I still think the Lakers are the best team, once it's all said and done,' Popovich said. ``Before Dirk got hurt, I thought they were real close to them.'
For all the talk of San Antonio's quicker offensive tempo this season, the plainspoken Popovich boils having the NBA's best record down to staying healthy. The Spurs have avoided injuries to their Big Three for the first time in three seasons.
The payoff has been the league's top record and a clear path to home-court advantage - an edge they were reminded of last season while stumbling to the No. 7 seed.
``We want to have that top seed, that home-court advantage, all that stuff,' said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds. ``Every advantage you get, you want to take.'
Manu Ginobili had 11 points on an off night, going just 4 of 11 from the field.
Tyson Chandler had eight points in 16 minutes for Dallas despite skipping shootaround because he was feeling ill. Jose Barea and Dominique Jones scored 13 apiece and were the only other Mavs in double figures.
``I think if you lose two star players off any team, they're going to go through the stretch we're going through,' Chandler said. ``This isn't anything anybody else in the league wouldn't go through.'
During an interview from the bench with ESPN, Nowitzki said his knee was feeling much better and he hopes to return before the Mavs end this four-game road swing.
That means the NBA's seventh-leading scorer could return Saturday at Memphis or Monday at Detroit. That would give Nowitzki at least one game to shake off the rust before the Mavs return home to face the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
Nowitzki sprained his knee in the second quarter of a 103-93 victory at Oklahoma City on Dec. 27. He came up limping after falling awkwardly when he was fouled.
Jason Terry scored nine points on 3-of-14 shooting for Dallas.
Notes: Terry, often a villain in the eyes of Spurs fans, body-checked Ginobili in the second quarter. It drew a technical foul and angered Popovich. ... Spurs F Matt Bonner didn't play in the second half after aggravating his sore right knee.
The Associated Press News Service
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