DALLAS, Texas (AP) – Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks are coming home after showing they won’t go quietly in a first-round series with top-seeded San Antonio.
Part of the big German wants to stay in South Texas after the Mavericks squandered a strong game in the playoff opener by going cold late before dominating most of the way in Game 2 and squaring the best-of-seven series.
Dallas had the worst home record among the eight playoff qualifiers in the Western Conference, including a late-season loss to the Spurs.
The eighth-seeded Mavericks have been weak enough in their building that Nowitzki even said it was “a little dangerous” going back for Game 3 on Saturday after playing so well in San Antonio.
“I think we’ve been a decent road team all year but at home we haven’t figured it out yet,” said Nowitzki, who had a steady 16-point effort in Game 2 after missing several key shots late in the opener. “I’m a little worried going home. I’d rather play Game 3 here, I guess. We need to figure out at home we can’t relax. That’s the main thing.”
The Mavericks didn’t clinch the playoffs until their home finale against Phoenix, and even that was dicey. Dallas trailed by 13 points in the second half before rallying.
Part of the reason it took the Mavericks so long to get in was a 4-4 record on the longest homestand in franchise history. A stretch that ended on April 1 was a chance to build a cushion over others pursuing the playoffs. Instead, Dallas alternated wins and losses and ended up 26-15 at home and 23-18 on the road.
“Play like we’re down,” Monta Ellis said of what needs to happen at home. “We can’t lay an egg.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knows this much: The Mavericks aren’t celebrating after grabbing the home-court advantage.
“You win a game, you don’t get too excited and you lose a game, you don’t too depressed,” Popovich said. “They’re not going to sit back and say, `We won this. This is great.’ They’re going to go back to work again just like we are.”
Manu Ginobili led San Antonio with 27 points in Game 2, but Tony Parker (12 points) and Tim Duncan (11) saw significant drop-offs from the opener. And the strong supporting cast that helped build an NBA-best 62-20 record during the regular season was mostly shut down.
Still, the Spurs said the loss — and fixing the problem — simply came down to turnovers. They had a season-high 24.
“Maybe one of our worst games of the year,” said Parker, who committed three turnovers while Ginobili had six. “We just have to play better. That’s it.”
Before winning Game 2, the Mavericks had lost 10 straight to the Spurs going back more than two years. Dallas also won a playoff game for the first time since beating Miami for the title in Game 6 in 2011.
The Mavericks missed the playoffs last season, then missed out on Dwight Howard in free agency last summer. The three biggest answers to the Howard snub — free agent guards Ellis, Jose Calderon and Devin Harris — played big roles in beating the Spurs.
Besides leading Dallas with 21 points, Ellis had a defensive hand in a tough night for San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard. Calderon awoke from a shooting slump to score all 12 of his points in the third quarter, when Dallas took control. Harris had 18 points and is Dallas’ leading scorer in the playoffs.
“We had a lot of doubters in the beginning of the season,” Ellis said. “Me and my teammates, we hung together, coaching staff and everybody. We put ourselves in a great position.”
If the Mavericks want to stay there, they have to win at home.
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