Thursday's NBA action kicks off with what was once a clash of Western Conference titans, as the Dallas Mavericks visit the San Antonio Spurs. While the Mavs have slipped to a fringe playoff team, this matchup still has the feel of a rivalry and most likely will until Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki retire.
In the short term, the Spurs head in to Thursday night's game trying to build on their lead in the Western Conference standings and find some consistency while Tony Parker recovers from a sprained ankle. San Antonio is currently 49-16, one game ahead of the Thunder for first place in the West. The Spurs picked up a key victory over the Thunder Monday, but book-ended that victory with a 36-point loss at home to Portland and a 24-point loss at Minnesota (though Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard both sat that game out).
Now, they have a four-game home stand against the Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors, before playing a string of games that includes matchups against the Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and the Thunder. Picking up wins now is critical if the Spurs hope to stay ahead of Oklahoma City in the standings.
Mavs clinging to playoff hopes
Meanwhile, Dallas remains on the outside looking in, but the Mavericks' playoff chances have improved thanks to improved play over the last couple of weeks. Dallas is 30-33, 2½ games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth seed. Depending on the severity of Kobe Bryant's ankle injury and the continued ineptitude of the Jazz, the Mavs are very much in the hunt for the playoffs. An unexpected road win against the Spurs would go a long way toward improving their chances.
Matchup to watch
Tim Duncan vs. Dirk Nowitzki: It never gets old, right? Two of the best power forwards ever in the twilight of their careers. Having sat out against the Timberwolves, Duncan is on two days rest heading in to tonight's game. Duncan averages 18.6 points per game on 53 percent shooting when getting two days rest, according to NBA.com's stats page. He also has an offensive rating of 105.9 and defensive rating of 95.2.
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Odds: San Antonio opened as a 9½-point favorite.