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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks

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The defending champs return to the AT&T Center to raise up banner numero cinco. They'll be short-handed, with Leonard, Mills and Splitter out, and taking on a Mavericks squad that could be ready to contend in the West. No one ever said winning back-to-back titles was easy.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Mavericks @ San Antonio Spurs

AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
October 28, 2014, 7:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: TNT, RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI

Run it back!

Whether you spent your summer intently following an eventful NBA offseason, catching some of the FIBA World Cup from your desk, or doing something, um, not-basketball-related, seeing the familiar faces of your San Antonio Spurs receive their championship rings tonight should get you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside again. Everyone returns from last year's team (plus promising rookie Kyle Anderson), poised to accomplish what many of us know they've yet to do in their history: win back-to-back titles.

If the preseason is any indicator (note: it usually isn't), the team might need a bit of work if they're to begin their Chase for Seis. San Antonio went just 2-5 in its exhibition games, including a loss to Alba Berlin during their European road trip.

What should be more of a concern to start the 2014-15 season is, and you may have heard this before, health. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is, of this writing, expected to be back in the starting lineup (update: he won't be) after missing the whole preseason with pink eye, while Patty Mills continues his recovery from shoulder surgery. Tiago Splitter is also likely to sit with a calf injury. It's nothing new for Pop to deal with, but surely not the conditions he'd want to begin a title defense under.

Those maladies will add to the challenge of playing against a Mavs team that not only pushed the Spurs to the brink in last year's playoffs, but comes back with an upgraded, deeper roster. Chandler Parsons was the splashy move over the summer, but they've also re-integrated Tyson Chandler (bringing Raymond Felton's gun-related suspension in tow), signed Jameer Nelson to replace Jose Calderon, reminded people that Charlie Villanueva is still in the league, and had Richard Jefferson supplant DeJuan Blair -- now in Washington -- as the team's token disgruntled ex-Spur.

And, of course, there's still the ageless Dirk Nowitzki, who supposedly worked on a quicker shot release over the summer, along with Monta Ellis, continuing to enjoy life in Dallas as a slightly more efficient version of his former self. The two will be the team's main offensive options and make for a killer pick-and-pop combination whenever they share the court. The bench also returns Devin Harris and Brandan Wright, two guys who are able to make their mark, even in limited minutes. Veterans Vince Carter and Shawn Marion are now absent on the wings, but in their place are interesting young players like Parsons, Jae Crowder and Al-Farouq Aminu, who can all run the floor and play multiple positions.

The Mavs' near-upset last year was a product of many things: shrewdly switching on every Parker pick-and-roll; solid bench play from guys like Devin Harris; and a bonkers Carter three, to name a few. With more pieces to play with on this roster, head coach Rick Carlisle should find new wrinkles with which to stymie the Spurs offense. Last season's Mavs were mediocre on D -- 22nd out of 30 in Def Rtg -- and Tyson Chandler, even at this stage in his career, will help shore up some of Nowitzki's shortcomings and anchor what should be an improved defense.

Where he won't be able to make an impact is where Dallas remains weak: on the wings. Ellis, Nelson and Parsons are not lockdown defenders, and should provide plenty of sieves for the San Antonio attack to exploit. There will be open lanes and a good amount of looks from three-point-range. If San Antonio is able to convert at their standard rate and avoid turning the ball over too much -- a big issue during the preseason -- points won't be hard to come by.

Whether or not Boris Diaw gets the start tonight, the Frenchman should be matched up with Dirk often in tonight's game, and should look to be aggressive against the 36-year-old. On the other end, he's done as good a job as anyone at containing the big German. There are always some shots that you can simply do nothing about but, as his volume has decreased with time, they're a bit easier to swallow.

This ought to be a close, competitive game between two rivals whose respective titles flanked the somewhat-short-lived Heatles dynasty. The cynic in me says to give Dallas the edge in this one as they look to avenge last year's loss, but I'm going to bank on the Spurs limiting their turnovers and the second unit outscoring their counterparts enough to get the Silver and Black on the right track to start the season.

Matchup to watch: Kawhi Leonard versus Chandler Parsons. The matchup to savor, of course, is anytime future HOF'ers Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki find themselves facing off against one another, but since they'll likely spend most of the time defending someone else, the more exciting one should be the two young wings going at it. If Leonard plays, his impact could really swing things in the Spurs' favor. If not, it's Duncan and Dirk -- by de fault!

@

Dallas Mavericks

San Antonio Spurs

October, 28, 2014

AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas

7:00 PM CDT

TV: TNT

Radio: WOAI 1200AM

Starters

Jameer Nelson

PG

Tony Parker

Monta Ellis

SG

Danny Green

Chandler Parsons

SF

Marco Belinelli

Dirk Nowitzki

PF

Matt Bonner

Tyson Chandler

C

Tim Duncan

For the Mavs' perspective, visit Mavs Moneyball.

Update: I obviously underestimated the virulence of Kawhi's eye infection when initially writing this, and his absence will certainly influence Pop's gameplan tonight, but I'm keeping my prediction the same. GSG.

Game prediction: Spurs by 5.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and you can get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment:

Tel: 210-444-5607 | dfarias@attcenter.com