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Game preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks

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Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in the DeAndre Jordan emoji war, and in the ensuing fallout that left Dallas' rotation seemingly bare, was that Rick Carlisle is still a damn good coach.

Aside from Gregg Popovich, the gold standard for NBA coaching, the short list of top tier coaches includes Carlisle in some order.

With an aging Dirk Nowitzki, playing less than 30 minutes a night, a makeshift backcourt (Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Raymond Felton, Devin Harris and J.J. Barea) and without a legitimate rim protector to complement Nowitzki, Dallas has the third best record (9-5) in the Western Conference.

Only the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs are higher than the Mavericks. Rick Carlisle gonna Rick Carlisle.

While there is some serious regression to the mean in order, Carlisle is essentially making lemonade out of watermelons this season. Somehow. It doesn't make sense, but the Mavericks are trudging along with a rotation that doesn't seem to have staying power in the brutal Western Conference.

And, for all we know, 15 games isn't enough to gauge whether this Mavericks resurgence is real or a mirage. There will always be questions with a defense that doesn't have a legitimate rim protector alongside Nowitzki or lockdown perimeter defenders. There will always be doubt about Dallas' offense without Nowitzki playing heavy minutes and shooting at a ridiculous efficiency.

But there will never be a question about Carlisle, who is well on his way to leading his team to another productive season despite less than ideal circumstances.

He's a basketball magician of sorts. Doubts about the Dallas Mavericks are fine and understandable, but know that Carlisle will always find a way to squeeze the most juice out of his team.

So, yeah, I would not be surprised if Dallas still remained in the playoff picture by April. Credit Carlisle and the resurgence from Nowitzki - scoring 22 points per 36 minutes on 53.9 percent shooting, no less - for maintaining relevancy after Jordan left Dallas scrambling to put the pieces back together.

And, tonight, expect no less than a contested game. Carlisle vs. Popovich. Let's buckle up and enjoy the coaching battle.

Matchup to watch: Tim Duncan vs. Dirk Nowitzki.

Duncan and Nowitzki are playing at an All-Star caliber level in reduced minutes. This shouldn't be happening considering the mileage on both of their basketball odometers. We don't have many of these matchups left, so let's cherish it while we have them.