DALLAS -- There was a time when the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs were the fiercest of rivals, teams separated by four hours on I-35 and always a good bet to meet in the playoffs.
While a Spurs-Mavs game will always fire up the local fan bases, who share no love lost -- times have certainly changed, and mostly in Dallas. The Mavericks are a Western Conference-worst 2-12 and looking much more like a leading lottery team than a playoff contender.
The Spurs, meanwhile, just keep on trucking under coach Gregg Popovich. They will enter Tuesday night's first meeting of the season at American Airlines Center -- the first of four meetings between the teams in 32 days -- still without injured stars Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, yet having managed an 8-5 record.
And what can only be described as bad news for Dallas, which is 1-6 on its home floor, is that the Spurs have ramped things up in recent game. After struggling at both ends in the first few weeks, San Antonio has put together a five-game stretch in which its offensive efficiency has reached 114.8, lagging behind only Golden State and Houston during that stretch.
The Spurs are also likely to get guards Danny Green and Manu Ginobili back in the lineup. Both missed Saturday's blowout win against the Chicago Bulls.
Green was dealing with a hamstring issue, and the 40-year-old Ginobili was held out to rest as San Antonio wrapped up its six-game homestand with a fourth win.
"It started out with that tough match against Golden State, and now we know how difficult they are as a team to play against," Spurs forward Pau Gasol told reporters after Saturday's victory. "(Friday) night (against Milwaukee) is the one we shoulda-coulda gotten and we didn't. But overall, with the rest of the games, we took care of business and now we go on the road."
Dallas will try to prevent suffering a third consecutive loss after a big win last week at Washington that they thought could help them turn the corner. But ugly third quarters against Cleveland and then Oklahoma City sealed their fate in their last two ballgames.
A loss to the Spurs would give the Mavericks the same record they had last season after 15 games, but least last year they had the excuse of Dirk Nowitzki missing 10 of the season's first 13 games.
He has been available for every game so far this season, but the 39-year-old has struggled to find his shooting rhythm and to be a key factor when Dallas can't depend on scoring from its other big offensive producers in Harrison Barnes and rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr.
The Mavs have managed to stay close against good teams, but third-quarter lapses have provided big runs for opponents.
The Cavaliers used a 15-2 run in their 34-point third quarter to make a fourth-quarter rally fall short, and the Thunder scored 39 points in Sunday's third quarter to break the game open.
"I felt like sometimes we just kind of got stagnant," Barnes said of the OKC loss. "We didn't really get much out of our possessions. And when you're going up against a team that can really get out in transition, can go and attack, I thought that was where our breakdowns were."
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