Spurs one game away from conference finals
Updated: Friday May 11, 2001 3:06 AM
DALLAS (AP) -- The San Antonio Spurs are once again peaking in the playoffs.
One year after an injury to Tim Duncan prevented San Antonio from properly defending its title, the Spurs are on the brink of returning to the conference finals. They can wrap up a second-round sweep of the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
"We're a good team right now and playing good defense, like our championship year," forward David Robinson said. "But it's still real early."
Through three lopsided games, San Antonio has played up to the standard it set by having the NBA's best regular-season record while exploiting the inexperience of a Dallas team coming off its first playoff series win in 13 years.
The Spurs have yet to face any serious pressure in the fourth quarter -- and not much in the third, either. San Antonio won the opener by 16 points and both of the last two by 14. They led Game 3 by 28 points early in the final period before settling for a 104-90 victory Wednesday night.
That rout was pivotal because it came at Reunion Arena. Dallas won its two home games in the first round, which gave it the confidence needed to go to Utah and win the deciding fifth game.
"They're a young team and young teams keep coming at you, but we've done a good job of setting the tone of the series," Robinson said. "We're not worried about sweeping. We're just interested in winning the series."
The Mavericks got this far on the strength of their outside game. They often set up jumpers by driving to the basket and dishing to an open man.
But Duncan and Robinson have shut that off, and Dallas hasn't adjusted. The Mavericks had their second 11-point quarter of the series in Game 3 and shot just 34.7 percent, marginally better than the 34.2 percent they shot in Game 2.
Dallas coach Don Nelson already had planned to give players Thursday off. Even young legs get tired, and the pressure of postseason basketball has really worn on the playoff novices.
"I think the day off will help us and get us a little more hungry," said team leader Michael Finley, 5-for-21 in Game 3. "It seems like we've been playing basketball every other day now for a long time."
At this point, the only thing San Antonio needs to worry about is driving the lane on Juwan Howard. The Dallas forward has two flagrant fouls for slamming airborne Spurs players who was attempting a dunk.
Rose walked away from his crash landing, which came with just 84 seconds left in San Antonio's blowout win. Howard wasn't ejected this time.
Reputations are often made in the playoffs, and Howard is close to picking up a bad one, despite quick apologies to the players he's drilled.
"It always happens to me, unfortunately," said Howard, who was reaching down to help Rose before he even hit the ground. "We got the Spurs thinking I do this on purpose. He's trying to dunk on me, our arms got tangled and we collided."
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich called the foul "totally unnecessary."
"We're tired of hearing 'I didn't mean it,' " Popovich said.
Rose received treatment Thursday for a sore right wrist, but is expected to play in Game 4. A bigger concern for San Antonio is Antonio Daniels, Anderson's replacement, who left Game 3 in the fourth quarter with a sore right hamstring.
He also was worked on by trainers Thursday and will get more treatment Friday. He's listed as questionable for Saturday.
If the Spurs win Game 4, they will be on exactly the same path as their 1998-99 squad: Beat Minnesota in four games in the first round, then sweep the second round. That team also swept the conference finals and dropped just one game in the finals.
San Antonio's chances of repeating were ruined because of a knee injury to Duncan. Now he's healthy, and so are the Spurs' title dreams.
As for Dallas, no team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit in a seven-game series. The Mavericks have reason to dream, though, as their first-round comeback against the Jazz made them the sixth team to win a five-game series after losing the first two.
"It's not over," Howard said. "Call it a miracle or whatever, we still have confidence. Hopefully we can win on Saturday. That will give us a shot in the arm and a boost of energy."