Mavs, Spurs back at it for opener

DALLAS (AP) – The Dallas Mavericks are letting the San Antonio Spurs off easy in the season opener Thursday night.

Rather than raising the banner proclaiming themselves “2006 Western Conference Champions” in front of the state rival they beat along the way, the Mavs are saving the ceremony for their second home game.

That’s right, Mark Cuban is skipping a chance to rub it in.

“Because opening night is its own celebration, we wanted to do the banner raising separately,” Cuban wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. “In addition, winning a conference championship is not our ultimate goal. So the banner raising was more as a thank you to the fans than anything else.”

Cuban might have done it _ if he thought it would bother the Spurs.

“I love to stir things up,” he added. “But this is at our place, not theirs. Raising the banner doesn’t stir things up in front of our fans.”

Artificial gestures aren’t needed to stoke a matchup between the teams that had the two best records in the West last season and are among the favorites to win it all this season.

The Spurs and Mavs played one of the best playoff series in years, and possibly the best ever in the second round, with Dallas pulling it out in overtime of Game 7 in San Antonio. The Spurs seemed to have it won until Manu Ginobili shocked everyone by fouling Dirk Nowitzki on a drive to the basket, letting the big German sink the tying free throw at the end of the fourth quarter.

The subplots were as terrific as the games. There were built-in story lines like Mavs coach Avery Johnson’s close ties to the Spurs and longtime Dallas star Michael Finley now playing for San Antonio. Then there were the ones that developed, from Mavericks guard Jason Terry getting suspended one game for punching Finley to Cuban making fun of San Antonio’s River Walk.

Dallas went on to beat Phoenix to become Western Conference champions for the first time. The Mavericks were halfway to winning it all, then blew a big, late lead in Game 3 and wound up having to watch the Miami Heat celebrate their title in Dallas.

Between Dallas going into the season aiming for two more wins and San Antonio trying to reclaim its spot atop the state, conference and league, it’s obvious why this matchup was picked to highlight the third in the NBA’s series of opening nights.

“I think it’s great,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “To get out there right off the bat will wake us both up for the start of the year.”

Terry was even more enthusiastic.

“I love it, love it,” he said, smiling wide. “Why wait? Let’s get it started. The team that wins this, obviously, is not going to (automatically) win the championship, but for us it does give us a little edge if we can come out on top. It’s definitely what everybody wants to see. It’s a good test for us early.”

It may not be a full evaluation, though. Spurs point guard Tony Parker is battling a sprained ankle and may be a game-time decision.

“I have to convince Pop,” Parker said Wednesday. “If I feel a little bit of pain I’m not going to take any risks. … Hopefully it will be fine and I’ll be ready to go.”

Both teams come into this season with new looks.

Dallas has five new rotation players, leaving Johnson the challenge of figuring out how to divvy up the playing time among Greg Buckner, Anthony Johnson, Devean George, Austin Croshere and rookie Maurice Ager.

“We know we’ve got to go through a process through the course of the season,” Mavs sixth man Jerry Stackhouse said. “We’re not going to be where we want to be the first 20 games or the first 40 games, but hopefully by the end of the first 60 games, we’ll be where we want to be going into the playoffs.”

San Antonio has two new centers after giving up on Rasho Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed during the playoffs. Francisco Elson likely will join the starting lineup, with Fabricio Oberto getting more minutes.

For what it’s worth, the folks behind the NBA Live 07 video game ran a simulation of this entire season and had San Antonio finishing with the best regular season record (65-17), only to lose to Dallas in a seven-game Western Conference finals.

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