NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview:  Dallas Mavericks vs.  San Antonio Spurs
Why the Mavericks can win: Dallas has gone 23-7 -- including a 13-game winning streak -- since acquiring Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson from the Washington Wizards on Feb. 13. Butler averaged 15.2 points for the Mavericks and provided another perimeter scorer to take pressure off of Dirk Nowitzki. Haywood shared time at center with Erick Dampier and brought a rebounding and defensive presence, averaging 7.4 rebounds and 2 blocks in 28 games. Both will likely be energized about making a return to the postseason after missing out last season. Butler and Haywood have advanced beyond the first round a combined two times.
Nowitzki has made two trips to the conference finals and made one NBA Finals appearance, but he is surrounded by perhaps his best supporting cast. Jason Kidd has defied the aging process and continues to be surprisingly effective at age 36. Shawn Marion gives the Mavericks a solid perimeter defender who could possibly slow down San Antonio's Manu Ginóbili.
Why the Spurs can win: This is the worst season in the Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era, but the Spurs are a dangerous seventh seed, having gone 20-11 since the all-star break, with wins over Cleveland, Orlando, Denver, Boston, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles. They are also only four games worse than Dallas. Although he doesn't have the same lift or athleticism, Duncan still has the experience that comes from winning four NBA championships. Ginóbili recently got a three-year extension, which he earned through some spectacular play when San Antonio lacked Tony Parker and the emerging George Hill.
Difference maker: Parker, Spurs. A year after receiving all-NBA honors, Parker missed 26 games because of injuries. But despite Parker's down year, the Spurs will need him more than ever, with Hill's availability in question after he sprained his right ankle.
Bottom line: Mavericks in seven.
Sunday: San Antonio at Dallas, 8
Wednesday: San Antonio at Dallas, 9:30
April 23: Dallas at San Antonio, 9:30
April 25: Dallas at San Antonio, 7
April 27*: San Antonio at Dallas, TBD
April 29*: Dallas at San Antonio, TBD
May 1*: San Antonio at Dallas, TBD