(SportsNetwork.com) - For the sixth time since 2001, the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks will square off in the playoffs, starting Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center.
For the 17th consecutive season, the Spurs will be in the postseason.
For the seventh time since 1997, the Spurs finished with the best record in the Western Conference. The Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili returned intact and key contributors did exactly what Spurs' role players do - they played sensationally.
Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and, especially newcomer Marco Belinelli, played brilliantly for stretches this season.
Popovich is a master of resting his players as the season progresses and San Antonio heads to the postseason in good health.
"We had an unbelievable regular season, we put ourselves in a great situation to be No. 1 overall," said Ginobili. "We're going for it, like every year."
If there was ever a season the Spurs could've folded, this would've been the one. Their longevity is stunning, but this season could've very easily been a championship defense until Ray Allen stuck a dagger in the Spurs' hearts.
Miami's Allen made a crazy 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of the NBA Finals, a game the Heat went on to win. Miami took Game 7 to win back-to-back titles, but the inevitability of a San Antonio win in Game 6 was so clear, tape was being put up around the floor in Miami to prepare for San Antonio's celebration.
"What does impress me about the group is that they've gotten themselves in this position after a devastating loss in the Finals last year," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said earlier in the week. "I thought they were pretty amazing after Game 6 to play as hard as they did in Game 7, when I think a lot of teams would have just given in. Beyond that, they came back, put it aside and have done what they've done. I think that's pretty impressive. I don't think a lot of people have picked up on that but I have and I'm really impressed with them."
The Mavericks are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence, meaning Dallas has been in the postseason 13 of the last 14 years. They earned the eighth seed after a gritty overtime loss on Wednesday to the Grizzlies in Memphis.
"Yeah, we'll be OK," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said immediately after the loss in Memphis. "I feel good about our team. I really do. And (Wednesday night) is a great indication of the fight we have in us. We're going to take that fight to San Antonio."
The Spurs have won nine straight against their Texas rivals, including a four- game sweep this season, but that doesn't mean Dallas doesn't know what it takes to beat San Antonio.
"What you've got to do against San Antonio is you've got to be a little smarter than we were in the last couple of outings," said Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. "We feel like one little, two little mistakes and boom, it's a three. A brutal missed boxout, pass out and three. Against that team you've got to be smart, you've got to execute perfectly and we've got to shoot the ball well."
Nowitzki made yet another All-Star team with averages of 21.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg. He shot 90 percent from the foul line, almost 50 percent from the field and just about 40 percent from long range.
Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon joined the Mavs in the offseason and formed a very strong backcourt. They combined to average 30.4 ppg and 10.4 apg.