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Despite Rare Leads, Mavs Tied With Spurs

May 23, 2003

DALLAS (AP) _ Two games into the Western Conference finals, the Dallas Mavericks have been ahead for less than three minutes.

Still, the Mavs returned home for Game 3 on Friday night tied with the San Antonio Spurs at one game apiece.

``I don’t think we’ve played a good game yet,″ Dallas point guard Steve Nash said Thursday. ``We haven’t played really well yet and haven’t found our rhythm. And since we’re tied, in a way, the series really hasn’t started yet.″

With all the fouls and technicals called the first two games, neither had the pace or flow expected from two 60-win teams. The best basketball this series has to offer is likely still to come.

That’s got to be a bit frustrating for the Spurs, considering they’ve led for more than 93 of 96 minutes this series and find themselves in essentially a best-of-five series without the homecourt advantage.

The whistles aren’t the only things slowing the Mavericks. Dallas players and coaches were quick to credit San Antonio on Thursday for playing excellent defense, especially with Tim Duncan and David Robinson providing low-post shotblocking the Mavs haven’t seen this postseason.

``I think both teams are very focused, have very good game plans to stop one another and counter-moves,″ said Dallas’ Nick Van Exel, who has gone cold after practically single-handedly lifting Dallas past Sacramento in the last round. ``That’s what it should be about _ both teams battling and seeing who has the best moves and comes out with the win.″

Van Exel was trying to redirect the focus away from officiating, which at this point isn’t very easy.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he received 750 e-mails concerning the officiating by the time he went to sleep after San Antonio’s 119-106 victory in Game 2 Wednesday night, then had another 500 when he awoke. A common theme: Why does the NBA assign playoff games to referees whose personalities affect the way the game is called?

Joey Crawford was the most-talked about official.

Bolstering his reputation for having a short fuse, Crawford called four technical fouls in the first quarter, ejecting Dallas coach Don Nelson with two quick technicals during a timeout. Nelson walked to the center of the scorer’s table and stared at Crawford.

It happened so quickly and under such tame circumstances that most of the Mavericks didn’t even see what happened. That confusion made them doubt it was a motivational ploy, even though Nelson has been known to try that stunt.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who used to work for Nelson and remains his close friend, saw right through it.

``I know fully what Nellie was doing,″ he said Thursday, refusing to elaborate.

Because players and coaches are not allowed to publicly criticize referees, most tried to steer clear of the subject. So did NBA vice president of operations Stu Jackson, who oversees the referees.

``We’re not commenting on it,″ Jackson said. ``I don’t have a reason why we’re not commenting.″

The Mavericks are hoping that playing in front of a raucous crowd biased in their favor will help sway some close calls from the officials.

Although Nash said, ``it’s why people play for homecourt advantage,″ he also hopes his team can find something else to focus on.

``It’s stupid to even worry about referees,″ he said. ``They have a tough job to do. Let them do it. No matter what’s happening, whether you’re not getting a fair shake on a given night, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not deliberate. Even if it is deliberate, what are you going to do about it?″

San Antonio’s Stephen Jackson said his team has it’s priorities straight.

``Everybody wants to play, so the best bet is to keep your mouth closed and play basketball,″ he said. ``Everything else will handle itself.″

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