The Spurs and Mavericks each won 60 games this season, and finished tied for the best record in the league. San Antonio earned the top seed in the West after posting a better conference record than Dallas, which was seeded third, behind Pacific Division winner Sacramento.
Heading into Game One, the Spurs would seem to have the advantage after disposing the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the conference semifinals. San Antonio ended that series in convincing fashion with a 110-82 rout Thursday night, and was clearly the better team, despite being an underdog in most circles.
San Antonio, which won the NBA championship in 1999, is in the conference finals for the third time in five years.
The Mavericks needed seven games for the second straight series before slipping by the Kings, also the favorite among most analysts. Dallas secured its first trip to the conference finals since 1988 with a 112-99 victory over the Kings on Saturday night.
"We want to go into this series with the same mindset we had the previous two series -- that we can win it," said Dallas guard Michael Finley. "It's going to be a little tougher, being that we don't have home-court advantage, but it's still possible. If we come out and play defense with the same intensity, the series is very winnable for us."
Tim Duncan, who poured in 37 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in Game Six against the Lakers, should provide the Mavericks, who are weak on the interior, all kinds of problems in this series.
Nick Van Exel, coming off a one of the best series in NBA history for a reserve in which he averaged 25.2 points, is one of the keys for Dallas.
If Van Exel gets off the way he did against Sacramento, and given the size of the Spurs' point guards, he should, the Mavericks definitely can stay in games and perhaps steal one at the end.
Meanwhile, in Game One of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday, Jason Kidd hit a fadeaway with 1.4 seconds remaining to lift New Jersey past the Detroit Pistons, 76-74.
The defending conference champion Nets look to take a commanding lead over the top-seeded Pistons when the series resumes Tuesday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
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