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NBA Preview from The Sports Network

Thursday, November 2nd (All times eastern)

San Antonio Spurs (0-0) at Dallas Mavericks (0-0), 8 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Bitter Southwest Division rivals start their 2006-07 campaign tonight, as the defending Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks welcome the San Antonio Spurs to American Airlines Center.

Dallas enters the new season off of its most successful campaign in franchise history. The Mavericks are now the hunted and will have to be ready for every game, as they are the team to beat in the Western Conference.

The Mavericks reached the 60-win mark for the second time in franchise history during the 2005-06 regular season. Dallas, which finished 60-22, battled with the Spurs all season for first place in the Southwest and the top spot in the West, but was not able to overcome its division rival in the end. The Mavs finished three games behind the Spurs in the standings.

However the playoffs were a different story. The Mavericks swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and then defeated the top-seeded and former defending world champion Spurs in seven games in the conference semis. In the West finals, Dallas knocked out reigning MVP Steve Nash and the second-seeded Phoenix Suns in six games.

Dallas took a big step by advancing to its first-ever NBA Finals. In the championship round, All-Stars Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade led the Miami Heat over the Mavs for the franchise's first title.

All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry give the Mavericks a dangerous triple-threat. Nowitzki led the team in scoring (26.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.0 rpg). The 28-year-old Nowitzki, who signed a contract extension with the team in late September, was stellar during Dallas' playoff run and performed at an MVP level the entire season.

Howard, who received a lucrative, multi-year contract extension less than a week ago, stepped up in his third year in the league, as the Wake Forest product contributed a career-best 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in 59 games. The 26-year-old Howard raised his game to the next level in the postseason

Terry, who signed a lucrative, multi-year deal with the club in the offseason, averaged 17.1 points and a team-best 3.8 assists per game in 80 contests. The 29-year-old Terry will be entering his eighth season in the league and with his new contract is one of the cornerstones of the franchise.

Even with its success, Dallas was still busy during the offseason. The Mavericks made a pair of trades with Indiana. First they dealt swingman Marquis Daniels to the Pacers in exchange for veteran forward Austin Croshere. The second deal brought point guard Anthony Johnson to Dallas for aging guard Darrell Armstrong, Josh Powell and Rawle Marshall.

Johnson, 32, was Indiana's best player in the 2006 playoffs. The 6-3 Johnson, who will be playing for his seventh different franchise, averaged 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists during the Pacers first-round series versus New Jersey, which was won by the Nets in six games. Croshere will fill the void was created by the departure of forward Keith Van Horn.

Swingman Devean George and guard Greg Buckner signed with the Mavericks as free agents. The 6-8 George, who won three championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, can play small forward or shooting guard and adds athleticism to Dallas' bench, while Buckner is known for his defense, which is something that the Mavericks have decided to play under head coach Avery Johnson, who was the 2005-06 NBA Coach of the Year and received a contract extension on October 12th.

Point guard Devin Harris and veteran 6-6 swingman Jerry Stackhouse will continue to be big contributors, while centers Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop will share the duties in the middle.

On the injury front for the Mavericks, George (stomach illness) is doubtful for tonight's contest.

Dallas was an impressive 34-7 as the host last season. The Mavericks are scheduled to visit Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets on Saturday at the Toyota Center.

Expect San Antonio to be very dangerous in this season, as it will be on a mission to get back to the promised land this season.

All-Stars Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are still the big guns for the Spurs. The 6-2 Parker led the club in scoring (18.9 ppg) and assists (5.8 apg), while the 30-year-old Duncan averaged a career-low 18.6 points and a team-best 11.0 rebounds per game.

However, Parker is questionable for tonight's contest. He suffered a sprained ankle Monday during practice.

Manu Ginobili missed 17 games last season because of injuries. The former All- Star contributed 15.1 points, 3.5 boards and 3.6 assists in 65 outings. He is still the spark that ignites the Spurs.

Veterans Brent Barry, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Robert Horry and 24-year- old guard Beno Udrih are expected to play a big part in San Antonio's success, while free agent acquisitions Jackie Butler, Francisco Elson and Jacque Vaughn will hopefully fit in and contribute as well.

Butler and Elson will take over in the middle for Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic. Mohammed, who averaged 6.2 points and 5.2 boards in 80 games last season for San Antonio, signed with the Detroit Pistons, while Nesterovic was traded to Toronto for forwards Matt Bonner and Eric Williams.

The Spurs are set on the bench, as head coach Gregg Popovich returns to call the shots. Popovich has a very impressive resume. He has led the Spurs to three NBA championships during his tenure in San Antonio and was named the 2003 NBA Coach of the Year. The San Antonio general has led the Spurs to the NBA's best regular season record three times (1998-99, 2000-01, 2002-03). Popovich is a proven winner and will once again guide a roster that has a chance to win a title.

San Antonio was a solid 29-12 as the visitor last season. The Spurs will host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday at the AT&T Center.

In 2005-06, the Spurs and Mavericks split four contests during the regular season. San Antonio has lost four of six and five of its last eight at Dallas.

The Spurs have won nine straight season-opening contests, while Dallas has won two in a row.

11/02 10:45:37 ET

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