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Mills, Spurs hand Mavs a costly loss

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DALLAS — San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills, starting in place of injured Tony Parker, took full advantage of the opportunity Thursday.

Mills scored a game-high 26 points, and the Spurs put a dent in the Dallas Mavericks’ playoff hopes with an impressive 109-100 victory on at the American Airlines Center.

The Spurs outscored the Mavericks 34-21 in the third quarter to reclaim the lead, with Mills contributing 11 in the period. From there, San Antonio closed out the victory.

“Well, he can score. He’s not afraid to shoot it, that’s for sure,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Mills, who made six 3-pointers. “That’s how he plays. He’s always aggressive. That’s what he does. He’s not going to get a whole lot of rebounds or stop a whole lot of people, but he’s going to shoot it. That’s what his skill is.”

The Spurs (61-18) crept closer to clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Their magic number is one — any combination of Spurs wins or Oklahoma City Thunder losses.

The Mavericks (48-32) have two games remaining against the two teams they are battling for the final two playoff spots.

Dallas plays the Phoenix Suns (47-31) at home on Saturday and the finishes the regular season in Memphis against the Grizzlies (46-32) on Wednesday. The Suns play at San Antonio on Friday night.

Dallas’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot remains two — any combination of Mavericks wins and Grizzlies losses. Thursday’s defeat knocked the Mavericks back into the No. 8 spot, which in all likelihood would mean a first-round playoff matchup with the Spurs. Dallas lost all four games to San Antonio this season.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle wasn’t interested in talking about postseason pairings.

“I’m not answering any questions about playoffs until we get there,” Carlisle said. “One of our goals is to get there. When we get there, we will talk about matchups. Right now, we have to win two games.”

Each time the Mavericks seemed to gain some footing Thursday, they got knocked down. They ultimately were knocked out by a massive 28-6 San Antonio run that bridged the third and fourth quarters. The Spurs built their largest lead at 88-72 with 10:11 to go.

The Mavericks made a quick run to cut the deficit to 10, but after a timeout, the Spurs regained a 13-point bulge.

“They move the ball so well, they take up every ounce on the shot clock and make you guard for 24 (seconds),” Mavericks guard Devin Harris said. “They take advantage of your mistakes and make you pay for them.”

San Antonio got significant contributions from ageless forward Tim Duncan, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds, and forward Kawhi Leonard, who scored 16 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and added five assists. Spurs guard Danny Green scored 15 points, center Tiago Splitter finished with 12 points, and guard Manu Ginobili had 10.

Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, who finished with 19 points, did not get much help early and then managed just two points in the fourth quarter when guard Monta Ellis finally heated up. Ellis scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. Mavericks guard Jose Calderon scored 14 points, and forward Shawn Marion had 12.

Mavs guard Vince Carter, who has made more 3-pointers off the bench than any other player in the league, did not attempt one all game against the Spurs’ tight defense. Dallas shot just 5-for-12 from beyond the arc, and San Antonio went 16-for-34.

Green set the early tone, knocking down his first three 3-pointers for nine points in the first quarter.

The Spurs got an early injury scare when Duncan went down in the first quarter grabbing his right knee. He stayed on the floor before getting up and heading straight to the locker room. To the relief of the Spurs, Duncan returned to the game moments later.

“It really wasn’t that bad, it just scared me more than anything,” Duncan said. “When I landed, I kind of twisted my knee, and it just scared me basically when it happened. I just wanted to get off the court make sure everything was all right.”

Dallas used a 16-2 run in the opening five minutes of the second quarter to erase a 30-22 deficit but quickly gave it back with an 11-0 Spurs run.

The Mavericks still managed to take a 51-49 lead into at halftime but were outscored 6-0 to start the third quarter.

NOTES: Spurs G Tony Parker missed his second consecutive game with a sprained facet joint on the left side of his back. Coach Gregg Popovich did not reveal a return date for Parker but indicated he expected the veteran to be fine for the start of the playoffs. G Cory Joseph started in Parker’s place. … Spurs G Manu Ginobili was back in the lineup after leaving Tuesday’s game at Minnesota with a left calf contusion. … Thursday marked Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki’s first home game since surpassing Oscar Robertson for 10th place on the NBA’s career scoring list. During a timeout midway the first quarter, a video montage of his scoring milestones was shown, and Nowitzki received a standing ovation. … The Spurs won each of the teams’ past nine meetings, including all four this season. … Mavericks G Vince Carter, who scored six points, needs 13 more to pass Adrian Dantley (23,177) for 25th on the career scoring list.