The big Texas rivalry that was probably the most consistent in the NBA over the last decade or so is no longer a fair fight, with the San Antonio Spurs not really needing their best player (injured Tony Parker) to beat and sweep their season series with the Dallas Mavericks; not when Tim Duncan plays one of his best games of the season.

The Spurs clinched their 16th consecutive playoff spot with a 92-91 win over the Dallas Mavericks that was filled with them missing easy shots while the Mavs hit long, contested 2’s, but it was defense, and a vintage performance from Tim Duncan, that paved the way to their 50th win of the season, making it their 14th straight (would have been 16 if not for the shortened 1999 season) while the Mavs are likely to miss the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

Tim Duncan didn’t play like a 36 year old. He played like the greatest power forward or big man or whatever you want to call him in the NBA, on both ends of the floor, as a defensive stand by the Spurs stopped the Mavs from getting easy looks on their last two shots, ruining the day for Dirk Nowitzki (21 points) and Vince Carter (10 points), as the two veterans combined for 10-28 from the field.

Duncan? He played 36 minutes and scored 28 points (12-20 from the field), adding 19 rebounds, having his best game in over a month after an injury and the forced rest coming from Gregg Popovich has limited his ability and playing time recently. He ranks 2nd in the NBA with seven 20-point, 15-rebound games this season. Since his rookie season, Duncan leads all players in 20-15 games. Only Dwight Howard (with 9) has more than him in 2012-2013.

It’s finally starting to come back. My shot’s still not there the way I want it to be. I feel great; I feel healthy. The pain in the knee is gone and I’m starting to feel like I can actually play the game.

This wasn’t the best game for the Spurs, who are obviously struggling on offense when it’s Cory Joseph starting for Tony Parker, as Popovich doesn’t want to interfere with his second unit, leaving Gary Neal to come off the bench and Manu Ginobili do a lot of point-guarding himself. His shooting, not for the first time in recent games, was way off, scoring only 7 points on a terrible 2-9 from the field, but he did add 9 assists, quite a few of them with classic-Ginobili flair.

Overall I thought the Mavericks played better than us. I thought they executed better than we did. They were more physical and aggressive. We’re going through a section of time here where we’re not playing the greatest of basketball. Obviously, with Tony out of here, our offense is a little limited with the guys we have in there. But outside of that, we just don’t have a rhythm right now.

It’s easier giving complements out to your rival, even if these are the Dallas Mavericks, when you beat them, winning four times in a single season against the Mavs for the first time since 1998, each one looking tougher than the next.

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