Put the Southwest Division race with the San Antonio Spurs on the back burner. Press pause on their pursuit of a franchise record 61 wins. And momentarily disregard Dirk Nowitzki's push for the NBA's Most Valuable Player nod.
Tonight in Detroit, the Dallas Mavericks are after one thing and one thing only--validation. In the NBA you beat the New Orleans Hornets to pad your record. You have to beat the Pistons in Detroit in the spring to pad your reputation. It's kinda like the difference between your mom telling you you're cute and Scarlett Johansson telling you you're cute.
The Mavericks enter tonight's clash at The Palace of Auburn Hills as underdogs with everything to gain. With the league's best record (55-14), a 30-3 home record and a revenge motive after getting walloped by 37 points at the American Airlines Center in November, the Pistons should win this game. Detroit, which played in the NBA Finals the last two seasons, is the healthiest team in league history, starting the same five for the 70th consecutive game tonight. By contrast, the Mavericks are still hurting, going on three weeks without four of their top nine players. Tonight they will start rookie Rawle Marshall, who will return to Fort Worth and the minor leagues once Josh Howard, Devin Harris and Adrian Griffin get healthy.
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But Mavs coach Avery Johnson has instilled an unprecedented toughness in this team that won't allow it to succumb to injuries or excuses. With an upset win, the Mavs (54-16) would go a long way toward getting home-court advantage over the Pistons should they meet in the Finals. More important, they'd go a long way toward finally earning respect. --Richie Whitt