While San Antonio Spurs steamrolled toward their fourth 60-win season in 11 years, coach Gregg Popovich was asked if there is a secret formula for the franchise's almost unfathomable run of excellence.
"Yes there is," said Popovich, in typical deadpan fashion. "Get the No. 1 pick in the draft every 10 years and make sure that it's a franchise player. That's the formula. That's how lucky you have to be. You've got David (Robinson) for a decade and then Timmy (Duncan) comes. Well, I think most anybody could build around that."
Of course, Popovich is oversimplifying. What the Spurs have created is a program unlike any other in the league, one built on the willingness of three stars to take less money, band together and establish a culture and a pecking order under their no-nonsense coach.
"Everybody knows their secrets," Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. "It doesn't do you any good, though."
The Spurs finished with an NBA-best 62-20 record, wiping out last season's heart-breaking loss in the NBA Finals in emphatic fashion. Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are back for another run, and standing in their way is another one of the league's most enduring forces.
In his 16th season, Dirk Nowitzki has enjoyed a renaissance, averaging 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and shooting 49.7 percent from the field to lead the Dallas Mavericks back to the playoffs. That patented one-legged step-back jumper is as dangerous as ever. He's battled Duncan for 16 years now, and one more matchup should be a thriller.
"This is a treat for people that appreciate NBA basketball and the history of the game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "And you've got two guys whose love and respect for the game is so high and their work ethic and standards are so high. They've kept it going in their mid-30s as well as anybody I've ever seen."
Here are five things to watch in the series, which begins on Sunday in San Antonio:
COACHING CLASH: The series features a matchup of two of the best coaches in the league in Popovich and Carlisle. The moves and counters from the opening tip of Game 1 will be fascinating to watch, and the postgame interviews of two men completely comfortable in their own skin should be almost as entertaining.
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