- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DALLAS (AP) - Two games into the playoffs, there’s something interesting about the San Antonio Spurs.

They’re looking more and more like Tony Parker’s team.

While Tim Duncan remains the first player you think of, Parker is becoming a bigger factor in whether the Spurs win or lose. That’s certainly been the case in San Antonio’s first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks.

Parker had his way against the Mavs in the regular season, averaging 31.3 points over four games, but in Game 1 faced a defense determined to slow him. He scored just two baskets in the second half and Dallas won by eight.

The speedy Frenchman was back to his old tricks in Game 2, getting to the rim practically whenever he wanted and mixing in a few jumpers. He scored 19 points in the first quarter, 29 in the first half and finished with 38 as the Spurs rolled to victory.

“He did a good job of staying aggressive and keeping it that way, not drifting or taking anything for granted,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “He was very focused the whole game.”

The Mavericks knew Parker was going to come right at them in Game 2, but they still couldn’t slow him. Jason Terry got so frustrated that he drew a flagrant foul trying to stop Parker _ even though the point guard was alone on a fast break against three defenders.

“We’re going to have to adjust our game plan and really hone in on him,” Terry said. “He’s the head of the snake, so we got to make somebody else beat us.”

While Terry only implied the line about “cutting off” the head of the snake, Dallas center Erick Dampier pretty much said it.

“Every time he drives the lane, we have to put him on his back,” Dampier told The Dallas Morning News. “The first foul has to tell him he’s in for a long night. My first foul Thursday night is going to put him on his back. I guarantee it.”

Parker must love the attention, especially after so many years of sharing the spotlight with Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The irresistible comparison for the husband of “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria is that he’s gone from part of an ensemble cast to being the lead actor.

Parker scored a career-high 22 points per game this season, a jump of more than 3 ppg. Yet he also managed to hand out a career-high 6.9 assists per game.

The Spurs needed more from Parker because Ginobili was limited by injuries (he’s out for the playoffs) and Duncan’s minutes are always shaved in the regular season to try maximizing him during the playoffs. Solid as ever, he’s averaging exactly 20 points and 10 rebounds thus far against the Mavericks.

Yet even if everyone was healthy, Parker might be stepping forward anyway.

A teenager when he began carrying out Popovich’s orders, Parker is now a month shy of turning 27 _ and also a three-time NBA champion who will be playing his 120th career playoff game when the series shifts to Dallas on Thursday night.

To put that figure in perspective, consider that Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd will be playing his 108th career playoff game. Isiah Thomas played 111, while David Robinson and Charles Barkley played 123, a figure Parker could surpass this postseason.

That is, if Parker and the Spurs can get past Dallas.

The Mavericks can still win this series by simply protecting their home court. They are 15-1 in Dallas since the All-Star break and have lost there only three times in 2009.

Dirk Nowitzki and Terry sure hope the familiar surroundings improve their aim. Nowitzki is 10-of-29 from the field, missing all six 3-point attempts, and Terry is 10-for-23.

The Spurs deserve much of the credit for harassing them. The Mavs won the opener anyway because of strong efforts by reserves J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass, but they couldn’t do it again in Game 2.

“We have to work to get Dirk and Jet more good looks,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “They’re obviously a priority defensively for (San Antonio). That’s going to be on the coaching staff to do. We’re going to have to do that the next couple of days obviously.”

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