Spurs edge past Mavs

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SAN ANTONIO – Having weary legs against a rested and familiar opponent is no way to open a playoff series. Good thing the San Antonio Spurs also had Tim Duncan – and Bruce Bowen to harrass Dirk Nowitzki.

Duncan scored 20 of his 31 points in the first half to boost his worn-out teammates and Bowen topped his stifling defense on Nowitzki by hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with 2:15 left, carrying the Spurs past the Dallas Mavericks 87-85 Sunday in the opening game of their second-round series.

The Spurs were playing just 36 hours after closing out their first-round series in Sacramento, while the Mavs had been off since Monday. But at game’s end, when the difference should’ve benefited Dallas the most, it was San Antonio that persevered.

A tight game turned even tighter down the stretch, with neither team able to do much right. They traded misses, turnovers and fouls. Dallas tied it at 84 on a free throw by Josh Howard, but didn’t score again over the last 3:28.

When Bowen drilled his go-ahead 3, there was still plenty of time left – but neither team made another field goal. The Mavericks’ final possession was ruined by Bowen forcing Nowitzki to pass it to Jerry Stackhouse in the left corner. Tight defense by Manu Ginobili, who nearly stole the pass, resulted in Stackhouse stepping back for a 3-point try that came up way short.

Pistons 113, Cavaliers 86

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Detroit Pistons had LeBron James seeing triple – as in 3-pointers and three defenders.

The Pistons made 10 shots from beyond the arc in the first half -one shy of an NBA playoff record – to open up a 21-point lead at halftime before cruising to a 113-86 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday in Game 1 of their second-round series.

James scored all of his 22 points in the first half, but had to work for each one. Triple-teamed at times, James was forced to take tough shots or defer to teammates who didn’t respond by making shots of their own.

The 21-year-old star didn’t play in the fourth quarter after he was held scoreless in the third and the Pistons led 94-64.

Tayshaun Prince made James work on defense, too, scoring 16 of his 24 points in the first half.

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Nash wins second straight MVP award

PHOENIX – Steve Nash won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award for the second straight year Sunday, beating runner-up LeBron James by a comfortable margin.

The award was presented Sunday at a news conference at US Airways Center, where Phoenix won Game 7 of its first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.

The Phoenix Suns point guard received 57 first-place votes and 924 points overall from a panel of 125 sports writers and broadcasters in the United States and Canada.

James of Cleveland had 16 first-place votes and 688 points overall. Nash’s close friend Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas was third with 14 first-place ballots and 544 overall.

The 32-year-old Nash is the ninth player to win consecutive MVP awards.

Nash had career highs in scoring (18.8 points), rebounding (4.2), field goal percentage (.512) and free throw percentage (a league-leading .921).

He led the league in assists at 10.5 a game and finished sixth in 3-point percentage at 43.9.

Others who have won consecutive MVP awards are Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.

AP-ES-05-07-06 1351EDT

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