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Parker gets cut, returns to lead Spurs past Mavs

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Parker gets cut, returns to lead Spurs past Mavs

DALLAS (AP) Tony Parker returned from a cut above the same eye he injured in a nightclub incident last summer and scored 23 points to lead the San Antonio Spurs to a 113-107 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.

Parker missed about a quarter in the first half when he took three stitches above his left eye after a collision with Elton Brand on a drive. He nearly lost the eye in June when shards of glass embedded in his cornea after he got caught in a bottle-throwing melee in New York.

Tim Duncan stayed home with a sore right knee, but DeJuan Blair made up for his absence by scoring a season-high 22 points.

Rodrigue Beaubois led the Mavericks with a season-high 19 points.

Dallas cut a 15-point deficit to four in the final minute with mostly reserves on the floor, but Nando De Colo hit two free throws with 2.2 seconds left to end the threat.

Parker's head collided with Brand's arm on a drive early in the first quarter, and no foul was called. Parker stayed down alone under the basket covering his left eye for about 20 seconds during a Dallas possession on the other end. Once play stopped, Parker had to be separated from the referees as he was led to the bench.

When he returned early in the second quarter, Parker hit three straight shots and finished the half with 10 points.

The Spurs took control with a 21-6 run in the third quarter, capped when a pass from driving Dallas point guard Darren Collison went through O.J. Mayo's legs. The turnover led to a San Antonio fast break that ended with Boris Diaw throwing a behind-the-back pass to Tiago Splitter for a layup and a 74-49 San Antonio lead.

The Mavericks was within 10 early in the fourth when Parker hit consecutive layups for a 105-90 lead after a strange sequence that resulted in a technical foul against Dallas coach Rick Carlisle even though officials reversed the call that caused him to complain.

Vince Carter tipped in a miss, but Courtney Kirkland called goaltending. Carlisle argued and was given the technical, and the Spurs still got the free throw even after Carter was awarded the basket when Kirkland consulted with the crew. The Dallas lead was briefly 10 before Gary Neal hit the free throw and Parker drove for the back-to-back layups.

San Antonio played most of the game without Manu Ginobili as well. He didn't play in the second half and finished scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting.

The Spurs still finished with seven players in double figures. Neal had 18.

The Spurs sure didn't miss Duncan in the first half. Blair, who usually gets more playing time when Duncan sits, led everyone with 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the first half.

Blair repeatedly got uncontested shots at the rim off pick-and-rolls and hit a couple of nifty running bank shots, including one when Neal jumped and couldn't find anywhere to throw the ball before sliding a bounce pass to Blair just before coming back down.

Dallas shot just 37 percent in the first half and was led by Beaubois with seven points. Dirk Nowitzki, who debuted a month ago in a 38-point loss at San Antonio after a 27-game absence following right knee surgery, and Mayo got just seven shots before halftime and had six points combined.

Nowitzki finished with 15, and Mayo had 14. Vince Carter scored 17 for Dallas.

NOTES: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich missed his second straight game because of illness. Mike Budenholzer led Wednesday's 106-102 victory against New Orleans. ... The Spurs got in the first quarter behind eight points apiece from Neal, Diaw and Blair. Neal had a four-point play when Collison knocked him over just as he released a 3-pointer from the right wing.

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

RELATED: WIZARDS HAVE BIG QUESTIONS TO ANSWER IN SECOND HALF

Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS LOADED CLASS

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

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Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."