DALLAS — After a bevy of summer signings and a near-complete roster shakeup, the new-look Dallas Mavericks will finally step onto the hardwood for a meaningful game when the Atlanta Hawks invade American Airlines Center for the season opener Wednesday night.
With nine new faces on the roster, the Mavericks will attempt to quickly jell on the fly during a daunting first month of the season. The Mavs will also look to build off a 4-4 record in exhibition play, before trying to return the franchise back to the postseason.
“I’ve seen teams go 0-8 during the preseason and have a (heck) of a year during the season,” four-time All-Star forward Shawn Marion said. “But also I’ve seen teams go 0-8 during the preseason and have a (bad) year. I think it all coincides.”
He added: “You don’t know if you’re a contender until you actually make the postseason. It’s a lot of teams that look good on paper, but once they get into the season it goes from sugar to (sour), so it’s just a matter of going out there and getting it done. We’ve still got to get it done. At the end of the day everybody feels like they can win a championship. But who really can, though?”
The Mavs hope they’re the answer to that question at season’s end, but the team’s eventual fate may also be tied to the health of 11-time All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki.
Last season, while playing the first 27 games without their go-to scorer and franchise player, the Mavericks would get off to a 12-15 start after Nowitzki was forced to watch in street clothes following arthroscopic knee surgery in the preseason. The 7-footer would go on to miss a career-high 29 total outings before recapturing his All-Star form shortly before the conclusion of the season.
Now, the 35-year-old hopes that a summer of strength and conditioning helps himself and his squad get off to a fast start during a difficult first month of the season that features six back-to-backs.
“It was a tough year for me last year, you know, preparing all summer and then needing surgery and starting from scratch. That was tough,” Nowitzki said as he attempts to put the injury-riddled season out of his mind. “I never had to do that before right into the season, so I struggled for a long time. But I’m looking forward to this year and to having a good year. I put in a lot of work in the summer, and we’ve worked extremely hard the last four weeks now in eight preseason games. I think we’re as ready as we can be, and it’s time that we see what this team’s got.
“We’ve got a tough schedule in November. We all know that. A lot of back-to-backs, and it feels like we play every Friday and Saturday for the whole month. We’ve got a lot of tough teams, so we’ve got to be ready.”
Against an Atlanta team that sat its starters when the two squads squared off one week prior to the opener in a 98-88 Dallas win, the Mavs hope to take the court clicking on all cylinders. In order to do so, however, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle knows that his cast of new characters will have to play as a collective unit if the Mavs are going to claim a victory.
“Right now, you know, our focus is on how we come together as a team on Opening Night and how we stick together when things get tough in the first game, because they will get tough, and concentrate on the simple things,” the coach explained. “You know, concentrate, play defense, rebound and be aggressive on offense while taking care of the ball. That’s really where it’s at.”
And if the Mavs can do so, they may be on their way to another playoff run.
Note: The Mavericks return to American Airlines Center when they open up the regular season Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. CT and $1 hot dogs and sodas be available for purchase until 6:30 p.m. The game will air locally on Fox Sports at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.