New-look Mavs with one goal entering year: playoffs

DALLAS — Just over five months after his team fell short of the playoffs following a 41-41 run through the 2012-13 schedule, the objective is clear for Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle as he gets set to lead a new-look squad this upcoming season.

Admitting that the Mavericks’ nemesis a season ago was an ability to perform in close games, while also highlighting the team’s defensive deficiencies, Carlisle professed that this year’s team will be measured by whether or not it can return the franchise to the postseason after failing to do so for the first time since 2000. And with several new additions expected to improve the team across the board, Carlisle doesn’t see the Mavs missing out on the playoffs for a second straight year.

“Our mission this year is to get back to winning in the playoffs,” the coach matter-of-factly said during the Mavs’ Media Day Monday at the American Airlines Center. “That’s our mission. You know, the goal is always going to be win a championship, but getting to the playoffs and winning puts you in the top eight remaining (in the Western Conference) and then anything can happen there, so that’s what our mission is. And we know that there aren’t a lot of people that think we’re capable of doing that, so our self belief has got to be there. I’ve got to point these guys in a direction that they understand what the path is going to be, how we can get there and what there particular job is going to be in that structure, and it’s going to come down to how we defend and how we perform in close games.”

With a healthy Dirk Nowitzki at Carlisle’s disposal, the Mavericks believe that they will once again place themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt by season’s end. Nowitzki, meanwhile, hopes the team can come together and jell during eight preseason contests before the regular season gets underway Oct. 30 at home against Atlanta.

Nowitzki’s training camp experience was cut short by arthroscopic knee surgery last season before going on to miss the team’s first 27 outings. And with an injury-plagued season behind him, the former league and NBA Finals MVP is now focused on bringing together his new teammates over the next month of training.

“I really like some of the guys we’ve brought in and now it’s time to go to work,” an eager Nowitzki said while looking forward to the first day of training camp on Tuesday. “Put in four weeks and eight preseason games, try to get better and we’ll see how it goes. … Hopefully this year I’m going to stay healthy and we’re going to use this camp to get better.”

With his coach honing in on the defensive end of the floor, Nowitzki figures to get plenty of help this season on offense from his newest teammates in the backcourt. And as projected starters Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis look to make life easier on the 11-time All-Star power forward, the Mavericks don’t see chemistry becoming an issue this season.

Instead, the team hopes the jelling process leads to notches in the win column as the Mavs try to recapture the magic that brought the franchise’s first title during the 2010-11 campaign.

“It’s going to be a big opportunity for everyone to get back to (playing winning basketball),” Calderon explained. “Playing with these guys is going to be great. I’m real excited. We’ve got all the pieces to be a really good basketball team, so hopefully we can get that chemistry going, get everybody on the same page and we’ll be pretty good.”

“We’re going to prove a lot of people wrong,” Ellis added while speaking to the team’s skeptics. “And we’re going to get back to the Dallas Mavericks making some noise in the playoffs.”