Unlike ’12-13, Mavs ready to start season with healthy Dirk Nowitzki

DALLAS — What a difference a year and a healthy 7-foot German should make.

Last season, after seeing their go-to scorer go down following arthroscopic knee surgery in the preseason, the Dallas Mavericks would be forced to take the floor on Opening Night minus 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. One season later, however, a healthy Nowitzki hopes to lead the Mavericks to a season-opening victory when the Atlanta Hawks invade American Airlines Center on Wednesday night.

Without Nowitzki in the lineup for the first 27 games of the 2012-13 season, the Mavs would get off to a 12-15 start before also dropping eight of the next nine games when the 7-footer returned. Now, Nowitzki is hoping to make up for lost time while leading his new-look squad to a hot start as a daunting schedule looms during the first month of the season.

“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 following Tuesday’s team practice while reminiscing on his injury-riddle season. “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.”

He added: “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.”

Led by Nowitzki, the Mavericks will try to get off to a better start to the season while also looking to work in nine new faces. However, as Mavs coach Rick Carlisle admits, the Dallas team’s ultimate fate may lie in the health of No. 41.

With Nowitzki missing a career-high 29 games total last season, the Mavs would fall to a 13-15 mark in games when their franchise player wasn’t in action. Still, after signing several key offseason additions, the Mavs don’t plan on riding the back of their caped crusader for long stretches to start this season.

Instead, Carlisle is hopeful that his team can play as one collective unit to begin the grueling 82-game schedule. The coach will also look for the jelling process from the preseason to continue when the games begin to count in the standings.

“Having Dirk is a major factor for us, but look, there’s a lot of things that you can go back and analyze,” Carlisle explained. “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. You know, concentrate, play defense, rebound and be aggressive on offense while taking care of the ball. That’s really where it’s at.”

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.