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Published September 13, 2015
Dirk Nowitzki is healthy and ready for the opener with a revamped Dallas roster.
A year ago, the big German was just days removed from knee surgery and had to watch a roster full of new faces for the first 27 games. That's the biggest reason a 12-year playoff streak ended for the Mavericks.
Nowitzki has two new guards in his starting lineup for the second straight year. Now the Mavericks have to see if Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon will be better than the pairing of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo.
There's also the question of who among seven other newcomers will join holdovers Vince Carter and Shawn Marion as key members of the supporting cast.
Dallas starts getting answers Wednesday night at home against Atlanta.
The opener comes a day after the resignation of general manager Gersson Rosas just three months into the job. He filled a position that had been vacant since former coach and GM Don Nelson left the franchise eight years ago.
"Our mission this year is to get back to winning in the playoffs," said coach Rick Carlisle, who hasn't won a postseason game since guiding the Mavericks to their first championship in 2011. "And we know that there aren't a lot of people that think we're capable of doing that."
Odds are Dallas will be the third-best team in Texas again, behind defending Western Conference champion San Antonio and Houston, a playoff qualifier that got Dwight Howard in free agency to pair with James Harden.
What gives the Mavericks hope is that they almost made the playoffs even with the huge hole they dug waiting for Nowitzki — an 11-time All-Star and 2007 MVP — to regain his form.
Calderon looks like an upgrade over Collison because he was the best 3-pointer shooter in the league last year and has high-level international experience with Spain, if not any NBA playoff series victories.
Ellis has the speed and quickness to be a threat in the lane, and Carlisle says he's an underrated passer. The biggest question, though, is whether he will shoot too much when that's not his strength. He had the worst 3-point percentage among qualifiers last season.
"I think we'll find a mix of youth, experience, some drivers, some shot-makers," said Nowitzki, one of two returning starters along with Marion. "I think we've got a good mix, got a good bench."
Carter is generally the first player off that bench, and rookie point guard Gal Mekel should see significant playing time early in the season while the Mavericks wait for the return of first-round draft pick Shane Larkin (broken ankle) and Devin Harris (toe surgery).
Dallas has a defense-first center in 11-year veteran Samuel Dalembert after Chris Kaman struggled in that area last year. Brandan Wright was the backup before a shoulder injury sidelined him indefinitely, leading to more time for another newcomer in the undersized DeJuan Blair, who spent his first four seasons with the Spurs.
The Mavericks have trips to Oklahoma City and two-time defending champion Miami in the first month, along with two games each against West playoff contenders Houston, Minnesota and Denver.
"We've got to really focus on what's immediately ahead," Carlisle said. "We have to manage the club to have us tuned up for the long haul too. So that's been a lot of challenges."
The first challenge has arrived — the opener.