Before the 2013-14 season started, the Dallas Mavericks set a goal of reaching the playoffs.
What the Mavs didn’t know was once they reached the playoffs for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, they would be able to extend the team with the NBA’s best record — the San Antonio Spurs — to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
For the Mavs, that spoke volumes about the overwhelming success of this season.
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“It was fun to be in the big dance again,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “You have to look at it as there are 16 teams that can have a chance to win it all, and we were one of the 16.
“So we gave ourselves a chance.”
The Mavs finished the season with a 49-33 record, which is an upgrade from the 41-41 record they posted last year when they missed the playoffs for the since time since 2000.
The Mavs needed every one of those wins to qualify for the playoffs.
The 49th victory came in the next-to-last game of the season when the Mavs clinched a playoff berth with a 101-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
The Mavs entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. That meant a date with the No. 1-seeded Spurs, who the Mavs took to seven games before San Antonio won the series with a 119-96 victory on Sunday.
“Guys came together in relatively short order,” said coach Rick Carlisle, who had nine new players when the season started. “We had a very positive run, and I thought the last month of the season, with a lot of big games just to qualify for the playoffs, put us in a position to compete hard in this series [against the Spurs].
“The last game was disappointing. But I just loved the way the team battled all year long.”
The next step for the Mavs is to build on this season’s success and add some athleticism and quickness to their roster.
That also includes addressing what to do with Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Devin Harris, DeJuan Blair and Bernard James, all of whom become free agents on July 1.
All six say that want to return and play for the Mavs.
Nowitzki, who earned $22.7 million this past season, turns 36 on June 19 and is expected to return to the Mavs. Nowitzki believes he can play at least two more seasons at a high level.
The 12-time All-Star also said he has no idea if he’ll be seeking a deal similar to the three-year, $30 million contract Tim Duncan signed with the Spurs last summer.
“I haven’t really thought about it since we just lost Game 7,” Nowitzki said. “That’s the brutal thing about a Game 7.
“When you win, you move on to the next round. When you lose, the season’s over the next day.”
Marion and Nowitzki are the only holdovers from the Mavs’ 2011 championship squad. Because this is the first time he will have experienced free agency in his 15-year career, Marion is excited about the possibilities.
“When July 1 comes, I’ll look at my options and see which option is best suited to me to add to my legacy,” said Marion, who turns 36 on Wednesday. “I would love to add to the ring I have.
“I’m going to retire here, regardless. I’m going to be a Dallas local here in the coming years. I’m going to make this my home.”
The Mavs have more than $30 million in player salaries committed to next season. Plus, they have the 34th and 51st picks in the June 26 NBA Draft. They have more than $30 million in salary cap space.
However, there are no “big fish” among this year’s free agency class, unless Miami’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decide to opt-out of their contracts and play elsewhere.
New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Cleveland’s Luol Deng could be free agents the Mavs pursue.
“The plan is again to create a championship-caliber team,” Mavs president Donnie Nelson said. “We’ve got some holes we’ve got to fill.
“We’re not a perfect team. But the heart that was poured out in that series [against the Spurs], which could have easily been, you know. It’s the best team in the league and we took them all the way to the end.”