Mavs hope new players can help them get their playoff mojo back

Following a turbulent season that saw them finish with a disappointing 41-41 record, the Dallas Mavericks go back to work Tuesday when they open training camp with two-a-day practices. A host of new faces brings a lot of hope that things will be much better this season.

Last year, the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. But with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki and nine new players, the Mavs are adamant they’ll be one of the eight Western Conference teams answering the playoff bell.

“Our mission this year is to get back to winning in the playoffs,” coach Rick Carlisle said Monday during Media Day at American Airlines Center. “The goal is always going to be to win a championship, but getting to the playoffs and winning helps. But get in the top eight remaining in the league and anything can happen from there.

“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 and how we can get there and what their particular job is going to be within that structure.”

Much of the Mavs’ success will hinge on the play of superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki. Last year, Nowitzki underwent arthroscopic knee surgery before the season and missed 29 games.

The Mavs went 13-16 during Nowitzki’s absence, and he was only his dominant self in spots when he returned. Although he’s 35 years old, Nowitzki believes he’s got a lot left to offer.

“I’m fired up to play,” Nowitzki said. “I haven’t played since the middle of April, and it’s been a long off-season, so yeah, I’m ready to go.

“We didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in a long, long time, so obviously I want to be in the playoffs again.”

The Mavs hope the off-season acquisitions of guards Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon — along with center Samuel Dalembert — will help them vault back into the playoffs and jump back into contention for a championship. They also know they must step it up on the defensive end.

“I really like what we’ve done,” Nowitzki said. “We got some really, really good players in.

“I think Calderon should help us in crunch time with his play-making and shot-making. I’ve never played with an explosive guy like Monta who can get in the lane whenever he wants, so I think that we should play off each other really well.”

Last season with the Pistons, Calderon led the NBA in 3-point shooting (46.1 percent) and was second in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.1. In a nutshell, the eight-year veteran knows how to stretch the defense and protect the ball.

“My job this year is going to be to try to get the ball to the right guys in the right moment, try to know where they want the ball and get everybody involved,” Calderon said. “I’m a pass-first point guard and that’s going to be my job.”

Ellis, meanwhile, believes Carlisle’s up-tempo offense will help him return to his glory days when he averaged 25.5 and 24.1 points per game during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, respectively.

“I’ve been working the whole summer to put myself in this position,” Ellis said. “I think it’s going to take me back to my golden years where I was enjoying playing basketball.

“I think we’re going to shock a lot of people.”

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