Father Time hasn’t caught up with Mavs' three oldest players

Leave it to Dirk Nowitzki to put talk about the Dallas Mavericks being dependent on three old players in its proper perspective.

Asked after Tuesday’s practice if it’s a good thing that three of the Mavericks’ top six players — Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Nowitzki — are 35 years old or older, Nowitzki wasted little time with an answer.

“It would be a better thing if we’re all 25, but we’re not,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got experience, and the good thing about all three of us is we take care of our bodies, we eat right and get our rest and we work out in the summers.

“I think we’re in good shape and we’re counting on all three of these guys to help us win. But it’s not only going to be those three.”

Nowitzki and Marion are 35 years old, and Carter is 36. All three have enjoyed illustrious NBA careers.

Still, Marion believes they’re not over the hill yet and expects them to contribute mightily to the Mavericks, who open the regular season Wednesday at American Airlines Center against the Atlanta Hawks.

“Don’t crucify us yet, man,” Marion said. “Y’all just making it seem like we’re just too old.

“We’ve got that veteran savvy to go with these young guys.”

A man who thrives on playing experienced veterans, coach Rick Carlisle said recent Mavericks history proves that they can win with older players.

“I love having experience on the team,” Carlisle said. “I think it’s one of the prerequisites to being able to win.

“We won a title with a 38-year old point guard [Jason Kidd] two years ago, and we wouldn’t have won it without him. We had some other guys in their mid-30s, too.”

Peja Stojakovic (34), Brian Cardinal (34) and Jason Terry (33) were also pushing their mid-30s while playing on the Mavericks’ 2011 NBA championship team.

Carlisle also pointed out that 37-year-old Ray Allen of Miami hit the gut-check, 3-pointer late in Game 6 of the NBA Finals that helped propel the Heat to last season’s championship over the San Antonio Spurs.

“You look at Miami and they’ve got some guys in their 30s as well,” Carlisle said. “And those guys are extremely valuable.”

Carter, who will turn 37 in January, subscribes to the theory that age is only a number and will not affect what he does on the court. But he knows he has to be much smarter, because he doesn’t have the same gravity-defying ability that was a staple of his game during his younger days.

“I just try to approach it like I did last year,” Carter said. “I do the same type of routine in the off-season. I’ll be a year older, but I don’t feel a year older. So that’s a good thing.”

Nowitzki, Marion and Carter are all in the final year of their contracts and will become free agents next summer. Nowitzki will earn $22.7 million this season, Marion will be paid $9.3 million and Carter will collect $3.1 million.

And because the Mavericks are coming off a season in which they were only 41-41 and failed to make the playoffs, the fire burns even deeper for the trio. Father Time or no Father Time.

“Everybody knows what’s at stake for the three older guys,” owner Mark Cuban said. “They want to win, and they don’t want to miss [the playoffs] like we did last year.

“People talk about the last year of a contract. But it’s just as good to have guys with something to prove, and we’ve got a lot of guys with something to prove that are team guys and are willing to buy into the system, and that’s what we’ve seen from everybody.”

The Mavericks are counting on their Big 3 starting tonight with the tipoff of the franchise’s 34th season.

“It starts with us,” Marion said of the three older veterans. “We’ve got to go out there and lead by example and we’ve got to carry it.

“We know what it is.”

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