A new NBA season begins Wednesday for the Dallas Mavericks, who for the first time since the late 1990s will not have the retired Dirk Nowtizki in their plans.
“Yeah, it’s different,” coach Rick Carlisle said Tuesday.
For the first time, though, the Mavs will have Kristaps Porzingis. For the second time, they will have Luka Doncic. For the first time in a few seasons, the Mavs will have a realistic chance at reaching their season goal.
“The playoffs,” Doncic said.
Buoyed by the star power of Doncic and Porzingis in a league that seemingly requires a team to have two star players to have any chance at contending, the Mavs are going to be better even though the Western Conference appears to have become stronger.
While there are questions about who else can score for the Mavericks, there is no questioning that their playoff hopes reside with Doncic and Porzingis.
“The torch has been passed to Luka and KP to be the leaders of this team, at least from the standpoint of being the most visible guys as the best players,” Carlisle said. “That’s a challenge that those guys are looking forward to taking on.”
The Mavs open their 82-game schedule against the Washington Wizards at American Airlines Center after beginning last season on the road.
Doncic was a curiosity to start his rookie season, became the Mavs’ go-to player after the Porzingis trade sent Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan to New York and after Harrison Barnes was dealt to the Sacramento Kings.
Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 72 games, but he averaged nearly a triple-double (22.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists) over the final 23 games he played after the Porzingis deal.
Porzingis, a 2018 NBA All-Star, was recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee from the previous season and did not play.
They gave a sneak peak Thursday of what might happen this season as they each posted a double-double in a 102-87 preseason victory over the Kawhi Leonard-led Los Angeles Clippers.
The Mavs went 2-3 in the postseason, winning their final two games.
“We got better in every way,” Doncic said. “There’s a bunch of new guys. We’re getting our chemistry up. We’re ready to go, for sure.”
Carlisle said that only one player won’t be ready to go Wednesday, Dwight Powell. The forward is nearing a return from a strained left hamstring that kept him out all preseason, but the earliest he could play would be Sunday in the Mavs’ third game.
Otherwise, the Mavs are in good health and eager to get the new season under way.
“It’s time to play,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got a good group of guys that have worked hard. They’re a bunch of competitors. The first game is always a lot of anticipation for every single team in the league. Every team is thinking about getting to get off to a good start. We’re looking forward to it.”