■ The Mavericks looking healthier heading into camp.
Health, talent level are on upswing, spurring hope as camp nears
UNIVERSITY PARK — Dirk Nowitzki took extra precautions at his Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic on Saturday, in deference to his surgically repaired left ankle.
Mostly, any tennis ball that was out of arm’s reach was in no danger of being whacked by Nowitzki’s racquet.
Movement was kept to a minimum, which meant it looked a lot like Nowitzki looks on the basketball court.
A day of fun in the sun on the courts at SMU’s tennis complex sort of put a cap on the offseason for Nowitzki and several of his teammates.
Training camp opens Saturday, preceded by media day obligations Friday. The preseason starts Sept. 29 against the Beijing Ducks at American Airlines Center.
A month from Monday, the regular season opens.
Health, as always, is a concern heading into training camp.
The Mavericks have only a few concerns along those lines. Nowitzki is leaner than he has been in years, but he’s coming off surgery and he’s entering his 21st season. He will be treated with kid gloves. But expect him to be the same sort of producer he was last season.
Also, veterans J.J. Barea, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews all appear leaner and fitter than they finished last season.
The unknown, in many ways, is Luka Doncic. He’s got a thicker body than most rookies and maybe thicker than the Mavericks would prefer.
But it’s a lot easier to get in top-shelf shape when you’re 19 than when you’re 40, like Nowitzki.
And Nowitzki is a fan of the young ball-handling whiz.
“The court vision he has at 19, 20 is fantastic,” Nowitzki said. “He literally gets in the paint with nine guys around him and flips one over his shoulder or between the legs. He’s wise beyond his years. I’m a big fan.”
With Doncic and Jordan providing new weapons, and the expected improvement from Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes, the Mavericks are confident they’re going to be far better than they were in a dismal 24-win season last year.
But how much more competitive will they really be?
“We know the West is a monster, and now with LeBron [James] coming out West, we know there are probably six or seven teams that are really strong and probably a lock for the playoffs,” he said. “And the other teams are going to be scrambling and fighting.”
It’s almost a cinch that Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Utah, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Lakers are playoff teams. That’s six is cautiously optimistic. spots spoken for.
It leaves the Mavericks in the group with Denver, Minnesota, Portland, Oklahoma City and Sacramento as teams that legitimately could challenge for the final two spots.
“We’ve got to be one of those teams that hopefully can start off strong, get some confidence going for a young team,” Nowitzki said. “Last year was a disaster starting off with a home loss to Atlanta. It went downhill from there. We would love to play well and create a little buzz and hopefully go from there. It’s going to be hard. The West is loaded.
“But we’d love to be one of the eight teams in the playoffs at the end.”
The fun and games of the summer, like tennis, and the rehabilitation from surgery, are over. The Mavericks’ new season is loaded with intrigue and uncertainty. But it’s a sure bet to be more entertaining than the last two years.
Tennis, anyone? A strong cast of pro players was on hand at the SMU tennis complex, including Andy Roddick, Mark Knowles, Tommy Haas and Taylor Dent.
With the U.S. Open fresh in people’s minds, Serena Williams’ outburst in the women’s final was a topic.
Knowles said both Williams, who called the chair umpire “a thief,” and the referee could have handled things differently.
“Once you get a point penalty, you kind of pull back,” Knowles said. “I was talking to Dirk about it, and it’s the same with referees. Some nights you get certain calls, and the next night the same call is called differently. And it’s the same in tennis.
“Unfortunately, it was just a really bad situation at a really big moment.”
Great support: Dwight Powell, Devin Harris and former Maverick Monta Ellis were the NBA representatives at the event. Said Powell of supporting Nowitzki’s event:
“He’s left such a tremendous footprint in a positive way in this city, so if he calls any of his teammates, they’ll be there, because they know how big a deal it is in this city.”
The event started with a fundraising dinner and auction Friday night.
Dirk Nowitzki celebrated a point with partner Dave Martin during the Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic hosted by Nowitzki at the SMU Tennis Center on Saturday. Nowitzki and his Mavericks teammates open training camp in less than a week.