■ The Mav­er­icks look­ing health­ier head­ing into camp.

Health, tal­ent level are on up­swing, spurring hope as camp nears

The Dallas Morning News - - Sportsday - Twit­ter: @ESe­fko

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?

Now­itzki

“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.

Al­li­son Slo­mowitz/Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

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.

Ese­fko@dal­las­news.com

ED­DIE SEFKO

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