October 21, 2016

DALLAS (AP) Dirk Nowitzki goes into his 19th season looking to get Dallas into the top four in the Western Conference because the big German believes that is the easiest way to advance in the playoffs.

The Mavericks haven't done that since winning the championship in 2011, which helps explain first-round exits in four of the past five seasons. Dallas didn't make the postseason the other year.

With another retooled roster that added title-winning experience in former Golden State starters Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut after more disappointments in free agency, the Mavericks are ready to try again in the pursuit of that elusive playoff series win.

''We'd love to establish ourselves up there,'' the 38-year-old Nowitzki said. ''That means you've got to be consistent. You've got to win those Tuesday night matchups at home that sometimes we end up losing. The West is tough. But I think we're good enough and we're going to fight for it.''

Dallas added Barnes on a max contract at four years and $94 million after the Warriors had to let him go in free agency when they landed Kevin Durant. Bogut's arrival in a trade was essentially for the same reason.

The Mavericks have two players remaining from their championship team: Nowitzki and guard J.J. Barea. And what Barnes considers perhaps the key piece: coach Rick Carlisle, who is back for a ninth season in Dallas.

''You can never have enough championship experience,'' Barnes said. ''We've got some younger guys on the team, a lot of whom are going to play and a contribute a lot, so just teaching these guys. Don't try and look to the All-Star break or April and say, `OK, now I'm going to turn it on.' It's every single day.''

Things to consider as the Mavericks push to make the playoffs for the 16th time in 17 seasons:

BACKCOURT CONTINUITY

While Carlisle is dealing with a retooled starting five for the sixth straight season, he does have some backcourt consistency with the return of point guard Deron Williams and shooting guard Wesley Matthews. Williams re-signed after a solid debut with his hometown team last season. ''We're big and physical at that position,'' Carlisle said.

BOGUT'S BUSY SUMMER

The 7-footer from Australia accelerated his rehab from a left knee injury that knocked him out of the last two games of the NBA Finals loss to Cleveland because he wanted to play in the Olympics. He started fast but faded somewhat as the Aussies fell short of a medal. He doesn't consider summer wear-and-tear an issue this season.

''I think you come in in a little bit better shape than you do in most years because I was only playing three or four weeks ago,'' he said in late September.

ABOUT THAT YOUTH

Second-year swingman Justin Anderson figures to be the key contributor among a young group that includes forward Dwight Powell and rookie center A.J. Hammons, a second-round pick. While 7-1 Tunisian center Salah Mejri turned 30 over the summer, he's in just his second season.

''They're definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I'm out,'' said Nowitzki, who loves to make fun of his defensive shortcomings.

THE OTHER CURRY

In addition to adding a Golden State flavor, the Mavericks signed Seth Curry, younger brother of Warriors superstar Stephen Curry. The former Duke player got his first chance at decent playing time last season with Sacramento. He shot 45 percent from 3-point range, and the Mavericks are hoping he offers that threat off the bench.

''I feel like I've played with him the last four years he's been around so much. Just practices, he was with us in camp one year,'' Barnes said, referring to his time at Golden State.

CHANGE OF PACE

Carlisle figures the starting five with be a plodding group with big guards and aging veterans in the front court. The pace will change significantly with a second group that includes the speedy Devin Harris and Barea, along with the athletic Anderson and Powell. ''Our second unit has virtually never been a mirror image of our starters,'' Carlisle said. ''That's OK. We've made it a positive in the past and we're going to have to do that again.''

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

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