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Dirk Nowitzki set for 20th season, but the Mavericks need more star power

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DALLAS (AP) Dirk Nowitzki decided a while back that he would play a 20th season for the Dallas Mavericks.

The big German has a potential heir in Harrison Barnes, some intriguing young players with rotation potential around him and a good enough feeling about his body that the 38-year-old might even hang around beyond next season.

But the Mavericks are coming off their worst record (33-49) since 1997-98, the season before Nowitzki arrived. They’ve missed the playoffs twice in five seasons after qualifying 12 straight years. And they still haven’t won a playoff series since winning the franchise’s only championship in 2011.

Whether with a top 10 draft pick or a signing in free agency after years of summer failures, Dallas needs more star power.

“It’s an important summer for this franchise, for sure, to head back in the right direction, if you want to say, starting with the draft,” Nowitzki said. “And then free agency is important, too. So, yeah, this is a big summer, but we tend to stand here the last few years and always say it’s a big summer for the franchise.”

The losing record was the first in the 17 full seasons that Mark Cuban owned the team. Rick Carlisle had just his second sub.500-season in 15 years as a head coach.

Injuries, including an Achilles problem for Nowitzki, played a part because most of them came during a difficult schedule early, dooming Dallas to a 4-17 start. Since the Mavericks were out of contention, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson transformed the roster at the trading deadline.

Nerlens Noel, an athletic center and sixth overall pick in 2013, came from Philadelphia in a trade. Undrafted rookie point guard Yogi Ferrell, added on a 10-day contract and now signed for next year, was given a chance to start when veteran Deron Williams was waived by his hometown team.

Seth Curry, Stephen Curry‘s younger brother, emerged as an option at both guard spots before a late-season shoulder injury. Argentine rookie Nicolas Brussino showed some promise as a 3-point threat, and the Mavericks like the defense of Dorian Finney-Smith.

“I love the way Mark and Donnie turned over the roster at the All-Star break and just pointed us in the direction of developing younger guys for our young core,” Carlisle said. “But we have to have great players.”

Things to consider with the Mavericks currently holding the ninth pick in the draft going into the lottery May 16:

DIRK’S OUTLOOK

The smooth-shooting 7-footer said a year ago he didn’t want to be part of any rebuilding. But he essentially backed off that, acknowledging once and for all that he’s a Mav for life.

“At the end of the day, I just can’t imagine myself in a different uniform,” said Nowitzki, who reached 30,000 points for his career and has an outside shot at Wilt Chamberlain for No. 5 on the career list. “If we’re rebuilding, then I’m the face of that.”

BARNES’ TEAM

After signing a max contract at $94 million over four years, Barnes led the Mavericks at 19.2 points per game and could have averaged 20 without a late-season focus on youth. He’s ready to accept the role as the next face of the franchise, and likely will play Nowitzki’s old power forward spot most of the time. It’s where he had his best success this season.

BUT FIRST, NOEL

The 6-11 center is a restricted free agent, and Cuban has said the Mavericks are likely to match any offer. Dallas covets Noel’s shot-blocking and general athleticism, and wants to make him more of a threat on the offensive end. “He’s an exciting young talent and I do think he can expand his game. But we’ve got to be careful about doing too much too soon,” Carlisle said.

FERRELL’S FUTURE

After a flashy start that got him a multiyear deal, Ferrell was steady enough to make the Mavericks believe he has a future. But Carlisle still isn’t ready to say the former Indiana player is an NBA starter.

“We didn’t have a good record,” Carlisle said. “At this point in time, projecting exactly where he’s going to be is not really fair.”

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Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.