Game 1: Mavs vs. Hawks

DALLAS — He joined an exclusive fraternity last season, becoming the sixth player in NBA history to amass 30,000 career points. Now, 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki eyes more career milestones and team success as he begins his 20th campaign with the Dallas Mavericks at home Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks.

Joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) in the 30,000-point club last season, Nowitzki (30,260) now sits just 1,159 points away from tying Chamberlain for fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list. He will also join Bryant as the sole members of the NBA’s 20-year, only-one-team club this season after spending all 19 of his previous campaigns with the Mavericks (0-0). And after battling through a right Achilles strain that forced him to miss 25 of the Mavs’ first 30 games last season, Nowitzki says he hopes to remain healthy in order to help the team return to the playoffs.

“It’s something I always look forward to, especially after a long summer where there’s no playoff action,” Nowitzki said of Opening Night. “We’ve been done basically since April, and then the summer grind started early. The good thing is (training) camp was only three weeks, so we should hopefully be ready, have some good games and have some good quarters. Now, we’ve just got to be consistent, but I like what we’re seeing. I think we’re a deeper team than we were last year, and we’ve got some great, explosive young guys with some older guys. And we’ll see how it goes.

“Twenty (seasons) is unbelievable,” he added. “I never thought, obviously, when I was coming into the league that I could play 20 years, or even make it after my rookie contract at the beginning. But things worked out, obviously, and the franchise has been great. [Mavs owner Mark Cuban] buying the team my rookie year was awesome for me and the relationship I have with him, and then I put in a lot of work at the beginning to get better. And as you get older, you put in a lot of work to kind of stay healthy — eating right and lots of stretching. Hopefully I’m able to help the guys win. Obviously, I’m not going to be the main focal point anymore, but hopefully I can help the guys, spread the floor and use my experience at times to win a couple of games. Any time you’re in the same conversation as Kobe, I think that’s an honor for me. I just got fortunate, like I said, that I was drafted here and this organization. … The rest is history.”

But while Nowitzki continues his path with a 20th season, rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. begins his NBA journey Wednesday night against the Hawks (0-0).

Matching up against Hawks lead guard Dennis Schröder, Smith will admittedly be thrown to the wolves in his first professional outing. The 19-year-old Smith will also try to learn from the Mavericks’ 108-94 exhibition win in Atlanta last Thursday, matching up head-to-head with Schröder before going down in the first half with a left ankle sprain. And according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, Smith will have plenty of veteran support around him to help the first-year floor general through his NBA debut.

“Well, this will be a big challenge for [Smith]. The first regular-season game is always going to feel quite a bit different than exhibition games,” Carlisle explained. “Schröder is a tremendous young player, very motivated, and it’s a tough matchup really for anybody. I’m glad Dennis got a chance to play him a little the other night, although he only played eight or nine minutes before he got banged up. But it’s going to be one of many, many, many tough matchups at the point-guard position. That’s just a fact. I believe having veterans out there helps, and we’ve just got to get it going. He’s got to get out there and experience it. There’s a lot of emotion and a lot of emotional energy, and we’ll keep tabs to make sure he’s OK.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Wednesday for the regular-season opener against the Atlanta Hawks. That game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — out
Gian Clavell (G-League) — not with the team
Johnathan Motley (G-League) — not with the team

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