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Opening Tip: Mavs among offensive elite

DALLAS -- One of the best offensive teams in the NBA will be on display at the American Airlines Center on Tuesday night.

No, not the Golden State Warriors, who are surprisingly mediocre offensively despite superstar guard Stephen Curry fronting a starting lineup packed with firepower. The Dallas Mavericks rank second in the NBA in offensive efficiency since the All-Star break with 110.9 points per 100 possessions, a tenth of a point behind the streaking San Antonio Spurs.

The Mavs, who rank behind only the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers in offensive efficiency throughout the course of the season, were expected to be an explosive team after adding perimeter-threat point guard Jose Calderon and penetrating shooting guard Monta Ellis to complement Dirk Nowitzki during the summer roster restructuring.

"We've exceeded my expectations," coach Rick Carlisle said, of course adding in the next breath that defense will determine whether the Mavs make the playoffs, much less do any damage once they get there.

The Mavs are once again meeting the offensive standards that had been established during the Dirk era.

It's been a while. The Mavs had a streak of 12 straight top-10 seasons in terms of offensive efficiency snapped in the post-lockout season, when they plummeted to 22nd with a creaky team that struggled with a condensed schedule. The team of temps wearing Mavs uniforms last season finished 14th.

This is the Mavs' best offensive team during Carlisle's tenure. The Mavs haven't had a top-three offensive rating since 2006-07, when they won a franchise-record 67 games. They were the league's highest-rated offense in four of the five seasons before that.

The 35-year-old version of Nowitzki is not the off-the-dribble creator he was back in those days. However, the one-legged fadeaway gives him a go-to post-up move that he didn't have until midway through his career.

Nowitzki, the league's 13th-leading scorer with 21.4 points per game, is still the sweetest-shooting 7-footer in NBA history. And he still has the gravitational pull of the sun with opposing defenses, creating space for teammates with his mere presence on the floor.

The Dirk Effect is best utilized by pick-and-roll creators such as Ellis, Devin Harris and Vince Carter, 3-point threats such as Calderon and Carter, athletic finishers such as Brandan Wright and a veteran team that understands the value of ball movement. The Mavs have managed to surround a healthy Nowitzki with a supporting cast that fits phenomenally well, at least on one end of the court.

"We're really skilled," Nowitzki said. "We've got a good mix of playmakers, drivers, shooters. Vince is like an all-around weapon that is a pleasure to have. You can post him, you can pick-and-roll him, you can iso him out there. He can do a lot of things out there. This team is definitely skilled. With Monta and Devin, we have two relentless drivers that always get in there, get to the foul line, get us into the bonus, get us open shots. We've got a bunch of guys that can make plays."

Nowitzki, like Carlisle, continued to emphasize that defense will ultimately determine whether the Mavs are playing in late April and into May.

But the fact that the Mavs are elite offensively again gives them a chance to make the playoffs, and makes them a pleasure to watch.