The Dallas Mavericks appear on the way to quickly putting last season's playoff collapse behind them.
They visit the Atlanta Hawks on Friday looking to open the 2007-08 season with consecutive victories.
Dallas lost its first three games last season before going on a torrid run to finish a league-best 67-15. The Mavericks seemed poised to make a run to the NBA Finals, but were upset in six games by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors during the first round of the playoffs.
Dallas showed no signs of a carry-over effect in its season-opener on Wednesday, beating the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers 92-74. Reigning league MVP Dirk Nowitzki scored 15 points and added eight rebounds and six assists, while Jason Terry had a team-high 24 points off the bench.
Defensively, the Mavericks held Cleveland star LeBron James to 10 points.
Despite the big win, Dallas coach Avery Johnson is cautious about letting his team read too much into the results of one game.
"We're ready for a long season," he told the Mavericks' official Web site. "That's the preparation. That's what it's all about - the journey. It's not about one moment or one game. It's about laying the groundwork for having a solid season."
Johnson's club appears to have a good chance at a 2-0 start, having won 13 of its last 16 matchups with the Hawks since the 1999-2000 season, including four straight.
Atlanta, which opens its season on Friday, finished last year 30-52 - the fourth-worst record in the NBA, but still its best in four seasons.
To avoid a slow start to 2007-08, Atlanta needs rookies Al Horford and Acie Law to make immediate contributions.
Horford, the third overall pick in the draft, is expected to start right away. At 6-foot-10, he is likely to see a lot of playing time at center after he averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds en route to a second straight NCAA championship in his final season with Florida.
"Al added the toughness we needed," said fourth-year forward Josh Smith, who averaged a career-high 16.4 points per game last season for the Hawks. "He's a monster on the boards. He tries to get every rebound. That's what I like about him. Also, he pushes the ball and makes good decisions in transition. He's got a good post-up game. He just has an all-around game."
Law - the 11th selection in the draft out of Texas A&M - is expected to come off the bench initially after injuries limited him to four preseason games.
As the rookies get settled in, the Hawks will rely on Joe Johnson to carry the offense. The shooting guard averaged a career-high 25 points last season, but was limited to just 57 games because of a season-ending calf injury.
"We all know that we've got something to prove," Johnson said after the Hawks finished with a 7-1 record in the preseason. "We've got to start the season off on a great note."
The Hawks feel that with the pair of prized rookies joining high-scoring veterans Johnson and Smith, they could make the playoffs.
"Anything less would be a disappointment," Smith said. "We've got a deep bench. Anyone can have a good game anytime. We're unselfish. We pass the ball. There's no excuse for not making the playoffs this time."
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