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Ellis + Nowitzki = playoffs

DALLAS -- It's not always going to be as much fun for the Dallas Mavericks as it was Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks.

But let's talk about the defensive lapses and turnovers another day.

For now, all our attention should be on Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki, because they put on a show in the opener that will have MFFLs -- Mavs Fans For Life -- giddy with the possibilities of what these two guys can accomplish on the court.

Ellis scored 32 points in his debut and Dirk added 24. The duo combined to make 19-of-31 shots as the Mavs beat the Hawks 118-109 at American Airlines Center.

What Ellis and Dirk did in the final two minutes is why these Mavs are headed to the playoffs; it's just a matter of where they're seeded.

Leading by nine with 2:05 left, Dirk hit a straightaway three-pointer after DeJuan Blair tapped an offensive rebound to midcourt and Ellis scooped it up and gave Dirk the ball.

Atlanta answered with a basket, but Ellis and Dirk ran a perfect pick-and-roll from the free throw line. When Ellis attacked the basket, he took two Atlanta defenders with him.

Then he flipped the ball over his shoulder to Dirk, who drilled another straightaway three-pointer for a 115-102 lead. After an Atlanta miss, the Mavs pushed the ball and Ellis hit an open 3-pointer from the right wing for a 118-102 lead with 1:17 left.

Dirk met Ellis at midcourt with a shoulder bump.

"I said it all preseason: His all-around game impressed me more than his ability to score," Dirk said of Ellis. "I knew he could score with the best of them in this league.

"His ability to make plays for others. The pass outs. The 3-pointers. The dump offs to Sammy [Dalembert] and [DeJuan] Blair. Those are the plays that make his teammates better, and that's what we need from him."

It's one game. And we know the Mavs beat the Lakers in their opener without an injured Dirk last season and still missed the playoffs.

But this is a much better team than the Mavs ever had last season. While Dirk's long-term health and effectiveness are the keys to the Mavs finishing as high as sixth in the rugged Western Conference, Ellis will make him a better player.

When's the last time we said that?

Jason Kidd probably made Dirk better, because he helped Dirk get easy baskets; but Kidd's lack of offense made it tough overall for the Mavs. Teams must respect Ellis' offense, which will make Dirk better.

Of the 14 shots Dirk took against Atlanta, few were contested. Most were quality looks because the Hawks were paying so much attention to Ellis.

We all know Ellis isn't going to average 32 points a game, but we saw against the Hawks what he can do this season when he's feeling good offensively. Ellis had eight assists and shot eight free throws.

"It's important we have the right guys in there with him," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, "so we can create the space he needs to attack."

Ellis consistently maneuvered into the lane, and he still finished with only 17 shots -- an indication he passed on poor shots. He trusted Carlisle's offensive system and his teammates.

Ellis' chemistry with Dirk on the pick-and-roll will only improve.

"He spaces the floor so good and Dirk understands how defenses play him," Ellis said. "so on the screen he'll pop behind me to make it a little harder for the defense to get to him.

"I'm grateful to have him. He sure takes the pressure off of me as a scorer. We just have to keep working on our game."

The Mavs have been looking to pair Dirk with a legitimate scorer for years. As good as Jason Terry was in Dallas, he averaged more than 16 points just once in eight years.

While there was no one aside from Dirk you would have rather had take a crucial shot than Terry -- the Mavs certainly would not have won a title without him -- he could not consistently take over a game with his offense.

Ellis can.

The Mavs don't want the burden to score fall on Dirk quite so much this year, which would allow Carlisle to keep the 35-year-old forward's minutes in the low 30s most nights. Dirk played 33 minutes Wednesday.

The reality is Dirk played 73 games in 2011, 62 games in 2012 and 53 last season. That trend must stop for this team to maximize its potential, so it is important to ease Dirk's burden.

And without quite so much emphasis on scoring, perhaps Dirk can even average seven rebounds a game -- something he's failed to do each of the past two seasons.

We can talk about that later, too.

This is a time to let your mind wander and consider all the possibilities of what could occur with Ellis and Dirk together for an entire season.