DALLAS -- Rick Carlisle's eyes were wide open when he took the Mavericks' coaching job in 2008. Mark Cuban is driven by results. And while the owner has shown more patience than most people realize with his coaches and teams, nobody connected with the Mavericks wants the Dirk Nowitzki era to be about piling up regular-season wins.
With training camp for a new season starting in about two weeks, there's still only one ultimate goal. Going into Carlisle's third season, neither expectations nor attitudes have changed.
"Nothing different," Cuban said. "I want to win. The pressures are always the same because the goal is always the same. We're going to put it out there and see what we can do."
Something else hasn't changed much: the roster. The only big difference in the playing rotation is Tyson Chandler will be taking over Erick Dampier's minutes at center.
Other than that, the top nine players are the same at this point, pending the development of rookie Dominique Jones and the return of Tim Thomas, who missed most of last season to tend to his ill wife.
So what are the prime issues confronting the Mavericks? How can they feel like they are viable in a competitive Western Conference after failing to get past the second round in the playoffs in four consecutive seasons?
Here's a primer to preview what to look for leading up to camp.
Home cooking. The Mavericks were 27-14 on the road last season. Nobody was better. But at home, they were 28-13, which was sixth in the Western Conference.
That's totally unacceptable.
This season, they play 17 of their first 26 games at home. It's crucial that they take advantage of that schedule.
"That's going to be our opportunity to re-establish ourselves as a really good home team, which we have to do," Carlisle said. "We need to be better at home. And we need to continue to be strong on the road."
Defense matters. The Mavericks improved last season. They were 17th in total defense -- according to the team's calculations -- in 2009 and improved to 11th last season.
"'This year, we have to get firmly into the top 10," Carlisle said. "That's going to be a priority."
How, considering the roster hasn't changed much?
"We were in the top 10 for long stretches (last season)," he said. "We just got to avoid the dips."
The defense clearly lapsed after the trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. But the offense picked up.
Coaching security. If the Mavericks can get off to a good start, it should quiet the vultures that inevitably will question whether Carlisle is on the hot seat this season.
Carlisle is entering the third season of his four-year contract. He's been highly respected for his game strategies and adjustments, in spite of the playing-time controversy for Roddy Beaubois in Game 6 of the playoffs last season.
"Yeah, but that's good," Carlisle said. "You want to be in a situation of high expectations. That means your team is good. I love it and our team loves it. That's one of the reasons we're one of the best teams in the league in close games."
It goes back to the fact that the Mavericks have not been happy with the results of the first two seasons under Carlisle, who agrees with that assessment.
"They're both failures," he said. "One we got to the second round so maybe it's viewed as more successful. But we were a better team this past year. We just got beat in the first round.
"Our mission is to stay the course and keep working on the things we have to work on -- defense and getting better at home. That's the difference between ultimate success and perceived shades of success."
One sure thing: "We got to stick with what we've been doing and tweak things that need tweaking," Carlisle said. "But it ain't about blowing things up. That isn't who we are."