DALLAS — The indisputably good news is that NBA basketball is back, the Mavs tipping off their preseason Monday at the AAC. More disputable? The physical conditioning of a new big man and the mental conditioning of a new kid who coach Rick Carlisle said was ‘thrown into the deep end of the ocean’ in Dallas’ 94-92 loss to the Pelicans.
The sheer glee on the faces of veterans like Dirk Nowitzki told a story that will ideally resonate long past the time when the score of Preseason Game No. 1 is remembered. Basketball is back — and in some cases Monday, good basketball was back.
Monta Ellis, starting at the 2-guard for the Dallas Mavericks, demonstrated a combination of aggressiveness and patience that helped earn him 13 points (including two-of-three shooting from the arc) and a team-high seven assists. Said coach Rick Carlisle: “Monta played well and this is how he’s been playing during the whole camp. He’s going to make a lot of good things happen for us.”
Meanwhile, big man Brandan Wright came off the bench to go 7-of-8 from the field and total a team-high 14 points in 19 minutes and looked rangier and stronger than in seasons past. He was part of a Dallas bench that outscored New Orleans 65-42, with Jae Crowder (10), Wayne Ellington (nine) and Vince Carter (eight) also pitching in.
The Pelicans countered with Anthony Davis recording game-highs of 25 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes. Reserve guard Brian Roberts scored all 17 of his points in the fourth quarter, including the winning jumper with 21.7 seconds to play,
And while Nowitzki did not put up numbers in the class of the aforementioned (six points), his mere presence is boost enough, as he’s proclaimed himself to be in peak shape after starting his offseason training in May, earlier than ever.
The almost-positive? Dallas had a chance to win the game at the buzzer when rookie second-round guard Ricky Ledo launched a 3 try that missed the mark.
“I thought it was going to hit the backboard and go in,” Ledo said.
And the “disputable”? That’s the proper heading for the unsteady work of new center Samuel Dalembert and rookie point guard Gal Mekel, each of whom was given a start. In Dalembert’s case, this is a full-time gig and to his credit, he devoted a great deal of pregame time to attempting to accelerate his readiness. But the 7-footer’s conditioning isn’t there, a fact made obvious when he committed four fouls in five minutes and reinforced when Carlisle addressed the problem openly with the media.
Meanwhile, Mekel, a rookie with a guaranteed contract based on two seasons of MVP-winning work in Israel, got the start in place of point guard Jose Calderon (who is nursing a hamstring problem). The result?
“17 turnovers in the first half is a number I don’t know that I’ve ever seen before,” said Carlisle — and Mekel was right in the middle of that muddle. “We knew that taking care of the ball has got to be one of our keys this year. To get that kind of a start, it was ugly. The game stayed close, and it could have gone either way. There are a few good things that were going on in the game, but that was the one really bad part of it.”
Mekel finished 1-of-5 from the floor for two points with five turnovers.
“I thought he gained a lot of experience in a short period of time,” Carlisle said, noting that moving from overseas play to a starting role in a first NBA game is “literally getting thrown into the deep end of the ocean.”
But even the deep end is better than the dry spell. Mavs basketball is back — complete with good news, almost-positives and some “disputables.”