DALLAS — Although it isn’t believed to be a serious setback, the Dallas Mavericks will step onto the court for their first exhibition contest of the preseason without one of their prized summer signings in the starting lineup.
Hampered by a strained left hamstring, veteran point guard Jose Calderon was ruled out of Monday night’s preseason opener versus the New Orleans Pelicans during the team’s morning walkthrough. Now, with fellow new addition Devin Harris (toe) and first-round acquisition Shane Larkin (ankle) still rehabbing from offseason surgery, the first-string minutes will fall to 25-year-old rookie and two-time Israeli MVP Gal Mekel.
“You know, this is what it is. Larkin had an unfortunate thing happen early in the summer and Devin Harris’ situation is very unique, but both of those guys are doing well. You know, their timetables are just more extended than Jose,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said while assessing the banged up point guard position one week into training camp.
He added: “Jose is not going to play tonight, and we’ll probably hold him out a couple more games and just make sure. I mean, he played all summer in [Eurobasket] and so conditioning is not going to be an issue for him, but we’ve got to make sure his body is right. That’s really important.”
Despite not having his projected starting lead guard in action, Carlisle remains confident that the new-look Mavs can continue to build chemistry and continuity after seeing firsthand how effective Mekel can be during the Las Vegas Summer League. The coach also says that Mekel won’t lack confidence in his first NBA action.
“He’s been playing multiple years professionally in other countries,” Carlisle said of Mekel’s extensive resume before joining the team. “He’s played in Italy, he’s played in Israel, and those are very good leagues. He’ll be nervous tonight, which everybody is the first time they step into an NBA game, but that’s good. That means he’s ready to play.
“We’ve worked on some specific things that he needs to do, and tonight’s a good chance to kind of test it and see where we’re at, but it’s a great opportunity for him. With our situation with point guards being down at the present time, it’s a wonderful opportunity for him to step in and get minutes.”
The 6-foot-3 Mekel averaged 9.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in six games with the Mavs’ summer squad back in July. Still, while preparing to face stiffer competition at the next level after starring in the international game, Mekel says he has a lot left to prove to earn the trust of his head coach and teammates.
“The European level is high, but probably the intensity, the pace, the athleticism here is one or two or three levels above, so you have to think faster, you have to act faster, but it’s still basketball. … I prepared myself to work, and I worked really hard in the summer. Physically I feel good and I feel in good shape, but the size of the guys is bigger than in Europe. The athleticism, the quickness is a little bit difference, but every day I’m getting used to it.”
He added: “We’ve worked hard the last week. For me, the whole summer I prepared myself, and now it’s time to have fun. [Summer league] gave me confidence coming into this training camp, but when the first day of training camp starts it’s all fresh and new and you have to gain the confidence of the coaches and the players. So of course it’s good to have this thing in my mind that I had a good summer league, but still it all starts from scratch.”
The Mavs will also start from scratch as a team when they tip off their eight-game preseason schedule Monday night against the Pelicans (1-0).
Note: The Mavericks play host to the New Orleans Pelicans in the preseason opener Monday night at American Airlines Center. The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.