DALLAS — It was time for the final dress rehearsal Friday night as the Dallas Mavericks stepped into American Airlines Center ready to conclude the preseason against the Indiana Pacers.
Looking to replicate their 92-85 road win over a short-handed Pacers squad last Wednesday, the Mavericks returned to their home hardwood one final time before the season opener Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks. The Mavs also hoped to conclude the exhibition schedule on a high note against the Indiana team that finished one win shy of reaching the NBA Finals last season.
Instead, the Mavericks would get caught looking ahead to the season opener. And after falling to a 98-77 defeat, the Dallas team ended the preseason with a 4-4 record.
“They’re a very good team,” 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said of the Eastern Conference powerhouse Indiana team following the loss. “You know, that’s why they took the champs last year to a seven-game series and they had a chance to go to the Finals. They’ve been together for a long time … so this is a team that’s for real and they showed us we need to improve in a lot of areas.”
Led by the instant offense of new addition Monta Ellis, the Mavericks would come out firing on all cylinders to open the game. But, with the scoring threat on the bench, the Pacers (3-5) would stage a rally behind their All-Star combo as swingman Paul George and center Roy Hibbert paced Indiana to a 25-18 advantage after one.
Behind their bench and reserve Wayne Ellington, the Mavs attempted to rally after finding themselves down by as much as seven in the early going. Second-year standout Jae Crowder’s hustle on a scramble for a loose ball then created an opportunity for Nowitzki to bring the home team within one, 29-28, with 8:36 left in the half.
The Mavs wouldn’t slow down from there, utilizing stellar ball movement to sixth man Vince Carter for back-to-back 3-pointers to give Dallas a 36-31 edge midway through the second stanza. The Dallas team then snook into the halftime intermission with a 41-39 margin in hand.
Led by Ellis’ eight points on 4-of-9 shooting, the Mavs outshot the Pacers through two quarters, 38.5 percent to 31.8 percent. The Mavs held a 27-24 rebounding edge, too, while overcoming 13 first-half turnovers.
“We made a lot of mistakes that are kind of beat-yourself mistakes,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said as his team’s giveaway total and miscues would continue in the second half. “You know, we’ve been talking about it all training camp that one of the calling cards of this team has got to be we don’t beat ourselves, and we did a lot of it tonight. But Indiana had a lot to do with it. I mean, they’re the top defensive team in the league. They have great defenders, they have great length, they have tenacity and they have toughness, and they made a lot of that stuff happen. But we’ve got to do better.”
With his team looking stagnant to open the second half, Nowitzki intervened with a vintage jumper to complete a three-point play. A technical foul on George with 8:33 left in the third would help the Mavs widen the gap from there, charging ahead by eight before back-to-back slams by George and Pacers point guard George Hill forced a timeout by Carlisle with his team up just 51-49 and 7:27 left in the period.
A 3-pointer by Lance Stephenson then extended what would turn into a 13-0 Indiana run to regain the lead. Meanwhile, with Mavs center Samuel Dalembert in foul trouble and on the bench, Hibbert began to assert himself inside. But it was George that would take the Pacers into the fourth with a 71-62 advantage.
“We were moving the ball and then all of a sudden it just turned around for the worst,” forward Shawn Marion confessed. “It just went away. They turned it on and we turned it off. It’s that simple.”
Attempting to bury any hope of a Dallas comeback, George continued to score with ease early in the fourth. Orlando Johnson’s triple then put the Mavs in an 80-66 hole with 8:57 left, forcing a Carlisle timeout in the process.
The coach burned his final timeout a short time later, falling into an 89-68 hole with 5:28 on the clock before finishing the night with his reserves.
Finishing with a team-high 14 points despite going 4-of-12 from the field, Nowitzki led the way for the Mavs in a losing effort. Marion was the only other Mav in double figures with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with six rebounds. Meanwhile, despite a 4-of-14 shooting night, Ellis filled up the stat sheet with nine points, five rebounds and six assists.
“Collectively, there were some good things that we did and some bad things that we did. That second half it seemed like we just said, ‘It’s over with.’ Everything we tried to do went wrong,” Marion said while summing up the night.
Leading four Pacers in double figures, George finished the night as the high-point man with 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting to go along with six rebounds and six assists. The Pacers outshot the Mavs as well, 40.4 percent to 37.0 percent, in addition to a 53-43 rebounding edge and 30 points off Dallas’ 25 turnovers.
“Yeah, we’ve got to do a better job protecting the ball, but they’re a very good team. They’re long at every position. They’re smart, they’ve been together a while, and they just stepped up a little bit in the second half, turned the pressure up and we didn’t react the right way. … That was a brutal second half, but that’s a good team showing us that we have a long way to go, so maybe this wasn’t all bad,” Nowitzki concluded.
Note: The Mavericks return to American Airlines Center when they open up the regular season Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks. The game will air locally on Fox Sports 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.