DALLAS — Through the first two preseason contests Dallas Mavericks fans had yet to get their initial look at new addition and expected starting point guard Jose Calderon as he battles a strained left hamstring.
Already ruled out for Monday night’s contest as his team continues to play minus big man Brandan Wright (fractured left shoulder), veteran guard Devin Harris (toe surgery) and rookie Shane Larkin (ankle surgery), Calderon then revealed that he will also miss the team’s road matchup two nights later against the Indiana Pacers, creating another opportunity for 25-year-old rookie Gal Mekel to continue to man the floor general duties for the Mavs in the first unit. However, Monday night Calderon’s absence would be felt early as the Mavericks fell behind by 20 quickly before eventually sliding to 1-2 in exhibition play following a 102-94 loss to the Orlando Magic.
“Look, we’re down point guards, we’re down one of our best bigs, so the guys we’ve got have got to take up the slack and it’s not easy,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after his short-handed team’s loss. “You know, Orlando is an aggressive, young team and they were 0-2. They came out … and they were ready to fight all night long. We didn’t respond well early, but we did better as we got into the game. The challenge is to have the right disposition at the start, ’cause I told the guys all the games we play are going to be like this. I mean, teams are going to be coming at us. We’re going to be coming at them, too, but we’ve got to be ready for this kind of force. Early in the game we weren’t.”
With Calderon still sidelined, Mekel would be joined by projected starters Monta Ellis, 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, center Samuel Dalembert and second-year standout Jae Crowder, who slid into the starting lineup as four-time All-Star Shawn Marion (rest) sat out the exhibition contest. Mekel then lined up against No. 2 overall draft pick Victor Oladipo as the Mavericks looked to get off to a fast start in the opening quarter.
Nowitzki would do his part to get his team on track early, picking up where he left off at last Wednesday night after scoring 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting in 23 minutes of work during the team’s 95-90 win in Memphis. But a 22-2 Orlando run would tip the scoreboard in the visitors’ favor midway through the period before the Magic (1-2) escaped into the second stanza with the Mavs in a 30-19 hole.
“I think we let them get in a rhythm and let them get too many points in the first quarter,” Ellis confessed. “It’s unacceptable, but then we did a lot of great things. We brought a lot of energy in the second quarter and in the beginning of the second half to come back and take a lead. We came up short, but we did a lot of positive things.”
Back on the attack in the second period, Nowitzki’s jumper from near the top of the key trimmed the deficit to nine, 32-23, with 9:38 remaining in the half. The 7-footer then connected on a vintage 3-pointer to bring the Mavs within five, handing the scoring responsibilities over to Ellis and sixth man Vince Carter a short time later as the Mavs charged as close as within two.
Still, even despite Nowitzki’s 16 first-half points on 6-of-9 shooting, the Mavs trailed 52-48 at the intermission.
Outshot 50 percent to 39.5 percent and losing the rebounding battle 25-17 through two quarters, the Mavs remained in the game thanks to Nowitzki’s scoring outburst. Meanwhile, Mekel struggled in place of Calderon with four turnovers.
“We need [Calderon's] ability to stretch the floor. We need his experience. You know, it’s tough for Gal right now,” Nowitzki said. “He’s basically our only point guard on the roster right now. … With Larkin out and Devin out, Gal is kind of the only guy. And I think he’s trying and he’s doing well, but he’s got to learn a few things. You know, he’s turning the ball over here and there, so he’s kind of got to adjust on the fly. But that’s what preseason is for, and it will help him in the long run to get better. He’s got to fight through it right now.”
Like he did much of the first half, Nowitzki inched the Mavericks even closer with a jumper to start the third quarter. He also carried it over to the defensive end while assisting Dalembert with rim protection before connecting on a four-point play at the top of the arc to lift the Mavs to a 58-55 advantage.
Nowitzki and Ellis would then do their best to hold the Magic off before the Mavs found themselves up just one, 73-72, entering the final quarter.
With his two stars on the bench resting, Carlisle handed the game over to the team’s roster hopefuls. In the meantime it wouldn’t take long for the Magic to assume control of the game, however, upping the separation on the scoreboard back to double digits.
The Magic then held off a final charge from Dallas’ valiant young contributors.
Scoring 24 points in 26 minutes of action, Nowitzki continued his efficient play with a 9-of-14 shooting night and 2-of-4 from behind the 3-point arc.
“Well, you know, just finding my spots,” Nowitzki modestly said while summing up his night. “The guys do a good job of penetrating and getting me the ball. Monta is great driving and kicking and always looking when he doesn’t have it and kicking it out. I’ve been open and I had a good rhythm. The first week when we practiced twice a day I don’t think I made one single shot, so it’s probably averaging out now back to 50 percent.”
Ellis was the only other Mav in double figures with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting to go along with four rebounds and five assists. Dallas also scored 40 points off the Magic’s 28 turnovers, surrendering only 12 giveaways as a team for 14 Orlando points at the other end.
Maurice Harkless led five Magic players in double figures with 16 points on 5-of-8 from the field. The Magic also finished the game outshooting the Mavs, 52.1 percent to 37.9 percent, in addition to a 54-32 rebounding advantage.
“The rebounding was poor and our rebounders have got to step up and help us,” Carlisle concluded. “You know, Sam had eight, but we need our other bigs to get more and we need our guards to help us. It’s got to be a collective effort.”
Note: The Mavericks return to action Wednesday night on the road in Indiana for a matchup against the Pacers. The game will tip off at 6 p.m. CT.
The team returns to American Airlines Center Oct. 23 against the Atlanta Hawks. The game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest 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.