INDIANAPOLIS — With the season opener against the Atlanta Hawks exactly two weeks away and his team’s health situation steadily changing, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle entered the fourth preseason outing Wednesday night with a scheduled plan already in mind.
Holding starting point guard Jose Calderon (strained left hamstring) out one more game before making his exhibition debut Saturday night against Charlotte, Carlisle then made the decision to rest 36-year-old veteran Vince Carter versus the Indiana Pacers. The decision came two days after the coach also gave 35-year-old Shawn Marion a scheduled day of rest as the Mavs fell to 1-2 in the preseason following a 102-94 home defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic.
The Mavericks then lined up against a Pacers team playing without three starters as swingman Paul George (bronchitis), center Roy Hibbert (rest) and power forward David West (rest) all sat out the game for the home squad. And with both teams minus several of their main contributors, the Mavericks (2-2) had very little trouble sprinting to a 92-85 victory to move to even in exhibition play.
“Going forward, we’re basically two weeks from tonight playing an opening game, and in the big picture for me I’m looking at health, I’m looking at keeping guys fresh and giving guys enough of a rest that need it and getting them enough work, too. You know, there’s a lot of things to keep your eye on right now. And again, this is a very good schedule, ’cause this was a top-four team in the league last year. They were one of the final four teams, and we play these guys twice in a week and a half, so that will be good for us as we prepare,” the coach said before his team took the court.
Looking to bounce back from Monday night’s loss, the Mavericks got a quick jolt of energy after starting center Samuel Dalembert’s two-handed facial inside opened Dallas’ scoring. The big man would have to sit a short time later, though, after suffering a bloody nose following an accidental shot to the face.
Still, behind the perimeter shooting of 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and the playmaking of new addition Monta Ellis, the Mavericks would jump out to a quick eight-point lead. The advantage would be short-lived, however, as the Pacers (0-4) rallied to take a 25-23 edge while overshadowing Ellis’ seven assists in the opening quarter.
“You know, I’m still trying to find where guys like the ball. It’s just me being aggressive and making the right plays,” Ellis said of his offensive attack.
“He’s been fantastic,” Nowitzki added of Ellis’ addition. “I think we all knew that he could score and get to the basket, but his all-around game has been really impressive.”
Led by the scrappy play of last season’s second-round draft selections, Bernard James and Jae Crowder, the Mavs mounted a comeback after finding themselves down eight early in the second stanza. Ellis then shook off a technical foul with 6:02 left in the half for arguing with officials as the cat-quick guard and Marion took over the scoring responsibilities.
Ellis’ 13 points and nine assists at the midway mark then lifted the Mavs into the locker room with a 57-49 margin in their favor.
Led by Ellis and Marion, who tallied up 12 points and eight rebounds in the first half, the Mavericks outshot the Pacers through two quarters, 51 percent to 38.1 percent. The Mavs also held a 24-21 rebounding advantage.
With rookie Gal Mekel still standing in for Calderon in the first unit at the point, the Mavs began to open the game up in the third period. Meanwhile, Dalembert secured the paint on defense while Nowitzki and Marion further separated the squads on the scoreboard. And after leading by as much as 23, the Mavs escaped into the final period with a 79-60 advantage.
Finishing the game with his young contributors, Carlisle looked for his team to finish strong. But the coach would be forced to burn a timeout with the Mavs up just 81-68 and momentum swinging back to the Pacers with 8:53 left to play.
The coach again tried to settle his players when the home team charged within eight, 83-75, by calling for another timeout with 6:29 remaining. But it would be an and-one score by Mickey McConnell that would settle the Mavericks down while extending the lead back to 10.
The undersized guard then drew a charge the next time down the floor on the defensive end, only to have to answer again when the Pacers come right back to make it a three-point game, 88-85, with 1:38 remaining following two free throws by Donald Sloan. Crowder then followed suit before the Mavs put the finishing touches on the win.
Leading the way with 18 points on 9-of-18 shooting was Marion, who added 11 rebounds in his 25 minutes of work.
“I mean, my wind has been pretty good throughout preseason right now and in training camp, but I just wanted to be aggressive and my teammates were looking for me,” Marion said after returning to action in a big way. “The ball was moving a lot more and the ball was finding me.”
“[Marion] is going to be that X-factor when teams come off and try to guard the pick-and-roll,” Ellis added. “He knows the game and he’s going to get to the right spots. The only thing we have to do is find him.”
Meanwhile, Ellis pitched in 13 points, dishing out nine assists and forcing three steals in his 24 minutes of action. Nowitzki added 11 points, five rebounds and four assists as Dalembert also filled up the stat sheet by falling just shy of a double-double, scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds to go along with his four blocks on the defensive end.
Luis Scola and Orlando Johnson led four Pacers in double figures with 14 points apiece. Still, the Mavs’ 42.9 percent shooting bettered the Pacers’ 33.3 percent at the other end of the floor. The Mavs also surrendered their fewest turnovers of the preseason with 11 giveaways to Indy’s 17 miscues, adding a 48-46 rebounding edge and a 46-22 advantage in points in the paint.
“Other than a lag about midway through the first quarter I thought we played pretty well,” Carlisle said while summing up the night. “We played with pace, with intelligence and with an edge, and that’s how you’ve got to play in this league.”
“We’re just trying to get everything going. We’re narrowing down. This is our fourth game, so we’ve got four more left. It’s time to start buckling down and finishing out to get ready for the real season,” Marion concluded.
Note: The Mavericks return to action Saturday night on the road in Greensboro, N.C. for a matchup against the Charlotte Bobcats. The game will tip off at 6:30 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.