Pelicans outlast Mavs to open preseason

Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki talks about the first preseason game, Monta Ellis' performance, missing Jose Calderon and more.

DALLAS — One exhibition game down. Seven more to go.

Although it was just a small sample of how the Dallas Mavericks plan to get back to the playoffs this upcoming season, fans at American Airlines Center did get their first chance to see the new-look team facing off against an opponent the Dallas squad will see four times when the regular season gets underway as the Southwest Division rival New Orleans Pelicans traveled to Big D.

But, unlike the Mavericks (0-1) hope is the case more often than not when games begin to count in the standings, they wouldn’t leave the court victoriously following a 94-92 loss on their home floor.

“We did a lot of great things and some things we can get better at, but overall I think we played great,” new addition Monta Ellis said after the loss. “Not enough to win the game, but we got a lot of positive things out of it.”

Minus veteran point guard Jose Calderon for the preseason opener as he battles a strained left hamstring, the Mavs featured four of their projected starters in the first unit as 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and four-time All-Star Shawn Marion joined forces with newcomers Samuel Dalembert and Ellis. Meanwhile, 25-year-old rookie and two-time Israeli MVP Gal Mekel slid into the starting lineup at the point in place of Calderon.

Despite three quick fouls for Dalembert as he battled former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis inside, the Mavericks would stay within an arm’s reach early behind the do-it-all play of Ellis on the perimeter. Still, even despite holding the Pelicans (2-0) to 8-of-23 shooting in the period, the Mavs trailed 21-20 after one.

It wouldn’t take long into the second stanza for the Mavericks to gain the upper hand. Sixth man Vince Carter then joined the act, cashing in from behind the 3-point arc after stellar ball movement from his teammates. Backup big man Brandan Wright’s 10 first-half points then paced the Mavericks into the halftime intermission with a 42-39 advantage.

Outshooting the Pelicans through two quarters, 53.1 percent to 37.2 percent, the Mavs also held a 23-22 edge on the glass at the break. New Orleans stayed in the game behind Davis, though, as the versatile big man tallied up 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting and five rebounds in the half. Mekel’s four turnovers and the Mavs’ 17 first-half giveways also kept the visiting New Orleans team in the game.

“Besides one turnover where the guy took it from my hands, the other ones were unforced,” Mekel confessed after finishing the game with five total giveaways. “One travel, one leading pass, and I’m not worried about those. I mean, they can happen one game and next game I’ll correct those mistakes.”

With Ellis back on the attack early in the third quarter, the Mavs again attempted to pull away, going ahead by as much as seven before a 10-0 New Orleans run put the visitors back in front. Back-to-back triples from second-year standout Jae Crowder and newcomer Wayne Ellington would regain control for the Mavs, however, lifting the home team to a 67-62 lead after three.

Clearing his bench to keep players rested for Wednesday night’s outing in Memphis, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle would quickly see his team fall behind in the early minutes of the fourth period. The Dallas reserves would respond, however, tying the game at 75-all on Crowder’s and-one score with 7:37 remaining. Back-to-back long-range jumpers by rookie Ricky Ledo and Crowder then put the Mavs up 82-78 with 4:21 left, only to see Austin Rivers lead the Pelicans back to within one on a driving score with 1:48 left.

Pelicans guard Brian Roberts’ steal and score then put the visiting team up one, 91-90, prompting a timeout by Carlisle with just 41.5 ticks remaining. Not to be outdone, Mavs forward Renaldo Balkman responded, draining two free throws before Roberts cashed in with a long two to put New Orleans back up one. A miss by Crowder the next trip down the court and subsequent free throws by Roberts then sealed the Mavs’ fate before Ledo’s desperation miss at the final buzzer.

Finishing with a team-high 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting, Wright led three Mavs in double figures. Ellis added 13 points and seven assists, operating at both the point and shooting guard positions, while Crowder pitched in 10 points of his own. Nowitzki, meanwhile, finished the night with six points and four rebounds in 22 minutes of work.

“There’s stuff to work on honestly, but that’s normal,” Nowitzki said while summing up the night. “We had nine new guys again just like last year, so things aren’t going to be smooth after a week of training camp. … But that’s normal, so we’ve got some stuff to work on. That’s for sure.”

Davis finished with a game-high 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go with seven rebounds as five Pelicans scored in double figures. The Mavs did, however, calm a 43-40 edge in the rebounding department. And although Dallas finished the night outshooting New Orleans, 50 percent to 43.0 percent, the Mavs’ 28 turnovers for 24 Pelicans points ultimately proved to be the difference.

“My take is 17 turnovers in a first half is a number I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before,” Carlisle concluded. “We knew that taking care of the ball has got to be one of our keys this year, and just to get that kind of start was ugly. Look, the game stayed close and it could have gone either way and there are a few good things going on in the game, but that was the one really bad part of it.”

“Turnovers are a part of the game. You limit those turnovers and we had that many and we still only lost by two,” Ellis added. “We can cut that down. We were limited on point guards tonight, too, so that’s the positive thing about it. It was our first preseason game. You learn from it and get ready for the next one.”

The Mavericks will now head back to the practice court before returning to action on the road Wednesday night against Southwest Division rival Memphis.