Pelicans nip turnover-prone Mavs in preseason opener

All eyes were squarely on Gal Mekel in the Dallas Mavericks’ preseason opener Monday night at American Airlines Center.

But the rookie from Israel didn’t exactly prove he was ready for prime-time basketball.

Mekel started at point guard for the Mavs in a 94-92 loss to New Orleans in place of the injured Jose Calderon. However, he finished with just two points on 1-of-5 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and five turnovers in 19 minutes.

Not exactly the type of debut Mekel and the Mavs were anticipating.

“For the first time I felt good,” Mekel said. “Besides the one turnover where the guy just took it from my hands, the other ones were unforced.

“One travel, one leading pass — I’m not worried about those. They can happen one game, and I’m sure the next game I’ll correct those mistakes.”

The Mavs got 14 points from Brandan Wright, 13 points and seven assists from Monta Ellis and 10 points from Jae Crowder. Meanwhile, coach Rick Carlisle — lamenting his team’s 28 turnovers — figures this game will serve Mekel well in the long run.

“I thought he gained a lot of experience in a short period of time,” Carlisle said. “[The Pelicans’ Jrue] Holiday is a very good offensive player and he’s a strong defensive player, and so there were things that happened out there.

“It’s literally getting thrown into the deep end of the ocean when you jump into the NBA from a European league like that. Especially, it’s just an unfair thing for him to have to do right now, but he’ll learn more doing this and having a chance to start some games than coming off the bench and playing little bit roles here and there.”

Mekel started because the Mavs’ three other top point guards, Jose Calderon (hamstring), Devin Harris (toe) and rookie Shane Larkin (ankle), are all out nursing injuries. It was a baptism-by-fire sort of game for the 25-year old Mekel, who shined in recent years while playing in Italy and Israel.

“He played in a lot of very high-profile games internationally and has been very successful,” Carlisle said. “The NBA is a different depth of swimming pool, but he’s been in deep waters before.”

Maybe, but the waters Mekel dipped into Monday were pretty deep. And he apparently wasn’t ready for some of the high tides.

Calderon will sit out

For precautionary reasons, Jose Calderon will miss the first three preseason games.

Signed to a four-year, $29 million free agent contract in July, Calderon is projected to be the Mavs’ starting point guard. But he suffered a strained left hamstring during last Wednesday’s practice and hasn’t gone through a full practice session since.

Rick Carlisle acknowledged that Calderon will miss Wednesday’s game at Memphis and next Monday’s home game against Orlando and won’t be available to play until Oct. 16 at Indiana.

“He played all summer in the Euro [Basket] League and the World Championships,” Carlisle said. “Conditioning is not going to be an issue for him, but we’ve got to make sure his body is right.”

Calderon noted his injury is “nothing serious” and that he and the Mavs are just playing it safe.

“We don’t want it to be nothing serious there, so we’re taking a few days off and I’ll be back soon enough,” Calderon said. “So nothing to worry about.”

Calderon believes his injury stems from not having enough time off from when he finished playing for his native Spain in the Euro Basket League this past summer to the start of training camp. There was about a two-week gap between the two.

“I think I went a little bit real hard the whole summer working and rested for a few days and come back, and the first few days it was some tough practices as well,” Calderon said. “I just felt a little bit of tightness.”

Nowitzki’s health

Owner Mark Cuban is hopeful 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki can play an unlimited amount of years before he retires. But that may depend largely on how well the 16-year veteran can remain injury-free.

“Dirk is anal about his health,” Cuban said. “He won’t eat fried foods during the season; he won’t drink during the season.

“He’s disciplined enough that I think he sees guys like [Miami guard] Ray Allen and others who are going later and later and later, so who knows? I won’t put a limit on him.”

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