Indiana Pacers pose formidable challenge for Mavericks

Rick Carlisle expects to see a much more defined and polished Indiana Pacers team Friday night than the one the Dallas Mavericks coach saw in last week’s preseason game.

On Oct. 16, the Mavericks flew to Indianapolis and defeated the depleted Pacers 92-85. They played without center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West, who were rested, and small forward Paul George (bronchitis), and then lost shooting guard Danny Granger less than 9 minutes into the game with a calf injury.

In other words, it wasn’t the same Pacers (2-5) that took the world champion Miami Heat to seven games in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. But the Mavericks (4-3) expect to see some semblance of that team in their final preseason game at 7:30 Friday night at American Airlines Center

“It’s another top team, so that’s a good situation for us,” Carlisle said after Thursday’s practice. “The last time we played them they weren’t anywhere near full strength — they’ll be a lot closer to that [Friday night], so it’s a great test for us.

“It’s a big physical team that was the best defensive team in the league last year, so they’re going to test your ability not only to score, but to get clean shots. So we need that work.”

One of the favorites to win the NBA title this season, the Pacers will be without Granger because of that lingering calf injury. However, they still have the quality inside and perimeter players that can put immense pressure on the Mavericks’ defense.

“Defensively they cause problems because they’re so big and strong, and they shoot it well from the outside,” Carlisle said. “There’s a lot of things you’ve got to deal with with Indiana, and it’s a great team for us to play at this point.”

Especially with the Mavericks set to open the regular season Wednesday at home against the Atlanta Hawks.

Mekel’s transition

The transition from playing pro basketball in Europe to playing in the NBA hasn’t been a smooth one thus far for Gal Mekel.

The rookie point guard has turned the ball over 24 times in seven preseason games. But that part of Mekel’s maturation doesn’t surprise Rick Carlisle.

“I would guess that this three weeks of basketball, he’s learned more in this three-week period of time probably than he ever has in his life,” Carlisle said. “Just because the game is so different and so new, and the athletes are so much quicker and faster.

“If you look at the stats, he’s got a lot of turnovers. But he’s made big improvements, and I just see him getting better and better.”

Setting a pace

While training camp has been largely spent installing defensive plays, the Mavericks have gradually worked in some offensive plays.

The urgency, however, is to make sure the players are on the same page defensively.

“We’ve got to make sure we know the [offensive] stuff we’ve got,” Rick Carlisle said. “We worked on some end-of-game situations [Thursday], and we’ll keep working on situational things that we need.

“But it’s not the time to overload our guys or our new guys.”

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