BOSSIER CITY, La. – Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle had a wry smile when he was asked his assessment of his "first unit’’ against New Orleans’ first unit in Thursday night’s preseason game at CenturyLink Center.
"When we had four points after seven minutes, a lot of people were concerned,’’ Carlisle said. "But I wasn’t.’’
Actually, with 3:33 left in the first period, the Mavs still had just four points. At that juncture they also had accumulated six turnovers and appeared as though they were on their way to being blown away.
In other words, the Mavs’ starting unit of Gal Mekel, Richard Jefferson, Al-Farouq-Aminu, Jae Crowder and Greg Smith didn’t fare too well against the Pelicans’ starting five of Anthony Davis, Tyreke Davis, Omer Asik, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday.
The Pelicans wound up winning the game, 88-85, as the Mavs fell to 3-4 in preseason play while playing in front of a crowd of 10,658
Ricky Ledo nearly sent the game into overtime for the Mavs. But his 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the front of the rim and bounced harmlessly away.
"Right on line,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "He got a good look at it.’’
Mekel turned in another solid game for the Mavs as he finished with game highs in points (17), assists (eight) and minutes (42).
"When you play a lot of minutes you have time to make mistakes, and this is what every player wants, to play free, and try to let the game come to me,’’ Mekel said. "We wanted to win.
"Again, I think we played strong with the first unit – we were close. And in the end we thought we could have won.’’
Carlisle has been steadily praising the efforts of Mekel throughout these three-plus weeks of training camp and seven preseason games. Thursday night was no different.
"He’s continued to progress,’’ Carlisle said. "He got a great opportunity these last two games.
"He’s shooting the ball better and his decision-making has gotten better and he’s adjusted to the league. So he’s done a good job.’’
One thing Carlisle was looking at closely was which players could make his decision on roster cuts easier. The Mavs have 18 players and must trim their roster down to 15 by Saturday.
"It’s always going to be hard. We knew coming in we had at least 18 NBA players on the roster, and so there will be some tough decisions.
"But we’ve got another game (Friday in Orlando) to gauge where things are, and then we’ll see what’s what.’’
Center Bernard "Sarge’’ James is one of the players on the bubble for the Mavs. The second-year veteran made a strong case for himself to make the final 15-man roster by finishing with six points and a game-high 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.
"Sarge did a good job,’’ Carlisle said. "He was active, he protected the rim well a couple of times.
"I thought one time he had a block that got called goal-tending, so it was a tough break.’’
Charlie Villanueva also had some tough breaks as he collected 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and was just 1-of-6 from 3-point range in 19 minutes. Meanwhile, Jae Crowder tallied 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting, and Ivan Johnson added 11 points in 10 minutes on 4-of-6 shots.
New Orleans led 23-10 after the first period, 38-33 at the half and 59-55 after the third quarter. Evans led the Pelicans with 14 points, Davis tallied 13, and Ryan Anderson and Gordon each scored 12 points.
Carlisle said it was already pre-planned not to play Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris and Brandan Wright against the Pelicans, and instead save them for Friday’s preseason finale in Orlando. The game against the Magic will be a dress rehearsal for Dallas before the Mavs open the regular season Tuesday night in San Antonio against the defending world champion Spurs.
"When we laid out training camp this is the way it was going to go,’’ Carlisle said on why he rested certain players Thursday. "We’re going to play some of our main guys (Friday) night, Saturday will be an off day, we’ve got to practice Sunday and we’re getting on a plane (to San Antonio) Monday.
"So it’s all gone by very fast.’’