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Pelicans steal opener from Mavericks, win 94-92

New Orleans wins their first bout with their new name, beating Dallas in a down-to-the-wire match, thanks to a terrific fourth quarter from Brian Roberts.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks defeated New Orleans handily to end the regular season six months ago.  They lost the preseason opener tonight to New Orleans, 94-92, a team that came into the American Airlines Center with a new name and some new faces.

Obviously, this being an exhibition game, there were plenty of faces absent from the proceedings, on both sides, and the second half featured a cast of characters more likely to be seen in D-League action this year.  Still, a close game provided some exciting moments and some reasons for optimism going forward.

As reported on Mavs Moneyball earlier today, Jose Calderon would sit this one out, nursing a bad hamstring.  With Devin Harris and Shane Larkin also out, it meant rookie Gal Mekel would get the nod as starting point guard.

That...didn't go quite as well as one might have hoped, as Mekel had a fairly unspectacular debut, but Dallas received a big lift from their biggest free agent acquisition(at least in notoriety), Monta Ellis.

The first points of the game came on a Monta Ellis-Dirk Nowitzki pick and pop, with Ellis setting up Dirk for an open 18-footer: a layup for the Big German.  It was about as perfect a scenario as one could envision to start the preseason, and I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping we see this play a lot in the coming months.

Ellis, known primarily for his scoring exploits, put on a show with his passing tonight, setting up teammates for open looks at the rim, behind the three point line, and just about everywhere in between.  His teammates didn't always convert these looks, of course.  In fact, the first two Dallas possessions ended with an awful Mekel three point miss and a Dalembert fumble down low.  However, the chances were there all game long, thanks to Ellis' speed in beating his man either in isolation or off a screen, and a terrific feel for passing in traffic.

Both teams looked a bit rusty at the start, which should come as no surprise.  It took a little over two minutes for the game's first points, and almost halfway through the first quarter the score stood tied at 7 apiece.  Dallas would finish the first with 9 field goals and 9 turnovers, and a slim 21-20 deficit thanks to poor Pelican shooting(a funny phrase to write).

Dallas would start to find a groove in the second, building a 7 point lead on the strength of bench aces Brandan Wright and Vince Carter, but New Orleans had the answer, rattling off 7 quick points to tie the game.  A Jrue Holiday three would tie it at 30.  Brandan Wright would respond with back to back buckets, both on assists(and to this point Dallas would have 12 assist on 16 field goals), and Dallas appeared to have momentum going into the half, though Anthony Davis would score the final basket for his 17th point to make it a 42-39 advantage for Dallas.

In the second half, Dallas would come out aggressive, attacking the basket with back to back layups from Gal Mekel(who scored his first points on the one shot he definitely can make: a free-throw lane floater) and Monta Ellis, and again built a lead that threatened double-digits, but the theme of the night was that the Pelicans had answers at every turn.  Another Jrue Holiday three and one of far too many easy Davis layups tied the game at 40, and New Orleans would take the lead on back-to-back threes from former Maverick Anthony Morrow.

At this point, Rick Carlisle made mass substitutions, taking out his starters for good and putting in -- among others -- Jae Crowder and D.J. Kennedy, who had yet to play to this point but would finish out the game.

All things considered, the scrubs would do a pretty good job of making a game of it, as back to back threes from Crowder and Wayne Ellington to end the third quarter gave Dallas a five point cushion entering the final frame.

In the fourth, Rick Carlisle would reach deeper still into his bench, going to Ricky Ledo, Mickey McConnell, Bernard James and Renaldo Balkman.  Keep in mind, at this point starter Anthony Davis was still playing on the other side, as was second year guard Brian Roberts, who would come alive to score all 17 of his points in the last quarter.  That included 10 of the Pelicans' final 12 points, and a timely response to every Maverick point down the stretch.  A desperation heave from Ricky Ledo at the buzzer missed, and the Pelicans walked off the court winners, at 94-92.

Some observations from the game:

  • I think it goes without saying that the star of the night for Dallas was Monta Ellis, who stepped up in Jose Calderon's absence to lead all players with 7 assists in 25 minutes.  As I noted above, he could very easily have had more, if not for some noticeable rust on a few of his teammates, leftover from a long offseason.
  • To that point: 28 turnovers for Dallas. An inexcusable number, and it led to 24 points of TO's for the opposition.  Unquestionably, that number will be reduced, and getting Calderon back should go a long way towards doing so.
  • The other gold-star player was Brandan Wright, who connected on 7 of 8 shots, a couple being highlight reel quality connections from Ellis.  We're almost to the point where we take these kinds of nights from Brandan for granted, but it's scary to think how good he might be with Ellis and Calderon feeding him inside this year.
  • If Wright and Ellis represent the good, then I nominate Samuel Dalembert and Gal Mekel for the bad.  4 turnovers and 4 fouls for Dalembert in just 11 minutes, and 5 TO's along with a 1-5 shooting night for Mekel.  Dalembert may be feast or famine on offense.  When he caught it, it usually resulted in a dunk...but he has to catch it.  Dalembert was also torched by Anthony Davis, who finished with 25 points and looks like a serious breakout candidate.
  • Lots of other newcomers here, including DeJuan Blair and Wayne Ellington.  Blair looked a bit stiff on offense(and had some hideous looking dribble moves result in TO's), but cleaned up on the glass in limited action.  Ellington hit his open looks and made some nice hustle plays, including a drawn charge.  He won't be asked to do anything more than that, I don't think.
  • Jae Crowder missed his final shot, one that could have tied the game with under a minute left, but all in all it was a pretty solid performance.  Much was made of Crowder's weight loss and extra time in the gym practicing his outside shot.  Consistency is what we need to see from him on this front.
  • A fairly nondescript game from Dirk.  A few classic silky jumpshots, some nice passing and solid team defense.  For the time being the absence of negatives is a positive.  Chuck Cooperstein noted in the radio broadcast that Dirk had cited his drop in foul-rate as something he hoped to work on, which I think is extremely astute of Nowitzki.  However, his game was entirely perimeter oriented tonight, much like last year, so we'll keep an eye on how he does at getting to the line from now on.
  • I don't think he has much chance at all of making the team, but I feel I should at least mention D.J. Kennedy, who got 17 minutes -- more burn than several projected rotation players -- and wasn't awful.  Nothing about his game stands out, exactly, but 5 points, 5 boards and 3 assists is a solid line.  He looks like a gamer.
So, what did you think, Mavs fans?  What's your take on the new names in Dallas?  Give your thoughts below!

For more coverage, check out The Bird Writes, SB Nation's Pelicans Blog.