As NBA Season Opens, Israeli Eyes Are Upon Texas

With Omri Casspi's rebirth in Houston, Dallas rookie Gal Mekel won't be lonely in the Lone Star State.

Jerry Mittleman
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Jerry Mittleman

The new NBA season begins this week and while many eyes are on the champion Miami Heat, Israelis are thinking Texas. For the first time, two Israelis will appear on NBA rosters - each on a team from the Lone Star State.

Both Omri Casspi with the Houston Rockets and Gal Mekel with the Dallas Mavericks have golden opportunities to prove themselves.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that "there are no second acts in American life," but Casspi is now with his third team, and if his preseason showing is any indication, he's finally ready to succeed in the big time.

After failing during two-year stints with both the Sacramento Kings and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Casspi has averaged 13 points a game during the Rockets' exhibition campaign, shooting a torrid 55 percent from the field.

Unlike the Kings and Cavs, the Rockets are a well-coached, high-powered squad that plays an up-tempo game and shares the ball generously. This appears to be a good fit for Casspi's hustle and aggressiveness that were often wasted during his rookie season in Sacramento.

Houston's Kevin McHale is a successful NBA coach who has shown trust in Casspi and rewarded him with a spot in the Rockets' rotation. Preseason stats can be misleading, but Casspi might just confirm the belief that given the proper system and coaching, he can make it in the NBA.

Mekel and the Mavs

As one of four point guards with the Mavs, rookie Mekel has benefited from injuries to two of his rivals. Both nine-year veteran Devin Harris and rookie first-round draft choice Shane Larkin (son of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin) are coming off surgery and will need at least a month to return to the court.

Starting point guard Jose Calderon also began the preseason sidelined with an injury, so Mekel got to start in the first four of the Mavs' seven exhibition games this month. The on-the-job training has sped Mekel's development.

At this point, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is pleased with Mekel. He's satisfied with the Israeli's good understanding of the game and his solid defense, but Mekel still needs to gain more experience, improve his shooting and cut down on his turnovers.

Due to the injuries to Harris and Larkin, Mekel is assured a place in the Mavs' rotation as Calderon's backup. Hopefully he can establish a role for himself when Dallas is at full strength.

Omri Casspi (right) during Houston Rockets' preseason victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.Credit: AP
From left: Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, Alon Mekel, Gal Mekel and Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson, July 10, 2013. Credit: AP

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