Pelicans get early start to preseason

On Monday, the day before training camp began, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams already was asking who made his preseason schedule.

After just three days of practice — albeit two-a-days — here it is: the team’s exhibition opener Saturday night in Houston against the Rockets. Clearly, with a new team learning new things, Williams would like more time.

“You’re putting a lot of stuff in,” he said. “You’re putting in sideline out-of-bounds plays and baseline out-of-bounds plays, and we’ve got to have them because we’re playing a game. Whereas before, you wouldn’t put that stuff in until after a week of practice. It can be tough on a young team because you don’t know the stuff you should know.”

But Williams is glad to get a chance to see his team in game situations. Out-of-bounds plays represent just a sliver of what has been fed to the young Pelicans, who are 24.5 years old on average. The players have been fed a heavy dose of Williams’ staple — defense — and are expected to digest it totally.

“I’m most interested in our defense, how we keep the ball in front of us and how we play as a team defensively,” he said. “I want to see us defend and rebound and get out and run.”

Williams said he has been most encouraged by his team’s effort and intensity in practice. With as many as eight new players, he said he’s curious to see whether they can maintain that and whether they can strike a balance, even though it’s early.

“We’ve had some high-intense practices from an effort standpoint,” he said. “But when you get into the games, you’re trying to be sharp, and your effort goes down because you’re trying to execute. I don’t want that. I want our effort to stay at a high level.”

Chemistry is an issue in training camp with so many new players. Right now, having to learn so much so quickly would seem to make it difficult for the team to start jelling. But that has been coming along well, Williams said, with summer pickup games having a lot to do with it.

“Certainly watching the chemistry on the floor and watching our guys come together has been something I’m pleased about,” he said. “But I don’t want to get too happy on the farm with that because we haven’t played any games and haven’t gone through anything.”

Saturday’s game also could give Pelicans fans a glimpse at the team’s plans at center. Greg Stiemsma — and perhaps rookie Jeff Withey — will go against Dwight Howard, the Rockets’ big offseason signing considered the best in the NBA.

Since it’s the first exhibition game, Howard likely won’t play much. Stiemsma said he’ll be more concerned with making sure he’s doing all the right things, particularly on defense. Still, going against Howard has gotten his attention — even if it’s only for a little while.

“There’s nothing like getting thrown into the fire right away,” said Stiemsma, who’s entering his third NBA season. “But this league is about challenging yourself. Preseason is for getting better and seeing what we’ve got to work on, and there’s nothing better than being challenged by the best and seeing what areas we need to focus on a little more.”

Starting point guard Jrue Holiday said that after some physical battles against the same guys for the past six weeks or so, he’s ready to check the dipstick on the team’s progress.

“I’m excited,” said Holiday, who like Stiemsma will be playing his first game as a Pelican.

“I think everybody’s kind of anxious to get out there and play against somebody else, run the plays against another team.”