Pelicans aim to keep improving on preseason trip to Biloxi

New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams (AP Photo/John Raoux)
New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams (AP Photo/John Raoux)

BILOXI, Miss. — The New Orleans Pelicans are 3-0 in the preseason, which could be an indication they’re playing well heading into Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center.

Second-year power forward Anthony Davis is playing so well that he’s creating a buzz within the team and among its fans. And coach Monty Williams said he loves the effort, intensity and focus his team has shown as it prepares for the regular season.

But Williams employed one of his usual sayings when talking about where the Pelicans are: “This is no time to get happy on the farm.”

As the Pelicans head to the midway point of their exhibition schedule, Williams cautioned that they still have a long way to go. He sat the team down for a long film session when it returned from what appeared to be a successful three-games-in-five-days road trip to start the preseason.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “The guys saw a lot of things that we’re not that good at right now. Points in the paint have been really high. I think we (allowed) 50 against Houston. It came down some (against Orlando). We don’t want to start eating the cheese. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and that’s paramount.”

Williams said the points in the lane can’t be laid at the feet of new center Greg Stiemsma. But Stiemsma has not cemented himself as the starter, and a good performance Sunday would start to convince Williams that the position is in good hands. Stiemsma has averaged 1.0 point and 1.3 rebounds in the exhibitions, playing 15.0 minutes.

“I thought he was a lot more active in the Orlando game,” Williams said. “Once he gets better talking in pick-and-roll and getting up on pick-and-roll, he’s going to get even better. But the points in the paint are not on him. We’ve given up points in the paint in transition, not guarding the ball from the wings on in. Greg does a good job covering for guys.”

Williams said he likes that Stiemsma blocks shots, can rebound and, with his physical style, is able to fare well guarding bigger centers. But he also said he would not be against replacing him with backup Jason Smith and allowing Davis to play center sometimes — although not a lot.

Chemistry is something Williams will be watching with interest Sunday, he said.

Along with all the defense a Williams team is expected to digest, trying to get his team to at least begin to run smoothly has been his biggest challenge, and injuries have compounded that.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” he said. “We’ve put in our offensive package to a degree, and we’re still spending a lot of time going over it. The guys are all from different teams, and they have different languages in their heads.

“We have a ways to go in every instance.”

Anthony Morrow, who started in place of injured guard Eric Gordon on the road trip and could remain there until the season opener, said chemistry has been coming along well. He said even the returning players have been slowed a bit because Williams has put in new plays.

“We’ve been communicating really well on both ends of the floor,” he said. “Offensively, we’re having a lot of good spurts where we’re really in sync.

“We’re having some spurts where we’re a little out of sync, where we’re a step behind. But I think, collectively, we’re making a lot of strides on both ends of the floor.”

He said that, although this is the preseason, the 3-0 start is a good sign and means a lot for this new group and its young players.

“We haven’t won anything together, so this 3-0 is big for us,” he said. “It’s like the season’s already started.”