Jason Smith, who was expected to be an anchor for the New Orleans Pelicans’ second unit, confirmed after Saturday’s scrimmage he will be the starting center when the team tips off the season Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers.
Coach Monty Williams wasn’t available for comment after the scrimmage. However, Smith was the starter in the Pelicans’ preseason finale at Orlando and in the scrimmage played with the Blue team comprised of starters against the White team, which had members of the second unit.
Smith said it will be the first time in his seven-year NBA career that he has opened the season as the starting center.
“It will be,” said Smith, who is entering his fourth season with New Orleans. “I had some starts during the lockout year, but that was sort of an interesting season in itself.”
Center Greg Stiemsma was signed to a two-year free-agent contract in the offseason as a physical presence in the middle who protected the rim with his shot-blocking. However, he was largely ineffective this preseason, averaging 1.0 points on 33.3 percent shooting and 2.6 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. He was part of the team’s problems with turnovers in preseason, and against the Miami Heat had three, including on back-to-back possessions, although he played just 12 minutes, 35 seconds.
Stiemsma averaged 2.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 55 games with the Boston Celtics in 2011-12 and 4.0 points on 54.5 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 76 games with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.
He said it has taken an adjustment to learn the new plays and how to fit in with his new teammates.
“I think just a new atmosphere, new team, new guys put together,” he said. “We all have the same goal, which is to be on the same page at the same time, and someday it’s going to come together.”
He didn’t seem concerned, at least for now, that he will not start, although that was a big reason he signed with the Pelicans. He said he remained confident despite his struggles.
“Preseason is preseason,” he said. “Let’s see what happens when the real games start.”
All tied up
The Pelicans’ scrimmage ended in a 55-55 tie Saturday before a few thousand fans.
After the Pelicans practiced, they were split into two teams and played two running-time, 20-minute halves. Williams did not want to have an overtime period.
With positions and roles pretty much set, the event was like a normal practice scrimmage but with fans present. The Blue team was coached by lead assistant Randy Ayers, with Fred Vinson as his assistant. The White team was headed by assistant coach Dave Hanners, with Bryan Gates and Kevin Hanson as assistants.
“It was a chance for us to have fun with the fans,” Smith said.
For much of the scrimmage, it appeared the White team was more intense and intent on winning while the Blue team was making sure it had its execution down pat.
The White team led by as many as 12 points in the first half and led 36-26 at halftime. However, the Blue began the second half playing more freely and quickly cut into the lead.
The White led 53-44 with 5:11 remaining. Smith then sank three consecutive shots for the Blue. Eric Gordon followed with a 3-pointer and Anthony Davis dunked a long lob from Al-Farouq Aminu to tie the score at 55 with 35 seconds left.
Both teams had a chance to win, but the White’s Tyreke Evans blew past Aminu only to miss the driving shot with 15 seconds left. Then, Davis missed a driving shot at the buzzer.
“We wanted to win,” said Evans, who came back from a sprained left ankle and played Friday night at Orlando. “We just couldn’t get the win.”
The Blue team burst to an 8-0 lead at the start before jump shots by Stiemsma and Brian Roberts around a 3-pointer by Ryan Anderson pulled the White to 10-7.
Anderson sank consecutive 3-pointers in a 10-2 run that gave the White team a 29-18 lead. Roberts’ 3 with 46 seconds left in the first half pushed it to 36-24, and the score was 36-26 at halftime.
White team forward Lance Thomas had 16 points.
Roger Mason Jr., who played in New Orleans last season, will be a member of the Miami Heat when NBA rosters are finalized at 4 p.m. Monday.
Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said the team wanted Mason five years ago, but he signed with the Spurs because he would be a starter.
Mason was gracious toward Williams, his former coach, when the Heat played the Pelicans on Wednesday.
“He made me a better defensive player, and that’s what the Heat is all about,” said Mason, beaming. “I owe a lot to Monty. He’s a great teacher.”
Mason, considered a pros pro, was brought in to be a strong locker-room presence for the young team. He said leaving New Orleans was necessary to get back to who he is as a player, however.
“I had become a stationary jump shooter,” he said. “I needed to get back to being more of a play-maker and scoring in different ways.”
Former LSU center Justin Hamilton is not expected to make the team, however, although Spoelstra said he liked the way he played. The Heat already has 13 players under contract before bringing back small forward Michael Beasley, a former No. 2 overall pick by Miami, and signing Mason.