With starting power forward David West’s status uncertain due to a sprained right wrist, it appears reserve 7-footer Jason Smith will continue to fill an expanded role for the Hornets. New Orleans (1-2) faces Indiana and Atlanta on Friday and Saturday, respectively, but Hornets coach Monty Williams said he does not expect West to play.
“I don’t know for sure, but I highly doubt (West will play),” Williams said of the back-to-back set against the Pacers and Hawks. “I’m really conservative with the guys (who may have minor injuries). (West) looks good, but I’d rather him be 100 percent than go out there and re-injure it.”
As a result, Smith would receive the starting nod for a second straight game. The third-year NBA veteran turned in a strong performance in Wednesday’s win over the Miami Heat, totaling 13 points and eight rebounds. “To be that active and to knock down some shots and play solid defense was a good sign for Jason,” Williams credited. “Now he’s got to keep it going, because we’re still looking at backup bigs. Nobody has that backup spot solidified. But he played well.”
Other Hornets notes:
• The play of Marco Belinelli has been perhaps the biggest bright spot of the early portion of preseason. Through three games, the native of Italy is averaging a team-best 12.3 points. The starting shooting guard is 7-for-10 from three-point range. “Marco has a lot of talent and skill,” said Trevor Ariza, who can relate to having to play for several teams before getting an ideal opportunity to contribute. “All he needed was a chance to get somewhere he could show what he can do. He’s in a place and a situation where he can do that now. He’s playing with a point guard in Chris Paul who’s going to find him and get him open looks. Marco can also create for himself. Him being here is going to help his career.”
• Willie Green on why it’s likely the Hornets will look more cohesive as the preseason progresses: “We’ve got a new coach, a whole new system. Besides (six players), everybody’s new. Not that we want to use that as an excuse, but it does take time for everything to come together. This is a pretty unique situation (of so many changes), but at the same time we don’t want to make excuses and say that we’re not going to go out and play our best. We’ve got veterans on this team who know how to play basketball. We’ve just got to carry it over and be disciplined. We still have to clean up a lot of stuff and we’re going to play some very good (opponents), but if we can build on this and keep taking steps forward, we’ll be OK.”
• The Hornets expect newly-signed backup center D.J. Mbenga to join the team during the upcoming five-game, eight-day road trip, although the exact arrival date is uncertain.