Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay, left, and Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph battle for a rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. The Grizzlies won 97-85.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)


Dante Cunningham was inserted into the New Orleans Pelicans' starting lineup at small forward for Friday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Smoothie King Center.

Cunningham, 6 feet 8, replaced Tyreke Evans, 6-6. It is Cunningham's first start of the season since being signed by the Pelicans as a free agent on Dec. 2.

When shooting guard Eric Gordon missed 21 games with a torn left labrum before returning Jan. 5, Luke Babbitt, a 6-8 former power forward, started at small forward. Cunningham, who brings defense, athleticism and intensity, primarily is a power forward but can play both positions.

The media was alerted of the move a half-hour before game-time, after it met with Coach Monty Williams for his pregame interview. Williams then addressed changes he's made to the team's substitution rotation, saying he was “trying to find a rhythm” for the team with Gordon having returned.

Meanwhile, Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said he will play Friday night.

Randolph has missed the past nine games with a right knee injury.

“It was real tough to watch your team out their in the battle and worrying that you can play and do anything,” he said. “It's frustrating.”

Randolph, 33, hadn't played since Dec. 19 against the Chicago Bulls, when he was injured after going 22 minutes. The knee became swollen, prompting concerning there may be ligament damage, but an MRI the next day was negative.

Coach Dave Joerger said having Randolph back takes some of the stress off center Marc Gasol. The two comprise one of the top front-court duos in the NBA, particularly defensively.

“Marc has been getting beaten up pretty good,” Joerger said. “To have him back, it opens up shots for other people and helps our rebounding a lot. We miss him greatly."

Randolph, 33, had practiced the past two days before Friday's shoot-around. He said he may have been able to return sooner, but he and the team decided to be cautious.

“It'd be better to get out there and not have a relapse, trying to go out there, and hurt yourself,” he said. “It's a long season. You have to take it slow. You have to take care your body.”

NOTES: The Pelicans assigned rookie Russ Smith to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League for the third time this season.