Stadium view of the Smoothie King Center during the New Orleans Pelicans open practice at Smoothie King Center, New Orleans LA on September 30, 2017.

Advocate Photo by STEPHEN LEW

Normally, a buzzer-beating shot like the one Cheick Diallo nailed during the Pelicans' practice Saturday wouldn't have been a big deal.

After all, it was just practice.

But this wasn't just any old practice.

There were 6,500 fans in the Smoothie King Center to prove it.

Yes, you read that right.

On the last day of September, right smack dab in the middle of football season on a day that would have been picturesque for one of those New Orleans festivals, 6,500 fans woke up on a Saturday morning and made their way to watch the Pelicans PRACTICE.


Normally when you get a crowd figure from team officials, you assume the number is a bit inflated.

Not this time.

In fact, I thought the number may have been a little low.

Traffic was backed up on Dave Dixon Drive 30 minutes before tipoff, leaving me to wonder if there was something going on at Champions Square that I didn't know about. Or maybe fans were arriving a day early for a Saints' game watch party.


Inside of those cars were Pelicans fans, eager to get a sneak peek at the new-look Pelicans.

Miriam Gauff and her son Xavier made the short drive from Luling.

"I loved it," Gauff said. "I'm really excited about what the season holds, especially with it being the first full season with AD and Boogie. And I love the addition of Rondo. So I'm excited."

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday give the Pelicans a quartet of star power the franchise hasn't seen in years.

Because of the foursome, the expectations are higher than normal, which is why so many fans gobbled up the free tickets to Saturday's open practice.

"Just to see our fans come out there and support us before the season even starts shows us how pumped up and excited they are and it's only going to make us want to come out there and work harder," guard E'Twaun Moore said.

Moore drained a 3-pointer for the first points of the scrimmage, helping ease some of the concerns about the team's outside shooting.

And there were plenty more Pelicans showing they can shoot from the outside as well.

Newcomer Ian Clark, who was playing alongside Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson this time a year ago, came down and sank back-to-back treys at one point.

The two big men, the focal points of all this optimism in the first place, made their share of 3-pointers as well.

The crowd got more into the scrimmage as the day went on, especially when coach Alvin Gentry gave the instructions for one side of the arena to cheer for the team in the red and the other side to cheer for the gray.

Chants of "Let's go, red team!" and "Defense!" rang out as if this was Tuesday night's pre-season opener against the Chicago Bulls or the Oct. 20 regular season home opener against the Golden State Warriors.

Originally, the Pelicans were planning to hold this practice Sunday, giving the fans a chance to watch the Saints game on the big screen and then stick around for practice.

"The NFL, being the real flexible league that they are decided that we couldn’t do that," Gentry said. "The Not Flexible League. But it worked out great. The fans came out. I thought we had a great crowd. They did a really, really good job."

They did.

Turns out, there was no need for the Pelicans to piggyback off the Saints.

This crowd was all about the Pelicans.

The loudest cheers came when Diallo made a fallaway jumper at the buzzer to give his team a victory in one of the scrimmages.

Diallo, in his second season with the Pelicans, said it was his first buzzer-beater since high school.

But does it count since it was just in practice?

"Of course, it does," Diallo responded.

There were 6,500 fans who would agree with him.

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.