MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Told he’d be making his first career NBA start on Wednesday in Charlotte, Pelicans guard Orlando Johnson said he “couldn’t stop smiling.”
Turns out not all his teeth had a great debut.
Johnson, who signed a 10-day contract with New Orleans this week, bit into a snack bar before pregame shooting Wednesday and felt a crunch.
“I was like, ‘Damn, this bar’s kind of hard,’ ” said Johnson, who removed his bite of bar and found fragments of a rear tooth in it.
Johnson started the game and played with a temporary filling and had the tooth properly repaired Thursday in Memphis, where he came off the bench for the Pelicans on Friday night in his second game with the team.
That was just part of a whirlwind week for the 6-foot-5 guard, who’s playing for his fourth NBA team in three seasons. On Sunday, he played for the Austin Spurs in the NBA Development League. On Wednesday, he signed with the Pelicans and started in a 122-113 loss to the Hornets.
The Pelicans gave Johnson an iPad when he signed, and he’s spent his downtime in hotel rooms studying video of plays he’s expected to learn first. As he masters those, he’ll be given more to learn.
While he does, his more veteran teammates are providing guidance.
“We just try to talk to him throughout the game,” Anthony Davis said at Friday’s shoot-around. “You know it’s tough coming into a new team and trying to learn everything, and then throw you in as a starter and expect you to play well. A couple times in the Charlotte game, I just told him, ‘Just be aggressive. Just play.’ Of course he’s not going to know every play or every defensive assignment, but when you just play hard, that kind of makes up for that.”
Johnson sees himself as a defensive specialist who can make the corner 3-pointer — a “3 and D” player, in popular NBA terminology — and though he admits he’s had a lot thrown at him this week, he figures he can handle it.
“It’s not challenging. You dream about (starting in the NBA),” Johnson said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, man, you got to come out and do something spectacular.’ Just go out there and play solid. Be you. That’s the main thing I try to tell myself is be myself. Don’t try to do stuff that’s not me.”
Johnson turned 27 on Friday. It was the Pelicans’ second-most-notable birthday.
Davis turned 23, and Friday’s game against the Grizzlies was his first career NBA game on his birthday. But it wasn’t the first time Davis has played a game on March 11. He did it during his one season at Kentucky, and the experience left a bad taste.
“We lost the SEC (tournament) championship to Vanderbilt,” Davis said. “Twelve o’clock in New Orleans. I remember it all like it was yesterday.”
The Pelicans on Thursday visited the National Civil Rights Museum, built around the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968.
Gentry said it’s good for young people — most of his players are under 30 — to “know the history of Dr. King and the purpose of why he was in Memphis and the speech that he gave.”
“I’ve always said I think it’s something that every team that comes through here, if you have an opportunity, you should take your team there,” Gentry said. “In the three hours that we were there, I think you can learn more than you could in any history book or any classroom.”