When Steve Stipanovich was injured a year ago, the Indiana Pacers had to get production from 7-foot-4 Rik Smits faster than anticipated.
Under normal circumstances, Smits, a 23-year-old native of the Netherlands, would have been given more time to mature.
Smits' education is one reason the Pacers won only five of their first 28 games last season. With Stipanovich's career over, Smits is a bigger reason the Pacers are 13-5 and lead the NBA's Central Division.
Smits scored 13 of his 30 points in a 25-9 first quarter of a 102-78 victory over the New Jersey Nets in East Rutherford, N.J., Thursday night. He finished with 15 rebounds and was 10 for 10 from the free-throw line to pace the Pacers, who were 21 for 21.
The Pacers made Smits, who played at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the No. 2 pick in the 1988 draft.
"Rik is developing into one of the best centers in the league," teammate Reggie Miller said.
San Antonio 104, Houston 100--Willie Anderson scored seven of his 19 points in an 11-2 Spurs' spurt in the closing minutes at Houston.