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.
The victory gave the Spurs a 13-6 record and a tie with Utah for first place in the Midwest Division.
Washington 105, Charlotte 101--Mark Alarie sank an 18-footer with 15 seconds left to break a 101-101 tie, and the Hornets lost their ninth in a row.
Armon Gilliam, obtained in a trade with Phoenix Kurt Rambis, played 18 minutes in his Hornet debut and had nine points.
Chicago 124, Orlando 113--Michael Jordan scored 26 of his 38 points in the first half at Chicago as the Bulls cruised to victory.