Stojakovic and the Hornets look to build off their season-opening victory when they face the Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse on Friday.
After spending his first seven NBA seasons with Sacramento, Stojakovic, one of the league’s best long-range shooters, was traded to Indiana on Jan. 25 in exchange for temperamental forward Ron Artest. Stojakovic appeared in 40 games for the Pacers, averaging 19.5 points while connecting on 40.4 percent from 3-point range despite playing with a bad back.
The Hornets, eager to add to a team that improved by 20 games from 2004-05, made Stojakovic the first big-name free agent taken off the market, signing the sharpshooter to a reported five-year deal worth $64 million. Besides his obvious shooting ability, New Orleans also wanted the veteran because his teams have made the playoffs each of his eight seasons.
Although he started slowly in his Hornets debut at Boston on Wednesday, Stojakovic delivered when it mattered most, making two key shots in the final two minutes in a 91-87 win.
“I want the ball in those situations,” said Stojakovic, who scored only 11 points and finished 4-of-15 from the field. “I am still trying to figure out where to get my shots.”
While Stojakovic hit the biggest shots for the Hornets, reigning Rookie of the Year Chris Paul accounted for the majority of the offense with 20 points and 10 assists. David West added 18 points and eight rebounds, while Bobby Jackson, another new Hornet, scored 14.
The bench played a key role in the win, contributing 48 points, 22 rebounds and 14 assists. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle went to his reserves early, using 11 players in the first quarter and all 12 by halftime.
“The bench was huge,” said starting forward Al Harrington, reacquired from Atlanta during the offseason. “Those guys gave us a huge lift. Without it, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s a compliment to them because they’ve been working hard and they’ve been doing everything they’re supposed to do as far as bringing that type of energy.”
The win was particularly important for the Pacers, who endured a tumultuous offseason that saw starting guard Stephen Jackson charged with a felony after being accused of firing a gun outside a strip club.
“Any legal situation is going to take its toll, but basketball-wise we don’t feel like we had any problems in the preseason,” said O’Neal, who had 18 second-half points.
The Pacers have won 26 of 35 home meetings against the Hornets, including a 97-75 rout on Feb. 21.