Anthony Davis leads L.A. past Pelicans as New Orleans starts to turn the page
NEW ORLEANS – Anthony Davis returned to the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday night.
He and the rest of the NBA-leading Los Angeles Lakers were on an eight-game winning streak as they took on Davis’ young, battered and identity-seeking former team.
The fans booed Davis routinely.
They booed him during his first layup in pre-game warm-ups. They booed him when he was introduced.
They booed him each time he touched the basketball and on each basket and free throw that added up to his game-high 41 points.
They booed each of his nine rebounds, especially the one he grabbed after Pelicans guard JJ Redick missed a jumper with L.A. holding a one-point lead with six seconds left.
They cheered when he missed the first ensuing free throw, then booed when he made the second.
They booed when he stole Jrue Holiday’s in-bounds pass and they booed some more when he made two free throws to complete the scoring in the Lakers’ 114-110 victory.
In between they cheered their team, his former team, just a little more heartily than they might have against any other team on a Wednesday night in mid-November.
They let him know that they resented not just that he demanded a trade back in January, but how he did it – secretly telling his teammates he wouldn’t sign a new contract with the Pelicans, joining up with LeBron James’ management team to try and force a trade to the Lakers, eventually going public with the demand and tearing apart the last New Orleans team he would play on by trying to expedite the trade.
James got his fair share of boos for orchestrating Davis’ jilting of New Orleans in favor of L.A.
But it wasn’t always hostile.
Davis and his new teammates did receive noticeable cheers from a smattering of spectators dressed either in Lakers’ purple or Lakers gold. Many of them, no doubt, had Laker loyalty dating to the early days of the James era.
By all indications this trade has worked exactly as James and the Lakers had hoped it would.
But the despite the disparity in records – the Lakers are 10 games better than the Pelicans after 18 games – there’s every reason to believe the trade will ultimately work out the way Pelicans first-year basketball operations chief David Griffin planned.
L.A. was desperate to form a championship contender in the twilight of James’ career.
New Orleans is patiently building toward becoming a long-term contender about the time the Lakers fade in a few years.
Seated on the Pelicans bench in street clothes was Zion Williamson, the injured centerpiece of the Pelicans’ rebuilding effort and one piece that is not directly linked to Davis’ departure.
He’s 19 years old, a virgin to the business of the NBA. He smiles regularly and with sincerity as he seems to enjoy people. He doesn’t seek the limelight but he seems comfortable enough in his own skin to embrace it when it comes.
In those ways he’s just what this franchise needs at this time – what the brooding Davis never was.
If Williamson becomes as good a player as Davis was during his seven seasons in New Orleans and demonstrated once again Wednesday night, the Pelicans will be happy.
After the game Davis and the Lakers headed back to Los Angeles with a 16-2 record. They’ll be back March 1 and the fans will boo again, perhaps a little less lustily and a little less frequently as they wean themselves off the anger toward Davis.
Sometime between now and then, perhaps as soon as a couple of weeks, Williamson will make his debut.
And New Orleans will be looking forward and not backward, thinking less of the past and more about the future – having cleansed its NBA palate.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…