Maybe it was the roar the Staples Center crowd gave Anthony Davis when he was announced over the public-address system. Maybe it was the thrill of seeing him on the same court in Los Angeles at the same time as LeBron James. Maybe it was a glimpse into the future.
Or maybe it was just wishful thinking.
But when Davis splashed home the first points of Wednesday night’s game between the Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans, the points briefly showed up under the wrong team’s name on the scoreboard.
No, Davis isn’t a Laker, no matter what the Lakers, Davis or the agent he shares with James tried to orchestrate before the NBA’s trade deadline. Instead, he’s the NBA’s best part-time attraction.
“It’s tough not being on the floor, especially in crunch-time situations. ... It’s just tough not being on the floor,” Davis said.
Davis is one of the NBA’s top players, a human so big and athletic he’s too hard to stop above the rim and so skilled that he can hurt you from underneath it, too. And, now, he’s doing it for about 20 minutes per game — well, almost every game.
Because the Pelicans know Davis wants a trade and because the Pelicans, presumably, want to trade Davis in the summer, they want to limit his exposure to a potential injury. New Orleans probably would’ve shelved Davis had it not been for some intervention from the NBA reminding the Pelicans about the league’s rules for resting healthy players.
That meant with the Lakers dunking their way back to life in the third quarter, Davis checked out of the game, replaced by 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.
Davis went to the bench with 22 points in 21 minutes, making 10 of 14 shots from the field to go with eight rebounds and two assists. He’d have had more, certainly, if he had ever checked back in during the Pelicans’ 125-119 loss.
With hard feelings still remaining between the two franchises after very public, very fruitless trade talks leading up to the deadline, the Pelicans would’ve enjoyed playing a role in the Lakers’ eroding playoff chances.
Gentry, who has openly lamented the awkwardness caused by Davis’ trade request, had to be tempted to play his best player against a team that helped light the match for what he once called a “dumpster fire” of a situation.
Lakers star LeBron James goes up for a dunk in front of Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday during the second quarter of the Lakers’ 125-119 victory at Staples Center on Feb. 27.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram is fouled by Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor, left, in front of forward Darius Miller during the second quarter of the Lakers’ 125-119 victory at Staples Center on Feb. 27.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis dunks during the third quarter of the Lakers’ 125-119 victory over New Orleans at Staples Center on Feb. 27.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers star LeBron James grabs a pass in front of Pelicans center Julius Randle during the Lakers’ 125-119 victory at Staples Center on Feb. 27.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram and guard Josh Hart double-team Pelicans center Julius Randle during the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 125-119 win at Staples Center on Feb. 27.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Lance Stephenson, center, blocks a shot by Pelicans forward Cheick Diallo during the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 125-119 win at Staples Center on Feb. 27.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram lands on fans, including retired soccer star David Beckham, in the front row during the Lakers’ 125-119 win at Staples Center on Feb. 27.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Instead, Davis stayed on the first seat next to the coaching staff, his long-sleeved warmup shirt on, a towel resting over his long legs. As Brandon Ingram drove for a late-game basket, Davis stood with his hands on his knees. A play later, when James made a one-legged three-pointer, he was a statue on the sideline, his arms crossed.
“We’re pretty steadfast with what we’re doing,” Gentry said, “and we’re going to stay with that.”
Davis’ next steps on the court were after the final buzzer, as he shared a laugh with Lakers coach Luke Walton and an embrace with James. Afterward, he headed to the locker room, resuming his place as the for-now Pelicans’ star.
Still, Wednesday was a success. The Pelicans didn’t see their best asset, the key to their future because of what he’ll bring back in a trade, get injured. New Orleans, which has been forced into a rebuild, helped its lottery odds.
And the Lakers got a win they needed, even if they didn’t get to keep those first two points.