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Anthony Davis adjusting to the spotlight with Lakers

Lakers forward Anthony Davis slams over Oklahoma City Thunder center Nerlens Noel during second-half action at Staples Center on Nov. 19.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis slams over Oklahoma City Thunder center Nerlens Noel during second-half action at Staples Center on Nov. 19.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Anthony Davis wanted this.

The attention, the scrutiny, the spotlight that comes with playing for the Lakers.

So on Wednesday morning, he sat in an arena that used to be his home and spoke without any caution about the impact of being on the NBA’s brightest stage.

“It just shows the world,” Davis said. “I think the world didn’t believe that I was able to do the same things in ‘the spotlight.’”

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On Wednesday night the Lakers visit the New Orleans Pelicans in Davis’ first time playing against the team that he asked to trade him in February. The season is only five weeks old, but Davis already has become accustomed to how much attention he garners as a member of the Lakers.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis makes his return to New Orleans, where he played his first seven NBA seasons, to the delight of fans of the Lakers in the area.

“It’s a big shock, big difference,” teammate Rajon Rondo said. “From a media standpoint, I’m sure there were days in New Orleans where he didn’t have to talk to media even though he’s Anthony Davis. … He’s born for this. He hasn’t had it in his career but he’s born for it.”

New Orleans is one of the NBA’s smaller markets, which meant Davis wasn’t probed quite as much as a member of the Pelicans. Davis spent seven seasons there after being drafted first overall in 2012. It fit a theme for Davis. He wasn’t a heralded player for most of high school, playing at a tiny charter school in Chicago.

“I know that’s way different for him,” Lakers guard Avery Bradley said. “I can only imagine he probably can’t do anything in LA without somebody going ‘That’s AD,’ or on the court there’s just he can’t make as many mistakes, but like I said that comes with the territory. You know what you signed up for. … Players of his stature, they want to challenge themselves every single day.”

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By the accounts of teammates and coaches, the transition has been smooth for Davis.

“He’s handled it in stride,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s playing his game. He’s enjoying his teammates and focused on the game plan that the coaches have presented to him. He’s handled it seamlessly.”

In addition to his own motivation to embrace the spotlight, one teammate in particular has helped Davis immensely: LeBron James.

On one hand, James absorbs some of the attention focused on Davis. He and Davis take turns addressing media during practices. Sometimes the day’s story focuses more on James than Davis. James agreed Wednesday morning that part of his role is to alleviate pressure from Davis.

Like a fish moved from a bowl to a pond, former Laker Brandon Ingram has grown in New Orleans as he’s been given more responsibility and freedom.

But also, James has a deeper understanding of being scrutinized than any player in the NBA. He has been a star since high school and the league’s biggest star for most of his 17 years in the NBA. When James speaks publicly, his words carry weight whether he means them to or not.

His counsel has helped Davis.

“At the end of the day, we’re all human, so you have great days and sometimes you have bad days. And I think he’s handled it as well as you can, as well as any human can, and he’s enjoying the process, being in a situation like you said he hasn’t been in before,” James said. “He got some of it last year … everybody was bringing his name up, every talk show, every radio show if you watch that type of stuff, his name was being mentioned. So a lot of the attention there, and rightfully so. That’s the caliber of basketball player he is. So I think he’s handled it with a lot of gracefulness, and it’s pretty cool to be around.”


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