New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne’s music thumped throughout the Lakers locker room before the game, as loud as a nightclub. Just before the rapper called out “Tunechi’s back, Tunechi’s back,” Dwight Howard, the Lakers’ DJ, offered his edit:
“AD’s back! AD’s back!”
For weeks Davis had anticipated his return to New Orleans, where he spent the first seven years of his NBA career before forcing his way out by asking for a trade. He’d been booed there before and knew it would happen again Wednesday — and it did. He saw old friends, like Jrue Holiday on the court. Off it, Sandra Pierre, a woman who has worked for the arena’s catering company for 30 years, whom he embraced tenderly, like a grown son home for the holidays.
“I took him as my child,” she said later about Davis, whom she met when he was only 19. “That’s my baby. I’ll always love him.”
But the thing that LeBron James had told Davis as he prepared for his return rang true. Once the game started, only basketball mattered.
And on the court, the Lakers escaped with their ninth consecutive win. Davis scored 41 points, 36 of them in three quarters, and the Lakers, despite facing a 15-point deficit late in the third, rallied for a 114-110 win to improve to 16-2. It was the most points scored by any player in his first game against his old team.
Davis left the game briefly after the third quarter due to an injury. Former Laker Josh Hart collided with him as he went for a rebound and Davis fell to the floor grabbing his right elbow. He returned midway through the fourth quarter and helped the Lakers close out the win.
James added 29 points and 11 assists, becoming the fourth player in NBA history with 33,000 points. Brandon Ingram, who was traded by the Lakers along with Hart and Lonzo Ball in the deal for Davis, notched a double-double, scoring 23 points, including critical free throws late in the game, with 10 rebounds. But he struggled, missing 17 of 21 shots. Ball missed the game due to a stomach virus.
Davis got booed by Pelicans fans before the game. Boos could be heard during player introductions and each time he touched the ball early on. One fan wore a paper bag over his head with Davis’ face drawn on the front, and another held a sign with “AD” crossed out.
Still, the crowd was split between Lakers and Pelicans fans, so there were cheers every time Davis made a basket.
Early on, the Lakers’ offense relied heavily on Davis, who took three of the Lakers’ first five shots and had 14 points in the first quarter. As the game wore on, the Pelicans’ defense focused so heavily on Davis, that his teammates started to find themselves wide open in the corners for three-pointers.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, were almost unstoppable from three-point range. They made nine of 11 threes in the first quarter, but eventually cooled.
New Orleans led by 15 with 1:56 left in the third quarter, but the Lakers began closing in. The Pelicans led by only 10 at the start of the fourth quarter. With 6:02 left, James hit a jumper that gave the Lakers their first lead since the first quarter, and Kyle Kuzma’s three with 1:07 left gave them the lead for good.
With 20.2 seconds left, Holiday stripped the ball from James and gave the Pelicans an opportunity to take back the lead. JJ Redick found himself open for a 21-foot jumper from the corner but missed.
Moments later, the Pelicans fouled Davis. As he stood at the line, the video board showed his face with the words “MAKE NOISE” around it. The home fans booed throatily.
Davis missed one free throw and made another, but he made up for it shortly. With the Lakers leading by two, he stole the inbounds pass by Holiday and drew another foul, giving the thinning crowd one more chance to shower him with boos.