NEW ORLEANS — What to do, what to do.
The 16,980 in attendance at the Smoothie King Center struggled to figure that out Friday when reacting to the return of New Orleans Pelicans All-Star center Anthony Davis.
Having demanded a trade from New Orleans in late January, Davis rejoined his teammates to lead a 122-117 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves to snap a four-game skid. His return came after he missed three weeks with a left index finger injury and just two days after the team’s brass decided initially to sit him until after the NBA trade deadline.
The Pelicans decided to play Anthony Davis after talks with the NBA in which the league stressed that the team could be subject to a $100,000 fine for every game Davis didn’t play, citing a two-year-old rest rule, sources say.
What ensued Friday night was a mixture of boos, cheers and general awkwardness expected to last the duration of the season.
“I think the shock of the whole thing is over,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Obviously, he said that he doesn’t want to be here, he wants to be traded. All that has been known. Now what we’re trying to do is bring back some normalcy to the whole situation.”
Good luck with that.
Davis would only contribute to the abnormality of the night by scoring 32 points to go with 9 rebounds in 25 minutes, marking the first time in his career he’s put up 30 points or more in 25 minutes or fewer.
“That was definitely awkward,” Davis said. “Boo? O.K. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to go out there and play basketball. I was [surprised]. But hey, that’s life, man. Some people are not gonna like me. I’m just happy to be back on the floor playing the game that I love.”
In New Orleans’ first home game on Jan. 30 after Davis’ trade demands became public, the center was removed from nearly all of the Pelicans’ pregame hype video before tipoff. He was also eliminated from an image of the team’s entire roster with the motto “Do It Big” at the conclusion of the video. This time around, before the hype video even played, a picture of the entire team was posted on the scoreboard with the “Do It Big” motto, featuring Davis posing prominently in the middle.
When the video played this time, Davis wasn’t prominently featured but was included, unlike last week. When Davis’ individual picture popped up on the scoreboard minutes before that, some in the crowd actually cheered.
The scene didn’t foreshadow the confusion that would later unfold.
After a first half of mostly boos directed at Davis, with 5:45 left to play and the Pels clinging to a 102-99 edge, the fans chanted “A.D., A.D.” in an effort to convince Gentry to put the center back on the floor. But going into the game, Gentry said he told Davis he would play only between 20 and 25 minutes.
Davis knocked down two free throws and three straight buckets in the third quarter before leaving the game with 3:14 remaining in the third. Davis didn’t play the entire fourth quarter, as the crowd chanted his initials during breaks in play.
Pelicans With Davis On/Off Court*OnOffMinutes2523Point diff+22-17FG pct59%36%Opp FG pct47%55%*Friday vs. Timberwolves— ESPN Stats & Information
“You have a star player. If he wants to play, let him play,” said guard Jrue Holiday, who finished with 27 points. “For sure, that’s his passion, right? That’s why Anthony’s here, is to play basketball. He’s obviously made it known that he won’t sign back, but he still loves the game of basketball. I know that he loves us as players, and he’s gonna go out there and play as hard as he can. If Anthony’s out there, that’s the best chance of us winning.”
When Davis was announced in the starting lineup just before tipoff, the crowd responded with a mixture of boos and cheers, with the boos being perhaps a bit more prominent.
The crowd jeered Davis every time he took possession of the ball in the opening quarter. But strangely, the majority of the arena drowned out the boos with applause every time Davis made a play. And that occurred often.
“I heard more cheers than boos,” guard Tim Frazier said.
Davis said he wasn’t fazed by all the fan reactions dancing from one extreme to another.
“You can’t be on both sides, man,” Davis said. “That stuff doesn’t bother me. I just want to play basketball. All this other stuff, the outside noise, the Twitter rants, it’s all good. It’s all good, man. It doesn’t bother me. I want to play, and being able to go out there and play the game I love for 25 minutes, it was fun.”
Davis pumped in New Orleans’ first six points and was booed every time he got the ball early on, only to be raucously cheered seconds later after he made a play; such as the 15-foot step-back jumper he nailed for his second bucket of the night.
Davis was asked whether he has regretted anything over the past two weeks, since his trade demands became public.
“No, I never regret anything I do,” he said.
Davis also said that he was prepared to sit out for the remainder of the season after asking for a trade.
“Obviously, it’s a business. I know their standpoint on it, and I was prepared for that,” Davis said. “But when they told me they wanted me to play, my mindset switched and I’m focused on playing now. Anytime I step on the floor, I want to be effective. I didn’t know how tonight was going to be; if I was going to make shots or not. I was able to. The most important thing is we got the win. I’m going to do everything I can. I’m always going to be a professional at the end of the day.”
Davis scored a game-high 24 points in the opening half, pouring in 10 of New Orleans’ first 12 points. When Davis went to the free-throw line with 7:06 left in the first quarter, the boos rained down, only to transform into applause seconds later after he sunk both shots. That was followed by “A.D.” chants in Section 121 just below media seating that would only grow louder as the night progressed.
Perhaps this is the new normal Gentry described Wednesday in Chicago after New Orleans’ loss to the Bulls.
Holiday jokingly compared Davis’ situation to the farewell tours of Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce.
“We all enjoy Anthony. We all love having him, and playing with him,” Holiday said. “What is this, the tour like Paul Pierce and Kobe had? It’s kind of like an A.D. tour. Nah, but I think for Anthony man, like I said, this is his passion, this is what he wants to do. He’s still going to come out here and play as hard as he can and give all that he has. He’s shown that ever since he’s played.”