Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Oct. 27) -- Anthony Davis' monster night goes all for naught Staff

Davis drops 50 on Nuggets | Golden 1 Center debut nears | Young Lakers shine in opener | Embiid delivers solid first game

No. 1: Davis dominates in loss to Nuggets — Just one year ago, New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis was picked by more than 80 percent of NBA GMs to build a team around. However, last season didn’t play out as expected for Davis or the Pelicans as injuries to both he and the team at large led to a 30-win season. Davis came out like a man possessed in the season-opener last night, dropping 50 points on the Denver Nuggets in a loss. Justin Verrier of has more on Davis’ monstrous performance:

In his first game since last March, when he was shut down with a month left to play to undergo a left knee procedure, Davis turned in a masterpiece: 50 points (17-for-34 from the field, 16-for-17 from the free throw line), 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 7 steals and 4 blocks.

With it, he becomes only the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 points or more in a season opener. You might have heard of the other three: Michael Jordan (twice), Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.

“He’s a hell of a player,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of Davis. “He’s one of the best players in the league. It doesn’t surprise me that he has the night like he had. It’s not like this is the first time he’s ever done it.”

No, but it’s only the second time Davis has scored 50 or more, the first being a 59-point, 20-rebound stunner last season in Detroit.

This time, the celebration — if there was one — was muted. After the game, Davis sat slumped in his chair at his locker and lamented that his big night came in the midst of 107-102 loss at home to the Denver Nuggets.

“It would have been more satisfying if we would have won,” he said. “The way I played, I’m gonna have to … probably not 50 every night, but try to get somewhere along those lines every game to give ourselves a chance to win. That’s the bottom line. We just got to go, keep finding guys and trust those guys that they’re going to make shots.”

While Davis’ performance shook the outside perception like a snow globe, the production of his supporting cast only seemed to reaffirm that there isn’t enough of one to properly take advantage of his special talents.

The 10 other Pelicans who played Wednesday finished with only two points more than Davis and shot 14 percentage points worse from the field. Solomon Hill, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal this offseason, adequately fulfilled his role as lead defender but finished 1-for-7 on the night. Buddy Hield, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, had a very rookie-ish four points on 2-for-8 shooting.

While most teammates noted their awe of their superstar and what he’s able to accomplish, the vibe permeating the locker room after the game was one of disappointment, even shame.

“I would say it’s a double-edged sword,” Hill said of Davis’ big night. “Because, yeah, he’s gonna go off. But other guys have to just find a way to affect the game. I think we get into a watch mode, and that’s kind of how I was in the first one, just watching AD go. I’ve got to do certain things, whether it’s defensively, whether it’s on the offensive glass, whether it’s on the defensive glass — I’ve got to do something to affect the game.

“For the first — probably — half, we were just watching him when we should be making the job easier. We should be feeding off that. Yeah, if they’re doubling, now there’s opportunities for everybody else to get themselves going and assert themselves as well.”

Davis, for his part, has fully embraced the burden of his predicament.

“I’m just trying to be aggressive,” he said, “just knowing this team goes as I go.”

But when 50 points don’t get you far enough, it’s reasonable to wonder where the Pelicans can go from here.

“That’s the way it goes in this league,” Gentry said. “We have to count on you more than you would expect, but he’s fine with it. That’s the one thing that I like about what AD has done this summer and the work that he put in this summer and his attitude coming back. This didn’t bother him at all. This is who he wants to be.”


No. 2: Sacramento readies for Golden 1 Center debut — Yes, we know that the Sacramento Kings have technically already played some games at their new arena, the Golden 1 Center. But, those were preseason games and tonight (10:30 ET, NBA LEAGUE PASS) marks the true debut of the building that helped keep the team in town. As Andy Furillo of The Sacramento Bee writes, this is the moment Sacramento has waited a long time for:

They broke the champagne bottle across the bow of Golden 1 Center for the Paul McCartney concerts a few weeks ago. Now comes the reason they built the joint, which is to house an NBA team that will play its first regular-season game in the arena Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs. But the creation of the most important building to go up in this town since the state Capitol isn’t so much about rock ’n’ roll or the Kings. The story instead is about a city long renowned as a sleepy state government outback that has embarked on creating a new identity.

Developmentally speaking, Sacramento had become a can’t-do town, probably because in recent decades it botched some of the bigger projects it undertook. It screwed up a chance to create its own French Quarter when it built a freeway along the historic riverfront. Meanwhile, it turned its grand entrance coming in from the Tower Bridge into a dead zone of cracker-box state office buildings.

If the city quit on itself, it took the near-loss of the town’s only professional sports franchise to get back in the game. Now the gales of dynamism are blowing across the grid, and the fun will be in watching what the city becomes.

Chris Granger is the president of the Kings, and he’s been appointed wheelman by principal owner Vivek Ranadive to drive this thing. Granger is a terrific guy, and in that capacity he refuses to take credit for the success now upon us. He shares the celebration of basketball opening with everybody – the kids who sold lemonade to keep the Kings in town when it looked like the team was headed to Seattle, the construction workers who hoisted steel and poured concrete, the designers who qualified the place as the only green-certified LEED Platinum professional sports building in the world, the mayor of Sacramento who made the politics work, and his boss at Kings Inc. who came up with the vision that caught fire.

Granger, a former NBA executive vice president, had been the league’s point man in solving the Kings’ arena problem for nearly a decade before he joined the team three years ago. He saw the city’s failures, its reticence to act. Now, he sees “a new ambition in Sacramento …. a new confidence.” The rest of us can see it exploding everywhere – the new arena, in new restaurants and bars and breweries that open almost every week, and where you see young “Untuckits” discuss new ventures over coffee at Temple, and where you hear homegrown singers and songwriters creating a Sacramento sound every Wednesday during happy hour at the Torch Club.

“There are very few cities in the United States whose future is being written as we speak,” Granger said. “That’s not the case in Sacramento. We have a real chance as a community to create the city we want. You hear Vivek talk about it all the time – we talk about the next great American city, or about the communal fireplace and wanting to create a place that is full of diversity and art and music and sports and a place where people can gather and come together and have a real sense of community.

“That community spirit exists in Sacramento, and I think what the Golden 1 Center proves is that when you layer that with new ambition and a new sense of what is possible, I think we can create a city that is different and better and is something that is more future-focused or aspirationally focused than what we’ve had in the past, and I think we all as a community are recognizing that moment is right now.”

Sacramento, of course, did not need an arena to become a great American city. But it got one anyway.

Like all sports arenas, this one will wear out someday, and you sure hope it won’t be outdated before it’s paid off. Ultimately, its legacy in Sacramento will not be found in itself, or even if it kick-starts an era of winning by the Kings. Instead, this project will be remembered for what it sparked in the city that embraced its own transformation.


No. 3: Small step forward for Lakers in opener — As we mentioned in this space yesterday, the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t putting win-total aspirations, playoff hopes or other lofty goals on this season. Progress will be measured instead by the development of the team’s young core players and in various intangibles, too. Still, wins are nice and part of the NBA game and the Lakers got exactly that on opening night by stunning the Houston Rockets. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical writes about how the Lakers are emerging from their post-Kobe Bryant haze to enter a new era:

Most of these young Lakers had grown accustomed to the Staples Center cheering on Kobe Bryant’s farewell, a separate season within the franchise’s most lost year of all. They had grown accustomed to the cheering of wayward, contested shots on the way out the door, on a young team trying to say hello when a legend was saying goodbye.

As the final seconds bled away on a 120-114 opening-night victory on Wednesday over Houston, something had changed here. Everyone was cheering an ambitious young coach molding an ambitious young group. These are a long, long way from the Showtime Lakers, but everyone could see: Finally, they’ve started on the way somewhere now.

“I’ll tell you what it felt like: It felt like a home game,” guard D’Angelo Russell told The Vertical outside his locker on Wednesday night. “Last year, we had Kobe and the fans. We had some diehard Lakers fans, and Kobe fans. But we had so many guys who didn’t have identities for the fans to recognize. But today, it felt like a home game.

“You go to Utah, or Houston – and they’re rooting for their team. Here, this is the home of the NBA. People come to the see the show, too. Don’t get me wrong: They’re all Lakers fans, they’re incredible, but they want to see the show too.”

On the first full night of the league’s schedule, there were superstar performances everywhere. Anthony Davis dropped 50 points. DeMar DeRozan had 40. Russell Westbrook closed out the 76ers in the final minutes, with 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. And here at Staples Center, in Mike D’Antoni’s souped-up Rockets offense, Harden had gone for 34 points and 17 assists.

Commissioner Adam Silver was watching courtside at Staples, fully aware of this unmistakable NBA truth: The league is always stronger, always more vibrant and relevant, when the Los Angeles Lakers matter. Now, they have two years to develop this young core of Russell and Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson, for the free-agent class of 2018.

There are no easy fixes, no saviors to rescue them. Those days are long gone. They played tough-minded ball in the final minutes, made stops and found a way to make the Staples Center loud again, found a way to inspire a noise for something bigger than a one-man show, a farewell tour.

“We have the talent,” Russell told The Vertical. “We have the coach. We can do some things this year.”

This is how a franchise starts again, how it hits the reset button and starts the long journey back to relevance. There will be a lot of losses at Staples Center this season, but these won’t be wasted nights. The Lakers have a coach, young talent and a roadmap to start on the way to mattering again. It’s been too long here, and the franchise has a long, long way to go. Anyway, this felt like the start of something on Wednesday night, not the end.

For the Los Angeles Lakers, that’s progress. For the Lakers, no more endings, no more goodbyes. Something’s started here again. Yes, this was progress.


No. 4: Embiid impresses in debut — The hype surrounding Joel Embiid’s season debut was immense, especially when you consider the long, difficult path he’s endured just to get to this point. At the end of last night, Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers had absorbed a hard-fought 103-97 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Still, the feeling from most Philly fans was that Embiid seems to have been worth the wait and Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer has more on Embiid’s debut.

“I try to make it a regular day,” Embiid said before the season opener against the Thunder at the Wells Fargo Center. “It’s hard. You think what you’ve gone through the past two years, the loss of my brother and having to get another surgery and all of the ups and downs.”

Oklahoma City escaped, 103-97, in a thriller thanks to Russell Westbrook. The NBA all-star point guard finished with a game-high 32 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists in the come-from-behind victory.

But it can be argued that this expected loss didn’t matter to a portion of fans in the Philadelphia area. To them, this was Joel Embiid Night.

The 22-year-old finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks in his first real game – not counting preseason exhibitions – since a lower-back injury derailed him in March 2014 while at Kansas. Two and half years and two foot surgeries later, he is back on the court, seemingly better than ever.

“For a city to be rewarded for a player that we all understand has special gifts,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said, “and play like he played, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

So Wednesday was a fitting scenario to make a debut. The 7-foot-2, 276-pounder faced the Thunder and their brute of a center, Steven Adams, in an ESPN game.

The self-proclaimed “Process” showed Adams and a national television audience that he just might be worth the two-year wait.

Throughout the game, the crowd was chanting “Trust the process” or “MVP” when Embiid went to the foul line.

And, feeling it in the fourth quarter, he gave his opinion of Adams’ defense to no one in particular.

Embiid was fouled by the Thunder center with 10:17 left while going to the basket. He yelled, “He can’t guard me” while standing at the foul line. Embiid said the same thing on the Sixers’ ensuing possession, when Adams hacked him again while going to the basket.

Embiid made 6 of 16 baskets and made 7 of 8 foul shots in his 22:25 of action.

“He’s hard to guard,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s herky-jerky. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon in him.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls have agreed to a deal with recently-waived shooting guard T.J. Hunter … The Orlando Magic dedicated their opening night to the Pulse night club shooting victims … Jeremy Lin has donated $1 million to his alma mater, Harvard …