Pelicans, Anthony Davis embark on West road trip (11/9/13)


Pelicans, Anthony Davis embark on West road trip

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

A smile crossed Mike D’Antoni’s face even before the question was completed. As the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach fielded queries from the media prior to Friday’s Western Conference game in New Orleans, an L.A. reporter wondered about D’Antoni’s experience with Anthony Davis during the 2012 Olympics.

“Coach, did you know Anthony Davis would be this good when you had him on the USA team?”

“Yes, I knew,” quickly replied a grinning D’Antoni, an assistant coach for the ’12 gold medal-winning team. “He’s very athletic. He’s got a great feel for the game. I’m sure he’s great to coach. Defensively, he can block shots, he runs the floor, he’s a great kid – everything you want. And he’s getting better, stronger and just learning the game a little more.”

Not long after making those comments, D’Antoni’s Lakers were terrorized by Davis, in the form of a 32-point, 12-rebound, six-block performance that highlighted a 96-85 Pelicans victory. Los Angeles won’t have to wait long to get another up-close look at the 6-foot-10 power forward; the Pelicans visit the Lakers in the middle contest of this week’s three-game Western Conference road trip.

New Orleans (3-3) begins its trip Sunday at Phoenix (7 p.m. Central), followed by a back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday against the Lakers and Utah. The first two games are rematches, with the Pelicans trying to even their season series with the Suns, one of the league’s biggest early surprises at 4-2. Utah is the NBA’s only winless team at 0-6.

Two of Davis’ All-Star-caliber performances so far have been at home (in wins over Charlotte and the Lakers), but he’s also been outstanding away from New Orleans Arena, averaging 22.0 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in two games, a loss at Orlando and a win in Memphis.

“He’s out there playing defense, he’s running the floor, he’s blocking shots,” fellow New Orleans starting big Jason Smith said. “He’s knocking down the jumper, he’s attacking the rim. He’s there for follow-up rebound tip dunks. I mean, it’s not one thing he’s doing. It’s a plethora of things.”

“(He’s 6-10), but he might be 8 feet with his wingspan,” said a smiling Jrue Holiday, who notched 13 points, 13 assists, five rebounds and four steals vs. the Lakers. “He might be 9 feet with the way he can jump. There were a couple times where I had turnovers on bounce passes to him and (after the play) I was like, ‘This dude can jump over the rim, (why am I) bounce-passing the ball to him?’ ”

More than once in Friday’s game, Davis blocked a close-range shot that Lakers center Pau Gasol normally gets to the rim easily, then sprinted past everyone for a dunk or layup at the other basket. Holiday shakes his head when he recalls the defense-to-offense play that is quickly becoming a Davis trademark early in 2013-14.

“He’s getting a blocked shot, then he’s getting a dunk on the other end,” Holiday said. “That’s athleticism. That’s talent. It’s awesome to have him on our team.”

Jokingly asked if USA Basketball’s coaching staff made a mistake by not playing the then-19-year-old Davis more minutes at the London Olympics, D’Antoni laughed and wryly responded, “Well, he couldn’t quite beat out the 10 Hall of Famers we had on that team (for playing time)... but he was close.”