Anthony Davis will be game-time decision Sunday against Utah

by Jim Eichenhofer

Standing only a couple hundred feet from the local NFL team’s practice facility, New Orleans Pelicans third-year head coach Alvin Gentry used a football analogy Saturday to describe how much his team missed five-time All-Star forward Anthony Davis (ankle) in Friday’s 19-point home loss to Washington.

“Just think Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, with him not on the (field),” Gentry said. “I think that would be a good comparison. (Davis) opens up the game for everyone, really.”

In a key Sunday matinee against fellow Western Conference playoff hopeful Utah, the fourth-place Pelicans (38-27) hope to have their headliner back in uniform. Davis will be a game-time decision vs. the Jazz (36-30), one of a handful of teams chasing New Orleans in the standings.

“It’ll be a game-time decision,” Gentry said of Davis’ status. “He did some things (Saturday in practice). Obviously we’ll have to see how he reacts to it (physically). He seems to be OK, but you never know until the next day. We’ll see how everything is (Sunday) and we’ll make a decision based on that.”

“I did some light stuff (workout-wise) today,” Davis said. “I will do some more stuff (Sunday), but it feels a lot better.”

After reeling off a franchise record-tying 10 consecutive wins, New Orleans faltered significantly Friday without Davis, who sustained a nasty-looking ankle sprain in the third quarter of Wednesday’s win at Sacramento. The Pelicans had regularly scored 120-plus points recently, but sans Davis against the Wizards, they only mustered 62 points through three quarters and eventually lost 116-97.

“He is obviously the main guy in every (opposing team) scouting report,” Gentry said. “Because he plays so unselfishly, he creates a lot of things for other guys. It’s not so much him getting 40 points for us, it’s his presence out there making the game easier for everyone else.”

Davis’ ability to command attention from defenses could be even more valuable Sunday vs. a Utah team that is fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. The Jazz handed the Pelicans one of their uglier losses of the season Feb. 5, by a 133-109 margin, taking a 2-1 edge in the season series, which is the first tiebreaker (Utah is guaranteed to own the tiebreaking edge on New Orleans if the two teams finish with the same won-loss record through 82 games, based on conference record. However, a 2-2 season series could benefit New Orleans in the event of a three-team tie that also involves Utah).

Although the Pelicans understand the added importance of head-to-head matchups against close pursuers such as the Jazz, they also realize that every game is vital based on the current standings. New Orleans is just 1.5 games behind third-place Portland (40-26), but only 2.5 games ahead of the three teams in slots 8 through 10, the Clippers (35-29), Denver (36-30) and Utah (36-30).

“It’s important we go out every night and get every game,” Davis said. “The West is stacked.”