postgame: Pelicans 105, Heat 95 (3/22/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer


There were three NBA All-Stars competing in Saturday’s game at the Smoothie King Center, but at least for one night, the best player on the floor wasn’t LeBron James or Chris Bosh. In just his second NBA season and not far removed from his 21st birthday, New Orleans power forward Anthony Davis continued his stunning recent stretch, delivering 30 points and 11 rebounds against the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat. Davis’ eighth straight dominant performance lifted the Pelicans to their finest victory of the 2013-14 season.

Moments after the buzzer, James and fellow Miami superstar Dwyane Wade – who was rested by the Heat in the second game of a back-to-back – walked across the court to congratulate Davis. The 6-foot-10 Davis described the conversation as a simple and brief one, in which James and Wade simply told the youngster “good game.”

Despite another show-stopping individual game for Davis and the Pelicans’ most noteworthy win of the season, he assessed the final outcome in similarly matter-of-fact fashion.

“Every win is a good win for us,” Davis said. “There’s no big win. We treat every game like it’s a regular game. This wasn’t like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Miami, so we have to do (different things).’ It was another game on a Saturday night.”

While Davis downplayed the significance of the win, it happened in front of a sellout crowd in perhaps the best atmosphere of the season at SKC. The Pelicans have been short-handed for an extended period, but they were also without shooting guard Eric Gordon, who suffered from left knee tendinitis in Friday’s win at Atlanta. With Gordon out of action, it meant New Orleans was missing its second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers on the season. Behind Davis and invaluable production from the likes of fill-in starters Luke Babbitt (11 points, 3 treys) and Al-Farouq Aminu (12 points, one-on-one defense vs. James), the Pelicans still managed to post a relatively comfortable triumph against an elite opponent.

“To get this win against the defending champs, you feel really good about what you are trying to do as a coaching staff,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “I am proud of our guys to be able to do that on a back-to-back, (with) no (Gordon) and all the other guys who are out. To have so many guys step up and make plays, it is just really cool to do that in front of your home crowd.”

“It’s big,” said Pelicans wing Tyreke Evans, who had 16 points and eight assists and whose best stretch of 2013-14 has coincided with Davis’ recent eruption. “It just shows what we’ve got on this team, and that’s even without everybody (available). It shows how good we can be.”

Likewise, Davis again demonstrated Saturday how rapidly he’s becoming a force at both ends of the floor. He’s led the NBA for nearly the entire season in shot-blocking, but his offensive impact has begun to catch up with his ‘D’ during an eight-game stretch in which he’s scored at least 28 points every time. He’s the first player in franchise history to have that long of a streak; he also became the first in team annals Saturday to have three consecutive 30-10 games. In every one of the eight games, Davis has made at least half of his shots, feasting not only on dunks but also on mid-range and 20-foot jumpers.

“He’s out there playing like a guard,” Evans said, shaking his head at the unique versatility of his 6-10 teammate. “He’s doing things guards do. One-dribble pull-ups, finishing at the basket, and-ones. He’s playing an overall game. He’s been doing it every night. This is his second year. It’s only going to get better for him. My trainer always told me, ‘Anthony Davis is going to be the next thing.’ I was like, ‘We’ll see.’ We’re seeing it now. I’m just glad I’m playing with him. He’s just playing great. I’m happy for him.”

Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra: “He’s a very good young player who can do virtually everything on the basketball court. His age belies his game.”

As is his custom, Davis deflected many of the postgame questions directed to him about his individual play in recent weeks, saying he’s more concerned with the Pelicans putting victories together like Saturday’s over the final few weeks of the season.

“Actually, I don’t care what I score,” he said. “I just want to get the win. I don’t care if I score 30, 20 or whatever. I’d rather see other guys put up big numbers. If we win, that’s all that matters. But if it comes to me, I’m not going to turn down any shots. Whoever has the hot hand, the ball goes to them. We’re growing and clicking. We have to keep the momentum going and finish out the season strong, make sure we get more connected, going into next year.”