He’s not the same player who dunked over Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal or blew past Ben Wallace for a game-winning jam at Detroit, but Davis is helping New Orleans in its Eastern Conference playoff series against Miami.
“You’re not going to see too much explosion out of me,” said Davis, who practiced little Sunday and was still favoring his sprained left ankle. “I just have to find different ways and angles to the basket because I can’t jump over anybody right now.”
Davis’ limitations were exposed in Game 1. His potential game-winning layup was blocked by Lamar Odom. Then he was beaten by Dwyane Wade on a drive and short floater that gave the Heat the victory. In Game 3, however, Davis scored a team high 21 points as the Hornets cut their series deficit to 2-1.
“Obviously in Game 1 he was playing on a leg, and (Saturday) he was playing on a leg-and-a-half so we’re making progress,” Hornets coach Tim Floyd said.
Davis says his left knee, on which he wears a blue fabric brace, back and elbow also are hurting. Yet he still shows a willingness to try about anything to create offense, from shooting 3-pointers to driving hard inside. Playing somewhat reduced minutes and with his ankle taped, his 17-point average in the series is about six points below his regular-season average. Still, he remains the leading scorer on a team that has been struggling for offense this postseason.
Late in Game 3, as Miami pulled within striking distance, Davis sliced into three converging defenders and put in a scoop shot with three minutes left, restoring a much-needed six-point lead.
That type of play left some Miami players doubting the degree of Davis’ pain.
“I’ve never seen somebody hurt and then, all of a sudden on offense, just explode,” Miami guard Rafer Alston said. “How do you explode with the basketball and you’re hurt? And then just hobble on defense.”
Davis was also effective on defense in Game 3, finishing with four steals and a block.
Heat forward Odom said he’s inclined to believe Davis is in pain, “the way he limps around.” He then recalled a fast-break dunk by Davis in the first half of Saturday’s game.
“He limps and then dunks the ball,” said Odom. “He’s tough. He’s very deceptive. You look at him, and you think, ‘That’s not a guy that’s quick. That’s not a guy that can go through you. Or over you.’ And he can do both.”
With apparent bursts of adrenaline that make his play look almost reckless, Davis also has managed to hurt Miami—literally. Davis said he banged his elbow when he slammed into Odom in Game 3, but it was Odom who crumpled and missed part of the fourth quarter to get stitches around his eye.
Also in Game 3, Caron Butler hurt himself while scrambling alongside Davis for a loose ball. Butler finished the game, but sat out practice Sunday with a sore right Achilles’ tendon.
The rest of the Hornets all but acknowledge they have little hope of advancing in the playoffs without Davis. They’re thankful Davis is as effective as he is, and worry that his desire to make big plays doesn’t expose him to a major collision or fall in what has become an increasingly physical series.
“This is the first time in my 10-year career somebody has been on the floor more than me,” said scrappy Hornets reserve guard Darrell Armstrong.
“Even if he didn’t make shots, his presence on the floor is valuable. That’s what he’s got to understand,” Armstrong added. “It’s not all about him scoring. His toughness was out there … his presence was out there.”
Davis agreed that he needs find a way to “play smart and still be aggressive at the same time.”
“I’ll be lucky to make it through this series with all the stuff going on with me,” Davis said. “Going on to the next round—it would be crazy.”