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OAKLAND, Calif. — Two minutes into Wednesday’s contest against the Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis recognized favorable coverage and called for the ball down low.
Damian Jones, the Warriors’ 23-year-old starting center, was in single coverage on the five-time All-Star. Davis received the ball near the left block and then faced up the big man. He drove hard to his right and made contact with Jones, knocking the young prospect off balance. Davis now had an easy short floater in the paint, a shot he routinely converts.
But this time, there was too much push on the shot and it clanked off the side of the rim farthest from him. His night was much of the same, mainly due to working himself back into the fold after missing the previous two games with a right elbow sprain.
For most players, a stat line of 17 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and a block is a career evening. But for Davis, who was 6-of-16 from the field in a 10-point loss to the defending champs, it’s viewed simply as not enough and that responsibility comes with immense pressure.
“Of course, I know that in order to win games, a lot of pressure is going to be on me,” Davis told Yahoo Sports while sitting at his locker stall Wednesday night. “If we lose, it’s on me. If we win, they give my team the credit and I’m fine with that.
“A perfect example [was against the Warriors]. I don’t have a good game and we lose. So, I got to play almost perfect every night to give us a chance to win. But my teammates do a great job. Even the games I didn’t play, those guys have been battling night in and night out to get victories. … I don’t try to put too much pressure on myself, but I know it’s there.”
The versatile 6-foot-11 star leads his team in points (25.2), rebounds (13), steals (two), blocks (3.2) and minutes (37). After starting the season 4-0, New Orleans has dropped its last four, and Davis was sidelined for three of those, missing Thursday night’s 132-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
As the lone All-Star on a squad filled with gritty competitors such as Jrue Holiday, Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans will go as far as Davis takes them.
“Life isn’t fair,” Davis told Yahoo Sports with a smirk. “We can’t control what happens in the league. I just go out there and play. It’s nothing I can do. It is what it is at this point. I just got to go out there and trust my teammates, which I do. Those guys are great players, good defenders, good role players. They do as much as possible to help me.”
But most of all, Davis just wants to win.
That’s why rival NBA executives are of the belief that Davis could be up for grabs for a large-market organization well before he is expected to opt out of his contract in 2020. He is eligible for a super-max extension with the Pelicans in July 2019 that is worth $235 million for five years.
If Davis were to pass on such a massive deal, as some executives believe he could, the franchise would be forced to contemplate trading its cornerstone. Nevertheless, Davis said he’ll concern himself with contractual matters in the summer.
“I really don’t listen to [the noise] to be honest,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I hear it from everywhere from social media, to people around you. But my biggest thing is focusing on playing basketball. That’s all I can do. I can’t do nothing else but play basketball to the best of my ability to help my team. … We have one goal and that’s winning a championship, and my job is to try to help them reach that goal.”
Furthermore, he contends that his pending future isn’t a distraction in the locker room.
“Nah, my team doesn’t care. They cherish the moments that they have with me,” he told Yahoo Sports. “Every day we try to put in the work to be a great team. They hear it, I hear it. Everybody hears it. It’s hard not to. But we’re focused on what we have to do this year. We’re trying to beat teams like the Warriors and get to where they are. That’s our goal. That’s it.”
The speculation isn’t expected to cool down, with Davis recently hiring Rich Paul of Klutch Sports — the same agent who reps LeBron James — to represent him. In the summer, the Lakers will be extremely aggressive in their pursuit of high-caliber stars to pair with James in the free-agent and trade markets.
Boston, Golden State, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers will also be some of the teams monitoring Davis’ situation, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Davis knew once word got out about his new representation that the chatter about potentially joining the Lakers would ramp up.
“Oh, yeah. Of course. Any time you do anything like that [the noise is coming],” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “‘He represents LeBron, so A.D. is going there,’ and all of that. I knew it was coming. That’s why it took me a while to do it, because I had to get mentally prepared for it. I knew it was coming.”
But still, it’s basketball first for the Pelicans.
Coach Alvin Gentry faced a question in his postgame scrum after losing to the Warriors about how Draymond Green “bothers’ Davis defensively.
“If you want to go look at the playoffs that he had against him, see what he averaged there,” an agitated Gentry sharply replied about a series in which Davis averaged 27.8 points and 14.8 rebounds. “Draymond’s a great player. Draymond’s a great defender and a great player, and he’s great for his team. I like my guy, and I think he’s pretty damn good. OK? … I think he’s done pretty good against him.”
Gentry’s defensive retort illustrates how the organization plans to back Davis on and off the court.
The Pelicans understand what they’re up against. General manager Dell Demps is tasked with improving the roster to move into title-contending territory. But until then, Davis has to continue doing it all on the hardwood, and he says playing with guys he loves makes it all worth it.
“Our goal is to win a championship and be better than last year,” Davis said. “I love these guys. When you got guys that play hard and hustle and have a will to win, it makes it a lot easier for us.”
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