LOS ANGELES — Someday, the New Orleans Pelicans will probably be the toast of the NBA. Someday, Anthony Davis will be the one to carry the Pellies to victory against top-tier teams like the Los Angeles Clippers.
Just not today.
The 'Brow was productive in his surprising, sooner-than-expected return from a hand injury, contributing 24 points, 12 rebounds and three steals in 32 minutes off the bench. But his efforts, however stellar in the box score, weren't enough to beat the Clippers at Staples Center, 108-95.
The loss dropped the Pelicans to 0-3 on their current five-game swing through the Western Conference and 11-13 overall, down to 12th place in the standings.
As pretty as Davis' numbers may look on paper, his performance on the court didn't always sparkle—not that it necessarily should've. Davis was admittedly rusty after sitting out for two-and-a-half weeks on account of a hand injury suffered at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.
There were layups missed, oops un-alleyed, defensive assignments blown and rebounds left to be grabbed by the opposition—most notably DeAndre Jordan, who gobbled up 20 caroms all by himself.
Even so, Davis was active, putting his length and athleticism to good use throughout. Five of his rebounds came on the offensive end, including a pair that he finished with follow-up dunks.
Davis wasn't the only Pelican whose return was mostly impressive, with a dash of injury-related decay evident therein. Tyreke Evans came back from an ankle injury to record just the second triple-double of his young career—his first since his Rookie of the Year campaign with the Sacramento Kings in 2009-10—with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in 33 minutes as a reserve.
'Reke, though, missed eight of his 10 attempts from the field, including both of his looks from beyond the arc.
Evans figures to remain in his role as one of New Orleans' super subs for some time. Davis, on the other hand, should find himself back in the starting lineup by the time the Pelicans arrive in Rip City for their tilt with the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.
Chances are, that'll necessitate a demotion for Ryan Anderson, who cooled considerably after a hot start to finish the evening with 17 points on a subpar 7-of-21 shooting (3-of-9 from three).
Those three, along with All-Star Jrue Holiday (13 points, five rebounds, 10 assists, two steals) and Eric Gordon (nine points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal) constitute the core of a club that, in due course, should find itself entrenched among the best in the West.
Talent-wise, the Pelicans aren't that far off the pace, even from a team like the Clippers, who sport two perennial All-Stars in Blake Griffin (21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, one block) and Chris Paul (12 points, five rebounds, 11 assists, two steals) and the fourth-best record in the conference.
Trouble is, injuries to Davis, Evans and (at the start of the season) Anderson have limited the time that the Pellies' best players have had to gel into a cohesive whole. With time and reps, New Orleans' young, gifted nucleus should develop the sort of chemistry that flows so freely out of the Clippers' locker room these days.
New Orleans hung tough with L.A. through the first half and didn't relent, even after going down by double digits thereafter. Davis scored five points during a 9-2 run toward the end of the third to narrow the Clippers' lead to 11, and he put home a pass from Evans as part of a 6-0 spurt late in the fourth.
On the whole, the Pelicans did well to limit L.A., which shot the lights out against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, to just 42.3 percent from the floor, all while owning a 55-49 edge on the boards and turning the ball over just 11 times.
But like bullies on the playground, the Clips found other ways to torment their young visitors. L.A. made 11 more free throws (31) than New Orleans attempted (20), outscored the opposition in transition (20-12) and rattled home 11 threes for good measure.
And the Pelicans' offense was anything but sharp against a fast-improving Clippers D. New Orleans shot just 24-of-55 in the paint and misfired on 13 of 20 attempts from beyond the arc.
Still, there's no need for New Orleans to hang its collective head, certainly not on the heels of a difficult defeat on the road against the Golden State Warriors in Andre Iguodala's return the night before. It's games like these—away from home, against a more veteran opponent—from which a young team like the Pelicans, whose key contributors have only rarely seen the floor together this season, can, should and will grow.
Just as Davis is sure to. The sky's the limit for this kid, who, at the tender age of 20, had averaged 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and an NBA-best 3.6 blocks per game prior to his injury. He doesn't figure be on the wrong end of 20-10 games or 20-rebound performances all that often going forward, much less on the same night.
The Pelicans will go as far as 'Brow can carry them—this year, next year and pretty much every year that he's suiting up on the Bayou. He and they will get there.
For now, they'll have to take their lumps against better, more experienced squads and learn from the results—good, bad and ugly.
At the very least, Davis was in uniform to suffer through this lesson with the rest of his teammates. Someday, they'll graduate together, from "rebuilding" to "contending."
Just not today.
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