When the New Orleans Pelicans made power forward Anthony Davis the first overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, the hope was that he would reverse the fortunes of the franchise. The Pelicans were coming off of a 21-45 campaign during the NBA’s Lockout shortened season and they needed a spark. Davis gave the Pelicans hope for the future as he averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks en route to being named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Team. Since then Davis has continued to grow as a player as he has become a five-time NBA All-Star and one of the top players in the game. Davis helped the Pelicans reach the playoffs in 2015 for the first time since 2011. And after the Pelicans missed the playoffs in the previous two seasons, things appear to be coming together this season on the bayou.
The Pelicans finished the regular season with a record of 48-34 which was the third best mark in franchise history. However due to a logjam in the Western Conference standings, New Orleans entered the playoffs as the sixth seed. But this has not stopped the Pelicans from showing their mettle in the postseason with Davis leading the way.
In the Pelicans first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers, they have been playing like a team possessed. The Pelicans were able to steal home-court advantage away from the Blazers with their 97-95 win in Game 1. And New Orleans would not stop there as they defeated Portland in Game 2 111-102. But the Pelicans saved their best effort of the series for Game 3 last night at home as they crushed the Trail Blazers 119-102 as the final score was not indicative of how New Orleans dominated their foes from the Pacific Northwest.
For the series Davis is averaging 28.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks which included going for 35 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks in Game 1 to set the tone for the Pelicans. Portland has attempted everything possible in order to stop Davis and it hasn’t worked which includes double teaming him as soon as he touches the basketball. And on those occasions where the Blazers have given Davis that extra attention, his teammates have picked up the slack.
Guards Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday are outplaying their counterparts from Portland in C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, while power forward Nikola Mirotic has chipped in by averaging 21 points, 9 rebounds, ad 2.3 blocks for the series as the fear of dealing with Davis has opened things up for them.
Things appear to be finally coming full circle for Davis in New Orleans as it always was not the case. Upon joining the Pelicans, Davis dealt with his fair share of injuries, while also not having a good team around him. But things began to change last year when the Pelicans acquired center DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings. Like Davis, Cousins was a one-and-done player at the University of Kentucky under men’s head basketball coach John Calipari. And the acquisition of Cousins gave New Orleans the best front court combination in the NBA, while it also reduced the chances of Davis leaving as a free agent in the 2020.
The Pelicans were unable to make the playoffs last year, but there was optimism for this season as both Cousins and Davis now had time to get with one another. However the dream became a nightmare when Cousins suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon on January 26th which ended his season. But Davis has picked up the slack as he was able to put together six games in which he scored at least 40 points and 10 rebounds following Cousins’ injury which has put him in the conversation to be the NBA’s MVP.
But now Davis is getting it done on the playoff stage when everyone is watching as he has the Pelicans poised to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and for just the second time in franchise history.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt Davis is a very special talent as he is that rare big man who can score, rebound, and defend, while he has added the perimeter shot to his game as he made 34% of his three-point shots this season. And as Davis goes, so do the hopes of the Pelicans as for the first time in a long time, this team appears poised to make a title run.
The Pelicans potential series victory over the Trail Blazers is significant for so many reasons. The Cousins injury has more than likely solidified that he won’t leave in free agency this summer which means that Pelicans will get to keep their tandem of him and Davis. And getting to the Western Conference Semifinals could show Davis that the Pelicans are ready to make some noise; especially if they can give the Golden State Warriors a run for their money which means that he could stay put as well.
For the longest time the City of New Orleans has been a town ruled by the Saints of the National Football League. However this spring is showing that Davis and the Pelicans are seeking to change that narrative as it time to show them some love in the French Quarter.