NEW ORLEANS, La. -- It's hard to extrapolate much from a game wherein the winning team falls just shy of 200 points and a player, even an extraterrestrially gifted one like Stephen Curry, spends most of his time testing his range as if he's conducting a master-class round of Around The World. But this season's All-Star Sunday night managed to reemphasize the simple instructions required to unlocking the rare, diverse gifts of Anthony Davis:
See Davis. Lob to Davis.
The 22-year-old, who was selected to the All-Star Game for a third straight year, racked up 24 points, mostly off of alley-oops tossed up by the likes of Chris Paul in a scene straight out of Pelicans fan fiction. Photos of Davis grinning ear to ear in midair circulated after the game, underlining his delight in such a game plan.
Davis' teammates back in New Orleans apparently got the message.
The Pelicans big man opened his first game after the All-Star break catching and finishing lobs left and right, including one in which he turned and caught the ball in midair for a reverse dunk. Davis totaled 18 points in the first quarter en route to 34 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks in New Orleans' 121-114 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers
"All [the All-Stars] talk about is the second half of the season. 'We comin' out doin' this. We tryin' to get this seed,' or whatever," Davis said. "So you kind of think the same way. 'Well, all right. The second half of the season we need to do this.' Because that's what everyone's talking about. This is where teams kind of make that final push to get that final seeding in the standings. So when you hear talk like that around the locker room, you try to do the same thing."
Ryan Anderson, still in town despite showing up in too many trade rumors to count before Thursday's deadline, had 26 points. Jrue Holiday pitched in 24 points and 12 assists. The Pelicans put up 23 fast break points in the first half, one shy of their high on the season. The final box score looks like what the front office dreamed up heading into what was supposed to be a banner season: Holiday setting up Davis, Anderson stretching the floor (4-for-6 on 3s), the team running down the opponent.
If only things were so easy.
Up 16 at halftime after turning in a first half that New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry described as one of their best of the season, Philadelphia stormed back to within two after three quarters. The Pelicans found the firepower late to finish off the eight-win Sixers but had to sweat out a scenario with less than 10 seconds to play in a two-possession game where Gentry was called for a delay of game after an errant Sixers pass hit him on the sideline.
Asked about the call, Gentry took a long pause and smiled before saying: "I'm not gonna give away my money. I was gonna say something, but I'm not going to."
The Pelicans were held without a fast break point after halftime, and their defense, long the bane of their season, gave up 35 points and 66.7 percent shooting in the third quarter. Late in the fourth, defensive coach Darren Erman yelled to Anderson on the court that the Pelicans would be showing on Robert Covington on pick-and-rolls. Covington, however, was sitting feet away on the scorer's table, waiting to check in. Realizing this, Anderson looked at Covington and breezily told him, "We're showing on you."
If healthy, the Pelicans appear to have a foundation in place with Davis and Holiday, the pick-and-roll partnership they used three draft lottery picks to build. The rest, though, is very much a work-in-progress, something Gentry seems well aware of. Before the game, the veteran coach said he's approaching the final stretch "pretty much like a college season. What we want to do is at the end of these 29 games, we want to be a playoff team."
By that, he meant that the team would be playoff-eligible should the season consist of only these final 29 games. On the season as a whole, the Pelicans are still a long shot. ESPN's Basketball Power Index gave them a 1.8 percent chance of making the postseason heading into the night.
While the first game of this condensed "playoff run" might not have be pretty at times, Gentry and the rest of the team seems content that it took at least a step in the right direction.
"I've been in the NBA 27 years, I've never had a bad win," Gentry said. "Never had a bad win. There's some things we've got to work on, but wins are tough to come by. So we'll take it and enjoy it. And then we'll be able to look and see where we have to continue to make improvement."