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Anthony Davis and the Pelicans are experiencing growing pains

Anthony Davis is in the top 10 in three major statistical categories, but the Pelicans have been plagued by injuries. Bart Young/NBAE/Getty Images

MIAMI -- Chris Bosh remembers what it was like: the early burden as a high lottery pick, the expectations to lead a franchise to prosperity, the lucrative contract extension, unexpected coaching changes and frustrating injuries that conspired to stymie hope and progress.

Yes, Bosh easily concedes that Anthony Davis is a superior talent than he was in those early days in Toronto. But thinking back, Bosh sees plenty of similarities between the path he took as a dynamic young power forward trying to learn through losses and Davis' current plight with the hard-luck New Orleans Pelicans.

"Being the player he is, he gets more notoriety, and he's a lot better player than I was at that age," Bosh said of Davis. "But he's just in a tough position because you want to make the playoffs. You want to be a great player.

"You watch all the greats, and you know you have this talent and ability, but it just doesn't seem to happen. It's very early in his career. But we're measured on winning, and that's tough."

Sympathy might be the last thing Bosh feels entering their matchup when the Pelicans visit the Heat on Friday in Davis' first Christmas game (12 ET, ESPN and WatchESPN). But what was expected when the schedules were set as a moment of marquee exposure for one of the NBA's brightest stars might instead become a national inspection of all that has gone wrong this season for the once-promising Pelicans.

Davis, 22, remains the lone player in the league who ranks in the top 10 in scoring, rebounds and blocks this season. But those numbers ring a bit hollow on a team with one of the NBA's worst records and on pace to enter the draft lottery instead of a second straight playoff berth.

Davis is coming off one of the most dominant individual seasons in NBA history, when he finished fifth in MVP voting and posted a league-best 30.89 player efficiency rating to lead the Pelicans on a late charge for the Western Conference's final playoff spot. Although his production has dipped from last season's peak, Davis, in his fourth season, still averages 23.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.

Yet the Pelicans have experienced everything but progress since the franchise hired coach Alvin Gentry away from the defending champion Golden State Warriors' staff and signed Davis to a five-year, $145 million contract extension at the first minute of free agency in July. Setbacks began in the preseason when New Orleans saw key rotation players, including Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik, go down with injuries or struggle to return from lingering ailments.

Largely as a result, the Pelicans opened the season with 19 losses in their first 27 games and entered this week ranked last in scoring defense, having allowed 108 points a game, and 26th in rebounding. Continuity has been non-existent with a primary lineup that played a total of 65 minutes this season. Davis' growth might have been stunted a bit, but hardly his optimism.

"I'm going to go out there and play basketball and let the rest sort out itself," Davis said about maintaining a positive mindset amid a difficult season. "I know I've got a great team and a great coaching staff behind me. So we're going to go out there and fight every day. Anything can happen in the NBA. Whatever happens, happens. I'll just adjust to it and do whatever to try to make it work."

It's that outlook and work ethic that have endeared Davis to his new coach and teammates, who have watched him persevere and keep what hope remains alive for the Pelicans to salvage their season. At least once a week, it seems, Davis heads to the locker room to treat an injury or ailment, then summon the strength to return and finish the game.

Last week, it was flu-like symptoms.The previous week, it was a sprained ankle. And the time before that, it was a bruised shoulder.

"The biggest thing I found out after being around him and coaching him a short time is he's all about the team," Gentry said. "The team comes first in everything he does, because he knows if the team is successful, he's going to be successful.

I think he's probably as low-maintenance a superstar as you'll ever be around. He just wants to be one of the guys."

Because New Orleans is starting to get close to full strength, Gentry essentially has had to hit the reset button on the instillation of his offensive and defensive systems. It has been the equivalent of giving the top teams in the Western Conference a two-month head start and trying to catch them. And it's also one of the main reasons why Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believes it's impossible to even begin to rate the level of impact Gentry has had on the team and its superstar catalyst.

"The biggest challenge has been their health," Spoelstra said of New Orleans. "You can't even evaluate anything else with so many guys in and out of their lineup for so long. It's been an extremely difficult situation and challenge to play through. You plan with what you think maximizes your best players."

While there are legitimate questions as to whether Davis has the right supporting cast around him to enhance his rapidly expanding game, there is no debate that Gentry has proved in previous stops to be a dynamic enough coach to help Davis improve an already MVP-level repertoire. But even that process takes time and is sure to encounter growing pains.

"I think he's probably as low-maintenance a superstar as you'll ever be around. He just wants to be one of the guys."

Alvin Gentry, New Orleans Pelicans coach

Spoelstra recalled the first two seasons when Bosh and LeBron James arrived in Miami as free agents to join Dwyane Wade. The Heat had enough talent to reach the NBA Finals in the first season of the Big Three era, but James didn't become a champion until Spoelstra had time to unclog Miami's system and bring in shooters to spread the floor and accentuate the talents of his once-in-a-generation icon.

In Gentry's case, it has been impossible to evaluate what he has around Davis, or what's needed, when the rotation has been a revolving door.

"It's your job to figure out what suits that group best," Spoelstra said. "Now, in this league, you have to adapt or die. It's very challenging to have one specific system that's reliant on players to play that system. Alvin is a versatile coach. That's a great responsibility, one that if you have an opportunity to coach a great player, you definitely are super grateful. But that's the challenge of this business."

Gentry doesn't shy away from the challenge. He embraces the difficulties of working through it.

"I really like our team, and I think we have depth, but we have not been able to put those guys out there together, almost together," Gentry said. "There's always somebody missing. We're going to have to figure out a way to keep battling. Injuries are a part of it, so we have to find a way. If we can just get our head above water, I still believe we'll be a really good team when we get everyone out there."

If the Pelicans intend to turn their season around, there must be more urgency than they've shown in some recent games. Gentry lambasted his team after a loss to the Phoenix Suns last week when New Orleans committed 21 turnovers and missed 18 of 21 shots from 3-point range.

"Terrible, terrible. Bad effort," Gentry told reporters after that game. "Not playing hard, not giving a damn. That's the way I want to sum it up."

The next game, Davis scored 19 points in the first quarter and left with an illness before returning to finish with 27 points in a win over Denver. It was the latest example of Davis willing a teetering team to a rare win when it seemed on the verge of another demoralizing setback.

"It's tough, but when you play hard, you give yourself a chance to win," Davis said earlier this season. "We have a lot of guys who can fill in. I just play whatever style coach wants to. I have to find a way to perfect this game within the system. So whatever this system is, I have to do the best I can and try to turn it into something special."

Teammates say it's impossible not to believe in Davis' ability to resurrect the Pelicans. Veteran center Kendrick Perkins, who played with Kevin Garnett in Boston, Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City and James in Cleveland, said Davis embodies aspects of all three of the most dominant forwards in NBA history.

In Davis, Perkins said he sees Garnett's versatility and mental toughness, Durant's calm confidence on and off the court and James' ability to lead and draw teammates together. And he's doing so much so soon.

"The way he carries himself, I keep forgetting he's 22 years old," Perkins said. "He's 22, just got $150 million, and you see he still keeps grinding, keeps working. He says, 'I don't want to be good. I want to be great.'

"I already knew his skill, but I was more surprised with his mindset and maturity. He's on a level where he's thinking like this already? Damn. It's going to be scary over the next 10 years."

Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson has been in New Orleans since Davis arrived as the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. He has seen every step of Davis' meteoric rise in the NBA. Everyone sees the great things Davis accomplishes on the court. But few are privy to witness how Davis handles it all behind the scenes.

"His ability to put the weight of this team on his shoulders, it's gotta be tough when all eyes are on you," Anderson said. "And he handles it so well. Basketball-wise, he's getting better.

"I don't know how much better you can get from the kind of year he had last year, but I'm sure he will."

Davis has coping mechanisms to reduce the tension and stress from the season. Perkins said he has caught Davis dancing, including once when he perfected the "Hit the Quan" routine and had teammates rolling in the weight room. Point guard Norris Cole said Davis stalks guys until they stop and listen to the jokes.

"You'll be sitting there for like an hour waiting on the punchline," Cole said. "I can't even think of one that was funny, because they're so long-winded. He has that personality that a lot of people might not see. On the court, he's all business. We know he's going to do his part. We just have to help him."

After his first seven seasons in Toronto, Bosh realized he couldn't get the help he needed to get beyond the first round of the playoffs. He had to relocate to take the next step in his career. Davis' extension doesn't even kick in until next season, so there's no need for Pelicans fans to panic about the future.

For now, from one power forward to another, the message is about patience and perseverance.

"Finally getting to the playoffs last year, you kind of get that taste of success, and you want more of it," Bosh said of Davis. "You can lock him in every year as an All-Star, All-NBA, all of those things because he's going to produce.

"But it's about understanding when you think you've done enough, you're not even close. You have more to do. You know he knows that. He's been picking up the slack all season. It's tough now, but he's only building that resilience that's going to make him and that team better."