Anthony Davis offered the basketball-watching world two reminders on Wednesday night. After a 2015-16 season plagued by injuries that wound up knocking him off the gold-medal-winning U.S. squad at the 2016 Summer Olympics, he reminded us exactly what kind of monster he is, beginning the 2016-17 campaign with a historically productive game the likes of which the league had literally never seen.
Unfortunately, he also reminded us just how little help he has on the New Orleans Pelicans right now, casting in stark relief the predicament facing one of the game’s most gifted players and the franchise to which he made a long-term commitment last summer.
Davis turned in the young season’s most brilliant individual performance on Wednesday, torching the Denver Nuggets for 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocked shots in 41 peerless minutes of hell-raising. He joins Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan as just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 points in a season opener, which is one heck of a VIP list on which to get your name.
While Davis fell one block shy of the 5×5 line that the round-number-loving among us hold dear, nobody in NBA history has ever so summarily stuffed the stat sheet:
Just one problem: New Orleans still lost, 107-102.
The former No. 1 overall pick and All-NBA forward made 17 of his 34 field-goal attempts, went 16-for-17 at the free-throw line, and committed only three turnovers despite having the entire weight of the Pelicans’ attack on his shoulders. Alas, one of the cough-ups came with 18 seconds left and the Pelicans down three, scuttling one last chance to knot the game up and extend it to overtime. New Orleans was forced to play the foul game, and Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay knocked down four free throws in the final 12 seconds of regulation to ice the contest.
Despite Davis’ dealing, a Pelicans club playing without its other two best offensive creators — point guard Jrue Holiday, who remains away from the team to care for his newborn baby and his wife after her brain surgery, and wing Tyreke Evans, who’s still sidelined by the knee injury that knocked him out of this preseason — just couldn’t muster enough supplementary firepower to outgun a Nuggets squad that featured seven players who scored at least nine points.
Center Jusuf Nurkic led the way for Denver with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists and one block in 26 minutes, a heartening bounce-back performance for the bruising Bosnian big man after a 2015-16 season marred by injury. Shooting guard Will Barton added 22 points on just 12 shots, while reserve forwards Wilson Chandler (12 points, seven rebounds) and Kenneth Faried (nine points, 14 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass) added the energy, versatility and production to pace Michael Malone’s squad to their first win of the season.
Point guard Tim Frazier chipped in 16 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two steals for Alvin Gentry’s club, while reserve playmaker Lance Stephenson added eight points, three rebounds and three assists in 25 1/2 minutes off the Pelican bench. For the most part, though, New Orleans had Davis and precious little else; non-AD Pelicans contributed only 52 points, and shot just 36.2 percent from the field.
First-round pick Buddy Hield struggled in his pro debut, missing six of his eight shots in 17 minutes, and top free-agent signing Solomon Hill went just 1-for-7 from the field with four fouls and two turnovers in 27 punch-devoid minutes. With secondary contributions lacking, Davis’ heroics in helping the Pelicans cut a 14-point deficit down to just two points in the final minute came up short, getting New Orleans off to a sour start to the new year. [/restrict]