CHICAGO — The major storyline from the New Orleans Pelicans’ visit to Chicago on Saturday night was Anthony Davis playing his first NBA game in his hometown.
But after suffering a 107-100 loss to the Bulls, Davis was more concerned about what it would take to play for a championship.
The young star was both encouraged and discouraged by what happened Saturday: encouraged that his young team went toe-to-toe with one of the NBA’s best squads for much of the game, but discouraged that it was the Bulls who displayed the mental toughness required to break open a close game late.
“They’re good, possibly the best team in the league,” Davis said. “They’ve got all type of weapons. ... They’re gonna be a tough team to beat. We’re lucky we see them again, and we’ll try to get that one.”
Davis believes the Bulls — who visit the Smoothie King Center on Feb. 7 — are an example of what the Pelicans can become.
“We have to defend and realize how we have to play every night,” he said. “We’re a young defensive team, and we have to get after it every night. Some nights were inconsistent. We’ve got to play that way each and every night.”
Davis had another monster game against the Bulls with 29 points (on 13-of-24 shooting), 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was the fourth time this season he had at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a game, and he made a lasting impression in his homecoming.
“Great player,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “He shoots it extremely well, offensive rebounds and runs the floor. He’s just a great player — especially in his first time playing at home. Sometimes you get a little anxiety, but he was very comfortable out there. He is at the top of his game right now.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was an assistant with the U.S. team that competed in the World Cup in Spain during the summer, so he got to see Davis up close on a daily basis.
“He is better than advertised, and that says a lot,” Thibodeau said. “It’s amazing what he does. The game is easy for him. I shouldn’t say ‘easy’ because I know how hard he works to prepare himself to play well. When you look at the team and how he fits within the team, they are a nice team that is going to get better and better.
“He is a great leader. We learned that this summer with Team USA. He is a great teammate. His team loves playing with him. He is very coachable. That is a team that has a very bright future.”
After Saturday’s game, Pelicans coach Monty Williams was asked what Davis needed to do to improve. The coach bristled at the question — not because Davis doesn’t need to improve, but because the coach saw no reason to limit it to an area or two.
“He’s 21, and he just has to keep working,” Williams said. “He’s a fantastic player. He can shoot, he can pass, he can defend. As he gets stronger and as his mind develops, he’s going to become an even better player.”