Two weeks ago, as his team prepared to play an afternoon game at Detroit, New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry lamented the lack of one-on-one defense opponents played against his star, Anthony Davis.
“I’d like to see him guarded by one guy and not being double-teamed,” Gentry said then. “But that’s not the case.”
The Pistons largely obliged that day, and Davis erupted for 59 points and 20 rebounds. Since then, though, it has been increasingly rare for Gentry to get his wish.
Davis has played in four of the Pelicans’ five games since that outburst against Detroit, and it has become clear that he has become even more of a focal point of opposing defenses since.
Entering Saturday’s 6 p.m. home game against Utah, the Pelicans have gone 1-4 since that win in Detroit — including 1-3 in games Davis has played — and Davis is averaging almost seven fewer points per game than his season average of 23.8.
“It’s no different than not pitching to Barry Bonds,” Gentry said this week. “ ‘Why hasn’t Barry Bonds had a hit in the last two weeks?’ Because they walked him 12 times.”
Defensive strategies vary against Davis. Some teams play him straight up with a lone power forward or center. Some use a big wing — Washington’s Jared Dudley or Houston’s Trevor Ariza — as the primary defender. But most teams bring at least some defensive help against Davis.
Against Houston, Gentry said, Davis was fine against Ariza, but “when he’s playing against two other guys, that’s where he really struggled.”
In the four games he has played since his 59-point game, Davis is averaging 15 shot attempts, down from 18.1 on the season. In the past two games, losses to Houston and San Antonio, he’s averaging 12.5 shots.
Davis doesn’t complain publicly about a lack of touches — “I wasn’t really tripping about that,” he said of Washington holding him to nine field-goal attempts in a loss Feb. 23 — but the Pelicans understand the importance of his involvement. And not just as a scorer.
“If there’s a guy behind him and a guy in front of him, then we have to have the ability to move the basketball and get other people involved, and sometimes he has to become a facilitator,” Gentry said.
At times, Davis has shown the ability to create for others as the defense swarms him, a still-developing part of his game.
Davis’ assists are down slightly this season, from 2.2 to 1.9 per game, but his potential assists — passes that would lead to baskets if the shot is made — are about the same: 3.9 per game this season compared to 3.8 a year ago.
He’s passing considerably more, 43.4 times per game, than he did last season, when he made 35.4 passes per game. Although Davis is creating fewer points off assists this season than he did last season, his numbers have been increasing as the year has worn on.
Davis creates 4.6 points per game off assists, but he has created 5.5 per game since Jan. 1 and 5.8 per game since his eruption at Detroit.
“I think what has happened is that you learn from playing against double teams — so many, night in and night out,” Gentry said. “Tim Duncan (was) the same way. He became such a good defensive reader. He could read the defense and then react to what the defense is doing to make plays.
“That’s going to be one facet of (Davis’) game that he has to continue to improve on, because most nights I think there’s going to be a situation where he’s playing against two guys.”
Pelicans center Omer Asik, who has missed the past five games with a right ankle sprain, is questionable for Saturday.
That’s an upgrade for Asik, who had been listed as out for recent games. Asik is averaging 3.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in 48 games, including 44 starts.
Backup center Alexis Ajinca is listed as out and is expected to miss his second straight game with a fractured sternum.
The Pelicans’ Anthony Davis has drawn even more defensive attention since his 59-point game at Detroit on Feb. 23. A look at how that has affected the way he plays:
STAT/SEASON/SINCE FEB. 23
Passes per game/43.4/44.0
Assists per game/1.9/2.3
Assist points created/4.6/5.8