Anthony Davis returns after injury _lowres

Associated Press photo by Jim Urquhart Pelicans forward Anthony Davis loses the ball during the first half of Saturday's game against Utah in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — It takes more than a blow to the knee to keep Anthony Davis down.

The Pelicans endured a scary moment when Davis suffered a right knee contusion during a collision with Chris Paul on Friday night.

Davis had to be carried off the locker room during the third quarter of a 111-90 loss to the Clippers. He eventually returned to the New Orleans bench but not the game.

Davis did not remain absent from the court for long. He was back in the starting lineup against the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, facing a Jazz team without power forward Derrick Favors.

He finished with 36 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s 101-87 loss to the Utah Jazz.

Just having him back on the floor healthy enough to contribute is a game changer for the Pelicans in their continued push to bounce back from a 1-11 start.

Davis played a major role in fueling New Orleans’ recent three-game winning streak, averaging 26 points, 18rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per contest.

“He’s been very important for us, just because we have been struggling,” forward Alonzo Gee said. “We need leadership from him, and we need to see him going to work. It keeps us going and keeps us together as a team.”

Davis gives New Orleans a different dynamic. It isn’t enough to simply say he makes big plays as he finds ways to put his stamp on the game on offense and defense.

He already has seven double-doubles through 16 games. Davis has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in five of his past six games. Three times, the forward has tallied at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in the same game.

That’s why his teammates are content to let him step forward and be the star. They know his presence and his efforts will not only make things easier for them, but it will make them better players and lift the Pelicans collectively to a higher level as the season progresses.

“He’s our leader,” guard Ish Smith said. “He’s our best player on the team. What he does offensively and defensively shows up on the stat sheet and sometimes doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He does so much for the team. When he’s playing, we’re a different team.”

The best part for New Orleans is that Davis is nowhere close to a finished product. At just 22 years old, he’s still a young player in NBA landscape. A fresh canvas on which to paint a masterpiece.

One of the remaining brushstrokes is refining his toughness. Davis can keep building on his potential, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said, by simply learning how to outmuscle opponents and keep from getting pushed around himself.

“There’s one thing he has to improve on is just the physicality of the game,” Gentry said. “He’s going to have to play with guys leaning on him, grabbing him, holding him and be able to play through those kind of situations there.”