For Anthony Davis, it was the perfect antidote after a difficult road loss and just before a pressure-packed home game.
On Thursday, an off day for the New Orleans Pelicans after back-to-back games, Davis was in his element — spending time with kids, who were eating his favorite food, pizza, and playing basketball at the Back 2 Basics training facility in Elmwood.
“(The event) was planned, but coming off a loss like that (at Memphis on Wednesday), you just want time for yourself and to think about what you can do for (Friday) night’s game,” he said. “But for me, I think it’s important to give back, and it means a lot for me to see these guys happy and having fun.”
It seemed to have a rejuvenating effect on Davis. That’s something he and the Pelicans (42-36) hope carry over to Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns (39-40) at the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans are tied with Oklahoma City for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot; both teams have four games left.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Davis said. “We know what we have to do coming off a tough loss. We have to defend, do the things we always do. We’re at home, so we have to make sure we come out with that energy.”
Having won the season series 3-1 against the Thunder, the Pelicans would get the final spot if the regular season ends with the teams tied.
“It’s a little pressure there, but we love pressure,” Davis said. “That’s what we’ve been built up for this whole season, living up to the big moments. We’ve got four games to control our own destiny. They’ll be a big four games. … I think we’re going to come out on top.”
After Friday, the Pelicans play a back-to-back Sunday in Houston (53-25) and Monday at Minnesota (16-52). They end the season at home Wednesday against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs (53-26). The Rockets are tied with Memphis for second in the West.
The Pelicans could benefit if San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich rests his starters in the finale to make sure his Spurs enter the playoffs with no injuries. But entering Thursday night’s games, they were tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for the fifth spot, just 1½ games behind Portland for fourth —which carries homecourt advantage in the first round.
Oklahoma City hosts the Sacramento Kings (27-51) on Friday, followed by a back-to-back that could seal its fate. OKC will play at Indiana on Sunday, then at home Monday vs. the Trail Blazers, who are 3-0 against the Thunder this season. Indiana (35-43) is a game behind Brooklyn for the eighth spot in the East.
The Pelicans, who trailed Oklahoma City by three games two weeks ago, have won five of their past seven. The Thunder, with injuries to reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant and starting power forward Serge Ibaka, have lost four in a row and six of seven, the only win coming March 29 at Phoenix.
Davis, who missed the 74-72 loss at Phoenix on March 19 with a sprained ankle, had shot just 14-of-37 (37.8 percent) combined in a back-to-back at Sacramento and Portland last weekend. He followed that with a 2-of-10 first half against Golden State on Tuesday but came back strong in the second half, shooting 8-of-11 to lead the Pelicans to a what could turn out to be a season-saving victory.
He shot 5-of-9 the next night at Memphis, playing only 28 minutes in a game in which the team, coming off a huge win, had no energy.