TORONTO — It’s not often that Anthony Davis gets inserted into a game at garbage time.
He’s unlikely to forget it happening Sunday.
With 1:06 to play in the West’s 196-173 NBA All-Star Game rout of the East at the Air Canada Centre, West coach Gregg Popovich asked Davis to re-enter the game. And Davis did it gladly, subbing in for Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who exited his 18th and final All-Star Game to a standing ovation and chants of “KO-BE! KO-BE!”
“Pop asked me to do it, and I said for sure,” Davis said after the game. “It was a no-brainer, for the crowd to get involved and give him a standing ovation. I wasn’t hesitant at all to do that.”
Davis was smiling as he hugged Bryant, and it was hard to wipe the grin off his face all night. All weekend, really.
The New Orleans Pelicans star capped his All-Star weekend with 24 points and six rebounds, career bests in All-Star play. He made 12 of 13 shots, including eight dunks. He took seven assists from the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, the former New Orleans star, and photographs showed Davis smiling wide as he prepared to slam one home.
Davis played a significant part in the highest-scoring All-Star Game in history. He was one of seven players to top 20 points. Russell Westbrook scored 31 to win MVP honors; Stephen Curry added 26 and Kevin Durant and James Harden had 23 each for the West. Paul George scored 41, and John Wall added 22 for the East.
“It was really fun,” Davis said. “I’m kind of just happy with the way things went. Happy with everything going on surrounding Kobe. I’m just happy I was able to be a part of it.”
Back in New Orleans, though, a sobering reality awaits.
After a hectic All-Star weekend, Davis has more time to recharge. The Pelicans don’t play again until Friday, when they host the Philadelphia 76ers, the NBA’s worst team.
Individually, Davis is having a strong season. His 23.4 points-per-game average ranks eighth in the NBA, and he’s 11th in the league in rebounding at 10.0 per game. He and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins are the only players in the league averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
But Davis is scoring a point less per game than a season ago. His rebounding has dipped lately — he’s averaging 7.4 boards over his past five games — and he’s blocking 2.2 shots per game, down from 2.9 a season ago.
Davis’ 25.08 Player Efficiency Rating — a statistical measure of per-minute performance in a range of categories — ranks seventh in the league, but it’s down significantly from last season’s historic 30.89.
And as Davis heads south, he returns to a team on the brink of falling out of playoff contention. New Orleans is 20-33, 6½ games out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, and three teams stand between the Pelicans and Utah Jazz for the No. 8 seed.
The Pelicans have played the entire season without small forward Quincy Pondexter, a projected starter, after offseason knee surgery. Point guard Tyreke Evans is out for the rest of the season after knee surgery last week. Shooting guard Eric Gordon has been out three weeks with a fractured right ring finger.
“We definitely didn’t expect to be here, in the position that we’re in right now,” Davis said. “We’re dealing with adversity. We had to go through it. The second half we’re just trying to come back more positive and (with) a lot more energy.”
Davis was the only Pelicans player participating in All-Star weekend, but his hope is that the time off is a refresher “for everybody, the entire team.”
“You get away and relax and get your mind off the team and try to look at yourself and see what you can bring to the team when we get back together to help us move forward,” Davis said. “You definitely use this time to get away and reflect on the first half of the season and try to get better.”
The goal, Davis said, is to “get back in the race.”
There remains the question of whether the Pelicans will try it with their current roster or make adjustments. Forward Ryan Anderson and Gordon are free agents at the end of the season and might have trade value for New Orleans, which faces difficult decisions in the days leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline. Davis expects to have some input on those decisions.
“I trust our organization,” he said. “Whatever they decide to do, of course they’re going to make sure I’m involved with it. I don’t go out (and say), ‘Let’s do this; let’s do that.’ I try to let them handle that and they come to me, and we all sit down collectively and try to figure out what’s the best move.”
Those moves — and any second-half surge — will take center stage in the coming days for New Orleans.
For this weekend, though, Davis enjoyed the opportunity to recharge his batteries for what lies ahead. He was all smiles during All-Star Saturday Night, when he was eliminated in the first round of the Skills Challenge but celebrated wildly when fellow big man Karl-Anthony Towns won.
Davis took in the Slam Dunk Contest, which he called “one of the best ever.” He attended a Nike-sponsored event for local youth basketball players. When a tyke reporter approached him with questions during Saturday’s post-practice media sessions, Davis offered a handshake and conversation.
He caught up with fellow former Kentucky stars and connected with some of his fellow All-Stars and ex-Olympic teammates. And he soaked up the pageantry of Bryant’s 18th and final All-Star game.
It was a hectic, tightly scheduled weekend for Davis. Now he’ll get a chance to relax for a couple of days, he said, before the Pelicans return to practice Wednesday.
“Just having fun,” Davis said of his weekend. “Clear your mind of everything, and just be able to share the court with (Bryant) one more time. After that, it’s getting back to reality and stepping back on the floor with your team.”