Anthony Davis caught an entry pass a few feet from the basket, hesitated and missed a contested layup.
A little later in Wednesday's 107-98 win against the Chicago Bulls, he leaned in from 13 feet and barely drew iron.
Trying to play through a right elbow injury that sidelined him for three games, the Pelicans’ star appeared nowhere near 100-percent healthy in the opening stages, despite repeatedly saying he was fine.
Near the end of the first quarter, he was 2 of 6 from the floor, including a layup attempt that missed the rim entirely.
Then he started heating up. He scored with his back to the basket on an alley-oop. He sank a smooth 3-pointer. He kissed in a bank shot from a bad angle on the baseline.
Hitting his last seven shots of the first half, Davis helped the Pelicans end a six-game losing streak — their longest since dropping eight straight to start the 2016-17 season.
If this was sub-optimal AD, the Pelicans (5-6) will take it.
Davis already had 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting when he headed to the locker room with 18 seconds left in the third quarter after taking an inadvertent forearm to the face from teammate Julius Randle.
Davis returned five minutes later, finishing with 32 points, 15 rebounds for his first double-double in three games, seven assists and four blocks.
“I don’t think it was entirely the elbow,” he said of his slump since returning from the elbow injury. “It was just me overthinking and hesitating on shots. Tonight I just played calm. The shots I felt comfortable shooting, I shot with no hesitation.”
Maybe the issue was mental rather than physical as he said, but in New Orleans’ three games before he hurt his elbow, Davis went 32 of 54 from the floor (59.3 percent).
In his first three games back, he was 18 of 49 (36.7) before facing the Bulls. He never shot below 40.0 percent in a three-game stretch last year.
“I don’t think he’s completely healthy, but he wants to be out there and he wants to play,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said before tipoff. “We’ve all seen what he plays when he’s completely healthy. Obviously he’s still struggling a little bit in some of the areas and with explosiveness and things like that. We’ll just have to keep plugging away.”
New Orleans had little problems with Chicago (3-9) until late. Never trailing after the midpoint of the first quarter, the Pelicans led by as many as 18 points, 77-59, on a Davis dunk.
Although Chicago took advantage of Davis' absence after that blow to the face — the Bulls pulled to within six in the fourth quarter — Jrue Holiday hit a midrange shot with a little more than 2:00 left to get the margin back to eight.
Holiday had 17 points. Wesley Johnson, starting for the third straight game, scored 12 for his first time in double digits with the Pelicans. Randle had 12 points, too, but missed his first shot after a perfect 10-for-10 display Monday against Oklahoma City.
Gentry pointed to a rough road schedule — the Pelicans played at Denver, Golden State, Portland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City in consecutive games — as a major element in the skid.
“We have to stay at the same equilibrium,” he said before tipoff. “We’re not going to get too high or get too low. It’s a long season. The ship will be righted and everything will be OK. It’s just that we’re struggling right now. Every team kind of goes through it.”
The Pelicans won for the first time without point guard Elfrid Payton, who missed his sixth consecutive game with a sprained right ankle. Gentry said they were shooting for his return Saturday against Phoenix at the Smoothie King Center, but for one night, they corrected the defensive deficiencies they had exhibited in his absence, holding the Bulls to 39.6 percent shooting.
Zach LaVine, the fifth leading scorer in the NBA (27.9), led Chicago with 22 points but was 9 of 26 from the floor.
“We were just in a situation where we needed a win in the worst way,” Gentry said. “And I thought we played our best defensive game because this team right here is a really good shooting team.”
One of the few shots that connected when the Bulls were on offense was Randle’s elbow that left Davis on the floor for about a minute.
“I feel good right now,” Davis said. “I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow. That’s the way he (Randle) plays, so I expect it from him. I just wish it wasn’t me.”