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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019

Anthony Davis is willing the Pelicans into the playoff race with a freak stretch of video-game stats

Anthony Davis has taken the Pelicans’ season into his own hands.

Image: Jonathan Bachman

THE NBA’S WESTERN Conference has turned into the tight playoff race many expected, and right in the thick of the race, to the surprise of many, are the New Orleans Pelicans.

At 34-26, the Pelicans are in fifth place, just two games out of third place, but also only two games out of ninth place, such is the cluster of teams fighting for a postseason spot.

At the core of the Pelicans’ surge has been Anthony Davis, who is vaulting himself into the MVP discussion with one of the most dominant stretches the NBA has ever seen.

The Pelicans are on a six-game win streak, and in those six games, Davis is averaging 41.5 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks per game while shooting 54% from the field, 39% from three, and 52% from the free throw line.

Zoom out further, and since January 26, when DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles, the Pelicans are 7-5, led by Davis’ 34 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks per game.

Those are video-game-like numbers, and a reflection of Davis’ insane usage and production. But that’s what the Pelicans need right now.

On Monday, in his latest performance, Davis scored 53 points with 18 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 blocks to help the Pelicans secure a win over the Phoenix Suns.

On some possessions, Davis simply does it all.

He did the same while scoring 45 points with 17 rebounds, 5 steals, and 5 blocks against the Miami Heat on Friday:

In the age of “unicorns” in the NBA, Davis may have developed as the foremost unicorn leader; he’s extended his range to the three-point line, can comfortably work off the dribble, and defends the rim.

Yet even with Davis’ insane minutes (38 per game) and usage (34.2%) in the past 12 games, he’s not doing it alone. Rajon Rondo is having a solid season for the Pelicans, and his precision passing has helped get Davis easier looks (his defensive impact on the Pelicans has also improved in recent weeks).

Nikola Mirotic, acquired before the trade deadline, has provided an offensive spark, and Jrue Holiday, a desperately needed piece for the Pelicans, has been on fire since the All-Star break.

Even with those contributions, Davis is shouldering an almost inhuman load, and it’s fair to wonder how long it can last. Davis is currently finishing off a ton of possessions on offense, and he’s the anchor defensively; in the past six games, the Pelicans are allowing just 103.3 points per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor, which would rank fifth in the NBA for the season.

The Pelicans need a playoff berth, having missed the postseason each of the previous two seasons. Davis has been outspoken about his desire to win, and with DeMarcus Cousins hitting free agency this summer and teams already circling around Davis, any sign of improvement would be a positive for New Orleans. Re-signing Cousins this offseason, possibly luring free agents, and assuaging Davis’ questions about the franchise would all be big wins for the Pelicans.

In the meantime, they need everything Davis can give them, and it appears he’s up to the challenge.

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