Breathe deep and exhale, New Orleans Pelicans fans.
Anthony Davis, who exited the team’s 112-94 blowout victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, is just fine. The big man left with a right knee injury after diving into the stands for a loose ball, but he came back during the fourth quarter to finish with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and three blocks.
Per the team’s official PR feed, his malady is nothing more than a contusion, offering hope he could be on the floor Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves to complete the pre-Thanksgiving back-to-back:
Anthony Davis (right knee contusion) is QUESTIONABLE to return tonight at Atlanta.
— Pelicans PR (@PelicansPR) November 23, 2016
Even while playing without its star, New Orleans’ lead hovered around 30 points for much of the night. And that, in addition to Davis’ avoidance of a major injury, is reason for optimism by the bayou.
After all, the Hawks entered the contest ranked No. 3 in NBA Math’s team rating, playing well enough to rank in the 95th percentile among all historical squads. Sustainable or not, they were no mere pushover.
Heading into the Tuesday night affair, the Pelicans were already headed in the right direction. They had won four of their last six games, including an overtime victory against the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday. After starting the year 0-8, this was the fourth time they knocked off a presumptive playoff squad, and the performance caused their net rating to continue trending up after it bottomed out early in the year:
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Whether this streak is legitimate shouldn’t be the question yet. We can worry about that later.
After their putrid start, the Pelicans desperately needed to create some positive momentum. They needed to imbue the organization with optimism, proving this team wasn’t just a collection of overpaid scrubs placed around Davis and dooming him to squandered years.
That’s exactly what they’re now doing.
Davis is still Davis, of course. Heading into this injury-shortened outing, he was averaging a league-best 31.7 points to go along with 11.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 steals and an NBA-leading 3.0 blocks. As if that’s not enough, he was shooting 50.3 percent from the field and keeping his turnovers in check.
Even before leaving for the locker room on Tuesday night, he created a lasting memory:
But Davis seems to have help now.
For starters, Jrue Holiday is back and making an immediate impact. The point guard missed the campaign’s opening salvo for reasons far more important than basketball: His wife was recovering from brain surgery and giving birth to their first child.
During his first two appearances, Holiday helped the Pelicans post a 19.4 net rating with him on the floor—far better than the minus-6.8 without him. His presence was positive yet again against the Hawks, as he came off the bench to finish with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.
Though Tim Frazier did a solid job holding down the fort in Holiday’s absence (and performed admirably on Tuesday by tying his career high with 21 points and chipping in 14 dimes), everybody looks far more confident playing with the former All-Star. He’s a superior talent in all facets of the game, and his return should give the other Pelicans a feeling of comfort.
As Oliver Maroney wrote for Basketball Insiders, Holiday allows others to fill their natural roles:
One of the most underrated team characteristics in the NBA is knowing your role and creating an atmosphere where players feel comfortable. Guys like Tim Frazier, Langston Galloway, Terrence Jones and E’Twaun Moore were having to step up and take some of the offensive burdens off of Anthony Davis, something they didn’t look comfortable …