LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis’ first night in Los Angeles since the trade deadline started with a loud pregame ovation from Lakers fans still hoping he’ll wear their team’s uniform someday soon.
The superstar forward ended it on the New Orleans bench while the Pelicans failed to keep up with another superstar who already made his way to Hollywood last summer.
LeBron James capped his 33-point performance with a one-legged, fallaway 3-pointer with 31 seconds to play, and the Lakers weathered strong performances by Davis and Julius Randle for a 125-119 victory on Wednesday night.
Davis had 22 points and eight rebounds in the first three quarters after getting a warm reception from Lakers fans who eagerly followed Los Angeles’ fruitless pursuit of a trade for the forward earlier this season.
But Davis sat out the fourth quarter again under the Pelicans’ strange version of a minutes restriction, and James made two enormous shots in the final 2:18 to safeguard the Lakers’ victory.
“It was tough not to be on the floor, especially in crunch-time situations,” Davis said. “But they battled. They hit some tough shots toward the end. It was just tough not being on the floor.”
And though Davis heard his cheers during player introductions, he didn’t return the love: “I don’t care about that.”
Lakers fans are still hoping for good news this summer after their team spent several weeks attempting to make a deal for Davis, whose trade request last month threw both of these teams into upheaval.
While the Pelicans were forced into a future that won’t include the best player in franchise history, practically everyone on the Lakers’ roster outside of James spent the next few weeks reading daily speculation about their possible departure for New Orleans in a trade.
The Pelicans elected to hold onto Davis despite the Lakers’ strenuous efforts, but the saga is likely to continue this summer. Until then, the Lakers will continue their pursuit of a playoff berth without Davis, who doesn’t seem bothered on the court by his unclear future or his curious restrictions — he got only 21 minutes.
“I’m actually great mentally,” Davis added. “I go out and play basketball. I don’t let nobody steal my joy, no matter what it is.”
The Pelicans elected to sit Davis for the entire game last week during the Lakers’ visit to New Orleans, but the Pelicans won anyway.
“We knew playing New Orleans that we owed them a little bit of revenge because of the way they killed us there,” said Kyle Kuzma, who scored 22 points for LA.
Randle scored 35 points against his former team, but couldn’t finish a comeback against James and the Lakers’ new core during New Orleans’ fifth loss in seven games.
Pelicans: Frank Jackson had 15 points in his highest-scoring performance of February. ... Jrue Holiday added 19 points. ... Miller scored all of his 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Lakers: Lance Stephenson limped to the locker room early in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. He sprained the second toe on his left foot, but X-rays were negative. ... Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was an even bigger superstar than Davis when he demanded a trade and ended up with the Lakers in his prime, was in attendance. ... Other fans near courtside included Adam Sandler, Todd Gurley, Halsey, NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and David Beckham, who high-fived Dean Tran after the Lakers fan hit a half-court shot to win $100,000 before the fourth quarter began.
Brandon Ingram scored 23 points for the Lakers, who had a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Pelicans trimmed it to 118-117 on Darius Miller’s 3-pointer with 1:38 to play. After Ingram hit a layup, Reggie Bullock forced a turnover by Holiday before James drilled that one-footed 3-pointer from the corner.
“I just trusted my mechanics, trusted my shot and gave it a chance,” James said.
Rajon Rondo had 16 assists for the Lakers, who avenged a loss in New Orleans four days earlier with just their third win in nine games overall.
Randle finished two points off his career high. The big man also appeared to have words with the Lakers’ coaching staff after nearly every one of his baskets, although the smiles on the Lakers assistants’ faces indicated it might have been good-natured. Randle spent his first four NBA seasons with the Lakers before leaving as a free agent last summer. He already had his homecoming game at Staples on Dec. 21, getting 21 points and eight rebounds in a loss. “It’s tough, because we started so strong,” Randle said. “Wish we could have that (final) stretch back.”
Pelicans: At Phoenix on Friday.
Lakers: Host Milwaukee on Friday.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports