DALLAS — Anthony Davis did just what New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams wanted him to do Monday night at American Airlines Center.
The second-year forward seized the leading role against the Dallas Mavericks with a 25-point performance. That part was no trouble. The hard part was getting someone to follow him.
While Davis shot a strong 58 percent, making 11 of 19 shots for the game, the rest of the team struggled to find the basket, combining to hit a mere 16 of 49 — 33 percent — through three quarters.
Eventually, everyone else figured it out. After Davis left the game for good with 8:04 left — he came up limping after getting tangled up with teammate Austin Rivers while going for a rebound — guard Brian Roberts took over, scoring all 17 of his points in the fourth quarter to lead the Pelicans to a 94-92 victory.
And while the result was satisfying, the real good news was that Davis, the budding centerpiece of the Pelicans’ franchise, was everything he was supposed to be.
Williams said Davis was fine, though the former Kentucky star spent an extended time after the game in the training room and was not available to reporters.
“He’s not worried about making mistakes,” Williams said. “He’s attacking when he needs to. He’s worked on his game, and that gives you a level of confidence like none other. When you work as hard as he did this summer, you find yourself on the floor, and things are a bit easier than they were the year before.”
Boosted by that confidence, Davis played his role of star-in-the-making perfectly. He scored 17 of the Pelicans’ 39 first-half points on 7-of-12 shooting.
The 6-foot-10 forward was nearly flawless on offense, showing slick post moves, driving past defenders to the basket and finishing at the rim with three powerful slams off feeds from Al-Farouq Aminu and Jrue Holiday.
“I’m still trying to learn his mannerisms, the way he plays and where he likes it,” said Holiday, who finished with a team-high six assists. “It is easy. He can do pretty much anything.”
But because his teammates went dry — 29 percent for the half for Pelicans not named Davis — New Orleans trailed 42-39 at halftime. It was that close mostly because the Mavericks, looking shaky in their preseason opener, turned the ball over 17 times in the first half and 28 times for the game.
“It seemed like everybody came out slow,” Rivers said. “We played into their hands. They were a little rusty, and we kind of fell into that instead of capitalizing. Our chemistry isn’t there yet.”
But in the fourth period, the Pelicans came alive offensively, shooting 60 percent and riding the hot hand of Roberts, who made his first preseason appearance as he recovers from a sprained right ankle.
He couldn’t miss down the stretch, hitting four shots in the final three minutes, including a fast-break layup off a steal that gave the Pelicans a 91-90 lead and a nerveless 20-foot jumper with 22 seconds left to put New Orleans ahead for good.
“It was good to get the rust off,” he said. “I hadn’t been in practice or a game. I just wanted to get in attacking mode, and I was able to knock down some shots.”
Notes: Guard Tyreke Evans, who injured his left ankle in Saturday’s preseason opener, had another X-ray before the game and was wearing a protective boot. His status is up in the air. “I’ll find out more when the doctors look at it,” he said. “We’ll see what they say. I feel better. I took some medicine to ease the pain down, so it actually feels much better.” ... The Pelicans waived forward Rodney Carney, who has appeared in 299 career NBA games. ... Saints coach Sean Payton was in attendance. He was in the Pelicans’ locker room after the game with family members.