Two of NBA’s top forwards to meet Friday night
It was early this NBA season when New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams gave Anthony Davis a list of forwards he thought were better than Davis.
“I thought there were eight or nine, 10 maybe (on the list),” Davis said. “He did the same thing with the guards, with Jrue (Holiday). So that motivates us, and we wanted to make sure that list changes.”
Davis was asked if he agreed with the list.
“At that time, I did,” he said. “I hadn’t played a game yet (this season). Based on last year, with me being hurt a lot, it would be accurate. I just tried to get better and move up the list.
One of the forwards at or near the top of the list was the Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge. He and Davis were chosen to this year’s Western Conference All-Star team.
With the Pelicans set to meet the Blazers on Friday night at the Smoothie King Center, Davis was expecting another battle against Aldridge. However, Aldridge fell hard during Portland’s home loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and has a bruised back. He is expected to miss the next two games, then be reevaluated.
With that development, Davis can expect to be the focus even more of the Blazers (42-23), who are in a desperate fight in the Western Conference playoff race.
On Wednesday night, the Memphis Grizzlies, who are in the seventh of eight spots, beat the Pelicans by shifting their attention on him, particularly with Pelicans guard Eric Gordon and forward Tyreke Evans out ill.
Davis initially was guarded by Zach Randolph, a bigger, stronger player who surely was on Williams’ list. Davis scored 22 first-half points, but the absence of Gordon and Evans left few scoring options for the Pelicans.
The Grizzlies used quicker forward Tayshaun Prince, with Randolph and a host of defenders at the ready to quickly double team.
Davis finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. It was another game in which he has been a beacon of strength and consistency in a season fraught with injuries to key players. Davis has had 24 games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season, including 11 times in losses, when the team has struggled. Much of his being hard to shut down is due to his versatility, Williams said, being able to score inside and outside.
“I just know what the defense gives me,” Davis said. “I know the team feeds off my energy and what I do.”
Said Williams, “He just has that kind of game. The thing I like about A.D. is he doesn’t run from matchups. He’ll guard a guy, but that guy won’t guard him.
“And that says a lot about him as a two-way player.”
For the Trail Blazers, this is a game — against a team with a losing record, with three key players out and perhaps further depleted by illness — that Portland desperately needs to win. The Blazers, who on Jan. 2 had the best record in the West at 26-7, are just 16-16 since.
They have lost their past four games and five of their past six. The Trail Blazers would like to gain one of the conference’s top four spots, which carry home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
After the loss to the Spurs, the Blazers called a players only meeting to see if they can stop this season from slipping away with 17 games left to play.
When they were winning consistently, the Trail Blazers masked lukewarm defense by being the highest-scoring team in the league. Now, ball movement has not been as crisp, and the defense isn’t much better.
However, Williams said he’s prepared to face a dangerous offensive team, with or without Aldridge.
“They score a lot of points, and they score a lot in bunches with (All-Star point guard Damian) Lillard,” he said. “They have a lot of good players.
“We have to go out there and defend like (Wednesday) night. We just couldn’t score. We certainly have to be better on offense.”
Gordon, Evans practice
Gordon and Evans practiced Thursday. Gordon said he doesn’t know if he will play Friday. Asked if he had a stomach virus, Gordon said, “Probably was a little bit of that, and I definitely had a little bit of a high fever. I tried to move around a little bit today, but we’ll see how I move around tomorrow. I’m trying to find energy and still trying to feel better.”