Lewis: Anthony Davis takes star turn, wows against Heat

They came to see the MVP.

They left chanting “M-V-P!”

For AD.

If there was any doubt that one of the signature nights in New Orleans sports history will go down as the one when the pingpong balls came up like a Mega Millions winner for the home team, it was brought home Saturday.

Anthony Davis, who two years ago as a Kentucky freshman was leading the Wildcats to the NCAA championship just across the street, demonstrated why he’s the Sophomore of the Year in the NBA and maybe one day the successor to King James with his 32-point, 11-rebound performance in the Pelicans’ 105-95 victory against the Miami Heat before a highly approving sellout crowd in the Smoothie King Center.

It was AD’s eighth straight game with at least 28 points, including a career-high 40-pointer. Not bad for a player who came into the league better known for his defense than his scoring and who turned 21 earlier this month.

Count Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan among those who was impressed.

“Oh my God,” he said. “Anthony’s grown by leaps and bounds right in front of our eyes. It’s too bad he plays basketball. Even I could make a great football player out of him.”

Tough luck, Coach. AD plays for Tom Benson’s other team, one that despite long being out of the playoff hunt continues to show it will be a force to be reckoned with next season if everybody gets healthy and a few parts are added.

“We just got to keep the momentum going,” said Davis, who received a hug from James at game’s end. “We want to finish out strong.”

Obviously Davis wasn’t alone in the team’s signature victory of the season.

Four other players hit double figures, including much-maligned forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who besides 12 points and eight rebounds provided one of the night’s signature moments when he stared down James long enough that, when LeBron finally passed to Toney Douglas on the perimeter, it was too late to beat the shot clock.

All of this came on a night when the Pelicans were without Eric Gordon, who suffered a knee injury in Friday’s victory at Atlanta.

To be sure, this was a game set up for the Heat to lose, and for more reasons than Dwyane Wade being out.

Miami was playing its fourth game in five nights. And when you’ve got a team with nine players in their second decade in the league, that makes for a lot of aching muscles, especially 68 games into the season.

Plus, when you’re the Heat, you always get the other team’s best effort.

That goes with the territory of being the two back-to-back NBA champions led by the league’s top player.

Even a opponent like the Pelicans will put forth much more of an effort than they might against a team like, say, Toronto, which out-toughed them out down the stretch Wednesday.

It’s not like the Heat wasn’t aware of all that.

“We knew the other guys are always more focused when they play us because they want to best us so badly,” James said before the game. “We just have to have the same kind of mental attitude.”

It wasn’t like James and the Heat took the night off. Or had that much off an off night.

James wasn’t as spectacular as he was in last year’s game here against the then-Hornets when he had 36 points — 18 coming in a five-minute stretch of the second quarter when he hit six straight 3-pointers to bring the building to its collective feet.

Saturday, he posted a near-triple double — 25 points, eight boards and nine assists — despite a nasty fall in the third quarter when he stepped on Davis’ foot and got up slowly with what appeared to be a twisted ankle.

The man’s a quick healer, though, and he played the entire fourth period and 42 minutes overall despite back spasms that kept him out of a game four days before.

But James couldn’t bring his team back from just four points down at the start of the fourth quarter. Instead, the period belonged to the Pelicans, who shot 64 percent and outrebounded the visitors 12-6. That even brought Heat fans to their feet.

Rae Chu, an exchange student from China who is a sophomore at Country Day, was wearing a King James No. 6 T-shirt but was considering a change of allegiance as the game wound down.

“The Pelicans did a great job tonight,” he said. “I never expected this. LeBron’s still my favorite player, but I’m going to cheer for the Pelicans next time.”