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New Orleans Pelicans hold off Minnesota Timberwolves, 122-117, in Anthony Davis’ return to lineup

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It was an uncomfortable night for all, but New Orleans still managed to grab a victory.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA trade deadline now sits in the rearview mirror, and Anthony Davis returned to a familiar role: sporting a New Orleans uniform as a starter. Behind a 32-point, nine-rebound effort in 25 minutes Friday evening, Davis propelled the Pelicans to a 122-117 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves despite not checking in past the 3:14 mark of the third quarter.

It was truly an awkward situation throughout, but rather than piling up a $100,000 fine from the NBA for every game a healthy Davis sits out, the Pelicans organization has decided to let their most valuable asset play out the rest of this season in order to “preserve the integrity of the game,” per a statement issued by general manager Dell Demps on Thursday.

Anthony Davis will play the remainder of the 2018-19 season for the New Orleans Pelicans. A number of factors contributed to this decision. Ultimately, Anthony made it clear to us that he wants to play and he gives our team the best opportunity to win games. Moreover, the Pelicans want to preserve the integrity of the game and align our organization with NBA policies. We believe Anthony playing upholds the values that are in the best interest of the NBA and its fans. We look forward to seeing Anthony in a Pelicans uniform again soon.”

Davis received an avalanche of boos when his name echoed through the Smoothie King Center during pregame introductions, and the arena quickly entered an emotional battle from within. Each time Davis touched the ball in the first few minutes, hecklers roared in opposition of their franchise superstar who requested a trade nearly two weeks ago. Nevertheless, Davis seemingly remains undeterred.

“I’m going to be here the rest of the year,” Davis said following the win. “My job is to play basketball and that’s all I want to do.”

Regarding those early boos, Davis grinned during an ESPN postgame interview and replied, “It was fun. It was fun for me.”

In the locker room, he sung a somewhat different tune regarding the crowd's initial reaction toward him. “I was {surprised}. But, hey - it’s life, man. Some people are not going to like you.”

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Many cheering with passion in support of the home team attempted to disguise any negative noise as the game carried on, halting most hate for their six-time All-Star by the halftime horn. Trailing as much as 18 points in the first half, the Pelicans ran off a 23-point push in the final 4:26 of the second quarter to tie the game. In the second half, New Orleans was able to maintain the momentum behind undrafted rookie Kenrich Williams.

Williams scored 13 of his 19 total points in the third quarter alone and helped New Orleans reach what once was a 14-point lead. Minnesota put together a 12-0 to end the frame, getting back within striking distance while approaching the final twelve minutes. Davis didn’t see the floor in the fourth period due to a minutes restriction, but New Orleans had little issue gutting out the victory against a conference foe.

Jrue Holiday finished with 27 points, nine dimes and three steals. Off the bench, Tim Frazier added 12 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. But still, the focus rightfully centered around what risk is incurred having Anthony Davis continue to take the court for the New Orleans Pelicans.

“God willing, we make it through the season without any injuries or anything,” Gentry said. “We’re not going to play cautiously because when you do that’s when things happen. We’re going to play like we’ve always played, we’re going to do what we’ve always done and that’s going to be that.”

The Pelicans have a troubling road ahead. The evening was weird, the team’s energy was low from the tip and triumph in the end was utterly meaningless considering New Orleans remains five games out of playoff position in the Western Conference. Eventually, these things will begin to wear this team even more. It could ultimately lead to Davis and the organization reevaluating the current agreement prior to season’s end.

For now, a quick turnaround awaits. Next up Saturday, New Orleans faces the Memphis Grizzlies on the second night of a back-to-back.