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Anthony Davis' 50-point game reaffirms hopes, fears for Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS -- The survey of general managers published by NBA.com ahead of every season has come to serve as the closest thing pro basketball has to a Michelin Guide. Each year, the league's tastemakers -- or, as is rumored, their assistants -- essentially anoint what's hot and what's not, and around this time in 2015, Anthony Davis was decidedly en vogue.

When asked last year which player they would choose to start their franchise, a whopping 86.2 percent of GMs chose Davis, fresh off a season in which he finished fifth in MVP voting.

But after a season marred by injury, this year's list saw him take a bit of a tumble. Though Davis was voted the best power forward in the league, he finished only among those also receiving votes in the question he dominated a season ago.

The message was rather clear: The NBA had doubts about Davis' ascension.

In one night, he may have dispelled them all.

In his first game since last March, when he was shut down with a month left to play to undergo a left knee procedure, Davis turned in a masterpiece: 50 points (17-for-34 from the field, 16-for-17 from the free throw line), 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 7 steals and 4 blocks.

With it, he becomes only the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 points or more in a season opener. You might have heard of the other three: Michael Jordan (twice), Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.

"He's a hell of a player," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of Davis. "He's one of the best players in the league. It doesn't surprise me that he has the night like he had. It's not like this is the first time he's ever done it."

No, but it's only the second time Davis has scored 50 or more, the first being a 59-point, 20-rebound stunner last season in Detroit.

This time, the celebration -- if there was one -- was muted. After the game, Davis sat slumped in his chair at his locker and lamented that his big night came in the midst of 107-102 loss at home to the Denver Nuggets.

"It would have been more satisfying if we would have won," he said. "The way I played, I'm gonna have to ... probably not 50 every night, but try to get somewhere along those lines every game to give ourselves a chance to win. That's the bottom line. We just got to go, keep finding guys and trust those guys that they're going to make shots."

While Davis' performance shook the outside perception like a snow globe, the production of his supporting cast only seemed to reaffirm that there isn't enough of one to properly take advantage of his special talents.

The 10 other Pelicans who played Wednesday finished with only two points more than Davis and shot 14 percentage points worse from the field. Solomon Hill, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal this offseason, adequately fulfilled his role as lead defender but finished 1-for-7 on the night. Buddy Hield, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, had a very rookie-ish four points on 2-for-8 shooting.

More troubling, though, is the lack of extra opportunities (the Pelicans were outrebounded 58-34) or breathing room (3-for-17 as a team from 3-point range) provided for Davis.

While most teammates noted their awe of their superstar and what he's able to accomplish, the vibe permeating the locker room after the game was one of disappointment, even shame.

"I would say it's a double-edged sword," Hill said of Davis' big night. "Because, yeah, he's gonna go off. But other guys have to just find a way to affect the game. I think we get into a watch mode, and that's kind of how I was in the first one, just watching AD go. I've got to do certain things, whether it's defensively, whether it's on the offensive glass, whether it's on the defensive glass -- I've got to do something to affect the game.

"For the first -- probably -- half, we were just watching him when we should be making the job easier. We should be feeding off that. Yeah, if they're doubling, now there's opportunities for everybody else to get themselves going and assert themselves as well."

There's hope in the distance. The Pelicans are currently without three players who have and could still end up starting next to Davis: Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter. They've prepared to hold the line, obtaining far greater depth than last season, when an onslaught of injuries ultimately led to Norris Cole starting by the All-Star break.

The question is how long can they wait. The Pelicans started last season 1-11 and were unable to recover from it. While it's hard to envision such a crater to start this season, a brutal early schedule that next includes an upcoming back-to-back against teams that won 73 games and 67 games last season won't help.

Davis, for his part, has fully embraced the burden of his predicament.

"I'm just trying to be aggressive," he said, "just knowing this team goes as I go."

But when 50 points don't get you far enough, it's reasonable to wonder where the Pelicans can go from here.

"That's the way it goes in this league," Gentry said. "We have to count on you more than you would expect, but he's fine with it. That's the one thing that I like about what AD has done this summer and the work that he put in this summer and his attitude coming back. This didn't bother him at all. This is who he wants to be."