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Anthony Davis, Pelicans off to a roaring start as trade season begins

NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis ripped the defensive rebound down amid a crowd of bright orange jerseys, thus ripping victory away from the Phoenix Suns, and strutted toward the baseline with the swagger befitting a superstar at the peak of his basketball-playing powers.

Davis let out a roar as he vigorously bounced his head up and down, and a crowd that had greeted an inflatable version of the team mascot with one of the biggest cheers of the night responded with its own.

The 23-year-old's motor will often lead him to chase loose balls into the front row, like it did again on this night, but it takes a lot to break the fifth-year veteran out of his shell. To wit: Davis has been charged with more than two technical fouls in a season just once, in his second season, when he was hit with a whopping 5.

This, however, was different.

"It's not every day when I let out emotion," Davis said. "It just felt right. So it just happened."

Most of the New Orleans Pelicans' principals seemed to find at least some respite from a 111-106 victory that halted a four-game losing streak before it tied their second-longest of the season.

But with all signs still pointing to a second straight season in the draft lottery -- the Pelicans entered the night with a 1.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, third-worst in the Western Conference -- what Davis does or doesn't let out in the coming days will have far greater consequences for a team very much at another inflection point in its long-term trajectory.

The Pelicans' brass is expected to solicit Davis' opinion on the potential trades they've worked through, and have openly acknowledged a willingness to listen to him and point guard Jrue Holiday when it comes to personnel decisions. That includes last offseason, when the team countered the departures of mainstays Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson by essentially creating a showcase for their foundational pick-and-roll partners, surrounding the duo with able-bodied defenders and players with something to prove yet lacking a top offensive gear.

But Davis has rarely, if ever, served up his feelings for public consumption. Even as the Pelicans' brutal start to the season reached eight straight losses, even as he gritted his teeth following ugly home losses to the likes of the then-slumping Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, Davis held firm amid a crowd of microphones.

He seemed genuinely surprised when informed of reports that the Pelicans had engaged in talks that would net them Jahlil Okafor, before ultimately easing back into a familiar steadfast approach.

“Whatever the team needs," he said. "Whatever happens, happens."

Yet the roar of a superstar is indeed mighty. While the Pelicans have made marginal improvements with a chicken-salad small-ball lineup that deploys Davis primarily at center, the four-time All-Star recently stated his preference to play power forward. This rare admittance, coupled with an upswing in nagging injuries for the big man and the lack of an upswing in bottom-feeding rebounding numbers, has led the franchise to once again look to the northeast for a worthy running mate.

The merits of adding Okafor, a hulking center who has an offensive game with a decidedly classic feel, can certainly be parsed, but look no further than Monday's fourth quarter as proof of concept for such a deal: The Suns shrunk down to a frontcourt of Jared Dudley and P.J. Tucker and held their own against a Pelicans team that lost Terrence Jones to his sixth foul early in the final period. Phoenix, a below-average offensive unit, bested New Orleans in fast-break points (6-0), scored as many points in the paint (14), and held the lead for most of the quarter.

The difference, as it so often has been in the modest success New Orleans has enjoyed this season, is attributable to its cornerstone players. Holiday and Davis combined for 27 of the Pelicans' 34 fourth-quarter points and teamed up for 64 points, 18 rebounds, eight assists and eight blocked shots Monday.

"If they can get 64 every night, we'll be in good shape," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry joked. "I like that formula."

That's obviously asking a lot, which is why the Pelicans have gone searching for more.

Davis at full-throttle is a force few others in the NBA can replicate. How often he reaches his zenith might very well be dictated by what he says or doesn't say in the days leading up to the Feb. 23 trade deadline.