LeBron James coaching Anthony Davis on return to former city

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As Anthony Davis fielded questions about what his return to New Orleans on Wednesday might feel like, he stared across the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room at someone who already has answers about how to navigate an uneasy homecoming: LeBron James.

Of course James remembers the animosity in the air when he played his first game in Cleveland with the Miami Heat. He remembers it so well that he knows the date -- Dec. 2, 2010 -- as if it were a loved one's birthday.

Nearly a decade later, James is trying to prepare Davis for what to expect when New Orleans Pelicans fans will surely pelt him with vitriol pent up from seeing their franchise player walk out the door. In the past week, a number of Lakers spoke about the issue.

"I talked to him," James said, "because I know what it's like going into a situation where you would call home for seven years. ... He's a kid when he got there, and he became a man along that seven-year journey, so it's just going to be a different situation for him personally."

Davis said he has already had a dress rehearsal. "[I] felt like I was on the other side," he said, when he was booed at home in February in his first game after the trade deadline when he was still with the Pelicans despite requesting a trade. This time, he will actually be on the other side when he is introduced as a Laker.

"I got a little taste of it, but I know it's going to be even worse," Davis said last week.

A couple of days later, as the game drew closer, he was more blunt about what he expected.

"I'm pretty sure every time I catch the ball, it's probably going to be boos and stuff like that," Davis said. "Obviously they're fans of the Pelicans. And I understand why they feel that way, but it's all love on my end."

Lining up for the Pelicans, if healthy, will be former Lakers Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart -- only adding juice to the matchup.

"It's going to be a great battle," Davis said. "Those guys are going to try to take our heads off just to prove a point and -- I don't want to say I want to take their heads off, [but] I just want to win it."

James might have played the most notable "reunion game" out of all the Lakers, but he is not the only one of Davis' teammates to experience it firsthand.

"I'm pretty sure every time I catch the ball, it's probably going to be boos and stuff like that. Obviously they're fans of the Pelicans. And I understand why they feel that way, but it's all love on my end."
Anthony Davis, on his first game in New Orleans with the Lakers

Rajon Rondo played in Boston less than a month after being traded to Dallas. Danny Green went back to play in San Antonio after the Spurs traded him to Toronto following eight fruitful years. Dwight Howard visited Orlando his first time around as a Laker. Even Lakers coach Frank Vogel knows the feeling, having coached the Magic in Indiana after spending nine years with the Pacers.

Some of those return games were dynamite. Some were duds. All of them are stories Davis can learn from.

"Just focus on getting the win," Rondo told ESPN. "That's all that matters. You want to go back and beat your home team -- or your old team. Just focus on getting the W. And you go from there. Let your game speak for itself. Don't try to press anything. Just be who you are. He doesn't have to go out there and try to score 50 -- even though he can do it, probably, any night. Just go out there and get the win."

Of course, that's easy for Rondo to say. Not only did the Mavericks beat the Celtics by 18 when he graced the parquet again, the point guard put up a season-high 29 points on 12-for-19 shooting.

"S---, if he wants to have a big game, of course he wants to have a game," Rondo said. "I just want to get a W. Anybody who is playing against their old team, I want to beat their ass and go from there."

James' performance was even more impressive -- 38 points and eight assists in 30 minutes in a 28-point win -- and Davis knows about it.

"Bron told me he had like, I want to say 39 [points] in his return, so put a little pressure on me," Davis said. "Like I said, if we get the win, that's more than enough."

Howard also got the win in Orlando, and his 39 points were the most he has ever scored as a Laker.

Others weren't so fortunate. The Pacers drilled Vogel's Magic squad by 19.

"It wasn't fun," Vogel said. "It's no fun losing to your prior team, especially for me where I had deep roots there in Indiana."

And Green had one of the worst games of his career, going 0-for-7 from the field with three fouls in an 18-point loss.

"Before the game, you do so much more of saying hello and showing love to the coaching staff, arena people," Green said. "You don't really have a chance to work out and lock in on the game. It's tough. It's weird, nostalgic."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, asked to reflect on Green's return, said: "We honored the hell out of him, [me] personally and collectively as an organization."

Green said the show of appreciation stirred up emotions, causing him to think about his entire career. But it wasn't just that. The experience of coming back to his house, which he had abandoned for months as he rented a furnished home in Toronto, was another unanticipated wrinkle.

"It didn't feel like home," Green told ESPN. "I hadn't been there in a while. ... You go on the road, there's a time when you always come back home. But it felt like I had been on the road for a really long time. I hadn't been to my house in a long time, so it was strange."

Green ended up winning the championship in his lone season in Toronto -- as the saying goes, the best way to get over a breakup is to live your best life. And Davis is returning from a position of strength -- the Lakers are No. 1 in the West, while the Pelicans are No. 11.

"I'm excited to play it. I just don't want to get through it, I'm excited to play," Davis said. "It's going to be fun."

And if there are moments that are not so fun, he is equipped for them too.

"I have help there," Davis said. "I have someone to lean on who's been through it and just letting me know like, 'Look, [do] X, Y and Z, just do this,' whatever, whatever and help me throughout that entire game."

The hope is that with all the guidance available to him, the night can shrink in significance from something he perceives as an epic event to just another game.

"The greatest thing is when you finally get on the floor and that ball tips up," James said. "There's nothing but strictly basketball, and everything else doesn't matter at that point."