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Brilliance of Anthony Davis has Pelicans Battling for Playoff Spot

After trailing by as many as 18 points at home against the Memphis Grizzlies, Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans responded with a huge second half en route to an impressive 95-89 victory. Davis’s 23 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks were critical in this win that pulled New Orleans to within a half-game of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The MVP candidate will need to do much of the same the rest of the way to help his team try and solidify a playoff spot.

An exciting end to the regular season will come down to a hard-fought battle between Oklahoma City, Phoenix and New Orleans for that last playoff spot. According to PlayoffStatus.com, the Suns have the toughest remaining schedule of all the teams in the West, while the Pelicans and Thunder are fifth and eighth, respectively.

For all intents and purposes, if the Pelicans fail to make the postseason, Davis’s chances of securing his first MVP trophy will be eradicated. But until then, his numbers warrant strong consideration.

In his third season, he has posted career-highs in points (24.3), rebounds (10.4), assists (1.7), steals (1.5), minutes (35.5), field goal percentage (54.4 percent) and free throw percentage (83 percent). His 2.8 blocks per contest leads the NBA, and the staggering 31.35 PER ranks up there with some of the best marks ever.

At the beginning of the season, you looked at this roster and had major questions about whether or not they could be a playoff team after going 34-48 last season. They were indeed derailed by injuries, including some to Davis, who only played in 67 games last year. There were overall concerns about their roster makeup and if these guys could ultimately get it done in this Wild Wild West.

But surely, the productivity that the Brow has provided has transcended all these fears, and a breath of life has been given to the city of New Orleans for the first time since the departure of Chris Paul.

Davis isn’t new to the skepticism, as there were some questions surrounding him when he was drafted from Kentucky with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. In 40 games with the Wildcats under one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, Davis dominated by averaging 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds, while also excelling on the defensive end. Davis led all of college basketball with 4.7 blocks per contest in his lone season at Kentucky.

When Davis came into the NBA, many wondered if he would be able to adapt to the league’s physicality since he was so skinny. He has since answered those questions loud and clear.

ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemele Hill made the phrase “Numbers Never Lie” popular by using it as the name of their show. They’ve since changed that name, but the premise remains the same, and it’s rather conspicuous in sports. But in Davis’s case, the numbers don’t lie.  His PER is ridiculous, and he has 10.6 Win Shares (fourth in the NBA), up from 10.4 last season and 6.1 in his rookie year, per Basketball-Reference.com. He’s also fifth in the league in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus and first among power forwards.

Davis is clearly already one of the best players in the league at just 21 years old, and he has his team in contention for a playoff spot despite numerous injuries. He himself has battled injuries in an effort to get this franchise back to the postseason for the first time since the 2010-2011 season when they were the New Orleans Hornets, and other key injuries to Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson haven’t helped. Still, the Pelicans are right there.

The NBA may be full of flagrant fouls, but is there anything more flagrant than the fact that this team might be deprived of a playoff spot? The egregiousness of the playoff alignment is the reason for this and it needs to change, but that’s a different issue. Davis has to focus on what he can control, and that’s what happens on the basketball court. This historic season will need to continue in order for the Pelicans to fight off the ferocity of Russell Westbrook and the youth of Eric Bledsoe and the Morris twins for that last playoff spot.

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