Anthony Davis didn’t need long to win back the crowd after being booed during his pregame introduction and the first few chances he had to handle the ball.
But the Pelicans sought to close out a close game without Davis on the court anyway — and narrowly pulled it off.
Playing for first time since asking to be traded, Davis had 32 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-117 on Friday night.
Jrue Holiday had 27 points and nine assists and Kenrich Williams had 19 points — and they led the Pelicans offense in the fourth quarter, when Davis was kept on the bench despite the fact that the teams were separated by as little as one basket several times in the waning minutes. Instead of playing Davis, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry sent in Julius Randle, who came through with a pair of inside baskets and clutch free throws in the final minutes.
Karl-Anthony Towns scored 32 points for Minnesota, and his driving dunk pulled the Timberwolves as close as 114-112 in the final minute. But Randle responded with one of his late baskets inside and then rebounded Towns’ missed jump hook with 16 seconds left.
Davis looked determined from the outset to justify his continued presence on the court, however awkward it may be for a franchise that had seemed inclined to move on without him.
Pressured by the NBA not to sit a healthy star they had refused to unload by Thursday’s trading deadline for this season, the Pelicans announced that Davis would return to the starting lineup.
He scored 10 points in the first seven minutes. In the opening minutes, he went strong to the rim while being booed and dunked, at which point a segment of the crowd cheering largely drowned out the boo-birds. Later, as Davis stood on the foul line taking free throws, part of the crowd booed while others chanted, “A-D, A-D!”
By halftime, Davis had 24 points and his highlights included a reverse alley-oop tip at the front of the rim while being foul and crashing to the floor on his back. Davis was fine, and reached the 30-point mark before the middle of the third quarter.
Andrew Wiggins had 23 points for Minnesota, which shot and rebounded marginally better than New Orleans, but was outscored 27-16 at the free throw line.
Randle and Time Frazier each scored 12 points for New Orleans, which has won two straight.
Timberwolves: Jerryd Bayless sat out with soreness in the big toe on his right foot. … Jeff Teague was available coming off the bench after missing eight games with a left foot injury. He played x minutes and had 12 points, five assists and four rebounds in 17 minutes.
Pelicans: Randle finished with 12 points. Center Jahlil Okafor sat out with a left ankle sprain that occurred late in New Orleans’ victory at Chicago on Wednesday night. … Guard E’Twaun Moore also was ruled out shortly before tipoff with a left thigh bruise that also had sidelined him the previous five games.
Timberwolves: Host the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.
Pelicans: At Memphis on Saturday night.