With a Healthy Anthony Davis, Pelicans Look to Challenge Warriors in the West

OAKLAND -- With the Rockets reeling, the Thunder tripping and the Spurs scrapping to remain relevant after 20 years of excellence, the upstarts are coming for the Warriors, one of them riding into Oracle Arena tonight.

The New Orleans Pelicans appear ready to pursue their ceiling, which is at its highest when Anthony Davis is healthy and owning everybody in his path.

After a two-game absence, Davis is back in the lineup, which adds a layer of intrigue to this Warriors-Pelicans matchup.

"The Pelicans are one of the best teams in the West," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We saw them in the playoffs last year. Anthony Davis is spectacular."

New Orleans, as well as Utah and Denver, is one of three Western Conference teams poised to rise from playoff contender to a team the elite would just as soon avoid.

The Warriors have seen the Jazz and escaped Salt Lake City with the narrowest of wins. They've seen the Nuggets in Denver and left with their only defeat this season.

It was their Rocky Mountain experience that seemed to wake up the Warriors. Stephen Curry shot 10-of-23 (43.5 percent) and Kevin Durant 7-of-19 (36.8) in that game but have since taken it to another level.

Curry is frying defenders, Durant is torturing them and now Klay Thompson is jumping in to crush the hopes of those who'd like to think containing Curry and Durant -- good luck with that -- is the surest way to compete with the champs.

That's what a challenge can do for a team that plays its best ball when threatened.

The Pelicans (4-2) fit the bill. They're second (behind the Warriors) in scoring, fifth in field-goal percentage and eighth in 3-point accuracy. They also were undefeated before Davis missed the last two games with an elbow strain.

"He's continued to improve each and every year," Draymond Green said of Davis. "He went from being a guy who will get you 20 points without a play being called for him to being a guy who the entire offense runs through."

It's not just Davis that makes the Pelicans so formidable.

After four consecutive seasons in which he missed between 15 and 48 games, guard Jrue holiday was healthy last season and during a first-round playoff sweep of Portland reminded everyone of his gifts.

With DeMarcus Cousins, who was putting up MVP numbers in New Orleans last season, now with the Warriors, the Pelicans signed free agent big man Julius Randle. He's off to a strong start.

The Pelicans surely benefited from a trade last February that brought them power forward Nikola Mirotic. They were 31-26 before the All-Star break, 17-8 after.

"He's such a lethal threat, and with them starting him at the 4, it really spaces the floor," Kerr said. "And that opens things up for Anthony Davis.

"They're a unique team because they have a unique player in Anthony. And then it's a matter of putting the right pieces around him. They've done a good job of that in the last couple years in finding combinations that work."

The Warriors took out New Orleans in five games last May. Less than six months later, that doesn't mean much.

"That's long gone," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "When we play the game tonight, it won't have anything to do with the game tomorrow night.

"It's a whole different season, a whole different situation, whole different group of people that have been added and taken away from the rosters."

Indeed, the early season suggests possibilities of rearrangement in the Western Conference. The Pelicans look to be a part of it.

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