Davis leading Hornets despite limitations

Updated: April 27, 2004, 1:47 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Gone is the healthy Baron Davis of earlier this season -- the one who dunked over Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal or blew past Ben Wallace for a game-winning jam at Detroit.

"You're not going to see too much explosion out of me," said Davis, who practiced little Sunday and left the New Orleans Hornets' practice facility favoring his sprained left ankle. "I just have to find different ways and angles to the basket because I can't jump over anybody right now."

In Game 1 of New Orleans' first-round playoff series with Miami, Davis' limitations were exposed. His potential game-winning layup was blocked by Lamar Odom. Then he was beaten by Dwyane Wade on a drive and short floater that gave the Heat the victory. In Saturday's Game 3, however, Davis scored a team high 21 points as the Hornets cut their series deficit to 2-1.

"Obviously in Game 1 he was playing on a leg, and [Saturday] he was playing on a leg-and-a-half, so we're making progress," Hornets coach Tim Floyd said.

Davis says his left knee [on which he wears a blue fabric brace], back and elbow also are hurting. Yet he still shows a willingness to try about anything to create offense, from shooting 3-pointers to driving hard inside. Playing somewhat reduced minutes and with his ankle taped, his 17 points-per-game average in the series is about six points below his regular season average. Still, he remains the leading scorer on a team that has been struggling for offense this postseason.

Late in Game 3, as Miami pulled within striking distance, Davis sliced into three converging defenders under the basket and put in a scoop shot with three minutes left, restoring what was then a much needed six-point lead.

Such play had some Miami players doubting the seriousness of Davis' pain.

"I've never seen somebody hurt and then, all of a sudden on offense, just explode," Miami guard Rafer Alston said. "How do you explode with the basketball and you're hurt? And then just hobble on defense."

Not that Davis wasn't effective on defense in Game 3. He had four steals and a block.

Heat forward Odom said he's inclined to believe Davis is in pain, "the way he limps around," but then recalled a fast-break dunk by Davis in the first half of Game 3.

"He limps and then dunks the ball," said Odom. "He's tough. He's very deceptive. You look at him, and you think, 'That's not a guy that's quick. That's not a guy that can go through you. Or over you.' And he can do both."

With apparent bursts of adrenaline that make his play look almost reckless, Davis also has managed to hurt Miami literally. Davis said he banged up his elbow when he slammed into Odom on Saturday, but it was Odom who crumpled and then had to miss half of the fourth quarter to get stitches around his eye. Also in Game 3, Caron Butler hurt himself while scrambling alongside Davis for a loose ball. Butler finished the game but sat out practice Sunday with a sore right Achilles' tendon.

Davis' teammates all but acknowledge they have little hope of advancing in the playoffs without him. They're thankful he's as effective as he is, and only worry that his desire to make big plays doesn't expose him to a major collision or fall in what has become an increasingly physical series.

"This is the first time in my 10-year career somebody has been on the floor more than me," said scrappy Hornets reserve guard Darrell Armstrong.

"Even if he didn't make shots, his presence on the floor is valuable. That's what he's got to understand," Armstrong added. "It's not all about him scoring. His toughness was out there ... his presence was out there."

Davis agreed that he needs find a way to both "play smart and still be aggressive at the same time."

"I'll be lucky to make it through this series will all the stuff going on with me," Davis said. "Going on to the next round -- it would be crazy."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press