NEW ORLEANS — The men who know have told Anthony Davis to envision tip-off on Wednesday night, to fixate on that moment.

When he walks onto the court, he’ll feel the force of thousands of boos pressing down on him, smothering him – the anger of a fanbase scorned. But once the game begins, he’s trained himself to lock into the game so deeply, that even the noise in the arena will fade into the background.

Getting to that moment of safe harbor is the hard part.

“I got a little taste of it, but I know it’s going to be even worse,” he said. “I don’t think there’s really no way to prepare for it.”

Davis has spent the last few days preparing for his much-anticipated return to New Orleans, a nationally televised game at Smoothie King Center that won’t concern itself at all with the disparate records of the Lakers (15-2) and Pelicans (6-12). This is the most personal kind of game there is: the return of an NBA star to the market he left.

He’s watched the return of Kemba Walker to Charlotte, and he was interested to see how Boston would receive Kyrie Irving (who it turns out won’t play on the same night). On his own team, one could convincingly argue that no one has experienced the kind of hostility LeBron James faced on Dec. 2, 2010, when he returned to his home state of Ohio to threats and vitriol that he admits shook him following his free agency departure to Miami.

Davis is like these stars, but he’s different in one key way: He asked out midseason. The booing started before he left.

He returned to the lineup after a tortured process in which the Pelicans, furious with a public trade demand he made in January, had tried to bench him for the season. The NBA and Davis pressured, and eventually won out: Davis got to take the court for a home game on Feb. 8, where he was more harshly received than the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I kind of dealt with it a little bit last year,” Davis said. “The first game after the whole situation, the same thing, I got booed the whole game. And I was still able to lock in.”

Davis scored 32 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots in a Pelicans win. And he went on to be booed every time he touched the ball for seven more home games in New Orleans.

There was additional back-and-forth: Notably, Davis wore a T-shirt to his final home game (in which he did not play) with the Looney Tunes sign-off, “That’s All Folks!” which led down a rabbit hole about whether he dresses himself. But the acrimonious end of his seven-year tenure, Davis said, had the unfortunate effect of overshadowing six-and-a-half years of mostly happy times.

He still feels warm about his time in New Orleans, starting from when he entered as a gangly teenager in 2012 back when they were still called the Hornets. Even though he only ever enjoyed two winning seasons there, he still holds onto connections and memories, which is what makes his return bittersweet – even if Pelicans fans are still only bitter.

“I have a lot of love for the city,” he said. “I have so many ties to the city, got so many friends and family there, did so much for the community. I have personal ties there. It was definitely a tough thing to do, but something I felt like I needed to do.”

It’s increasingly a part of the NBA superstar lifecycle, particularly after a summer when so many big names moved markets. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are just some of the players who have relocated, a handful of them for the second time.

James is a powerful figure to help talk Davis through the process. Davis joked that James scoring 38 points in his first return to Cleveland “puts pressure” on him to perform Wednesday night, but he and the Lakers will settle for just winning the game.

While he initially tried to be coy, James acknowledged that he’d given Davis “some pointers” about coming back to New Orleans.

“Obviously our situations can be a little different, but we can both relate to being in a franchise for seven years,” James said. “Being the franchise player and trying to take the franchise to a place where it hadn’t been before. And being kids when we got there to being men when we left.”

Looking at his past begs the question of how Davis is blending into his new situation, the market that was reportedly at the top of his list for trade destinations well before June, when the Lakers parted with significant assets, including five players, to get him. Davis still only has one year remaining on his contract, and despite all the indications that he wants to re-sign in L.A., his agent Rich Paul has promised his client will enter free agency.

The production has been what the Lakers hoped: Davis is neck-and-neck with James in the scoring column, and he’s been the lynchpin to a top-10 NBA defense while also leading the league in blocked shots (3 per game). As Mike Penberthy, the assistant coach who most closely works with Davis in individual drills, says: “A.D.’s very special.”

The Lakers have been impressed by his quick responses to coaching: He can make in-game adjustments to his shooting form, or drive harder into roll lanes. His mere presence has also strengthened the engagement from James, who teammates have said is playing harder on the defensive end this season.

The more difficult fit might be off the court, where the more introverted Davis is still learning how to occupy a starring role with the NBA’s most prestigious franchise. Penberthy said he’s seen James guide his younger, more cloistered counterpart along the path.

“For (LeBron), it’s another walk in the park. For A.D., it’s new to be on this type of team that has a chance to do something special and to be in a city with this type of scrutiny,” Penberthy said. “I think right now, as it’s all kind of hitting him, you see him calm, a little more quiet and introverted. But I think as time goes on, you’ll see him come out of his shell as well.”

For this week, in particular, the shell is up. The Lakers decided to stay an extra night in San Antonio instead of flying straight to New Orleans after Monday’s victory over the Spurs. It’s possible that Davis won’t address media in town until after the Lakers and Pelicans play.

He also knows some of his opponents have their own added motivation. Besides his former teammates, he’ll face off against Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart – three of the players the Lakers gave up to acquire him.

“Those guys are gonna try to take our heads off just to prove a point,” he said. “I don’t want to say I want to take their heads off, I just want to win it.”

Just a win. Not resolution. Not forgiveness. Not closure. The people he’s asked for advice have said to expect nothing more than to win. The Lakers have soldiered on their four-game trip without apparent signs of strain from the looming game circled on the calendar, starting 3-0.

James got a second chance with Cleveland and got to re-do a return last season when Ohio showered him with praise. He still has never forgotten that first brush with stirred up Cavaliers fans, but he’s gained perspective on that night as well.

“I talk about the bad as if that’s the worst thing that’s happened in my life,” James said. “I’ve lived a hell of a life by playing the game I love to play.”

Davis wants some version of that, too, even if he accepts it will never be completely on his own terms. But that will have to wait.

“I had a great time – I think a lot of people there who know me, knows that,” he said. “And, the rest, obviously they’re fans of the Pelicans. And I understand why they feel that way, but it’s all love on my end.”

LA Daily News