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Anthony Davis shows why he’s the “centerpiece” of the Lakers defense

For one quarter, New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram was having a sweet return to the Staples Center.

That was, until the defending champions — and the superstar for whom he was traded — showed up.

Since allowing 118 points to the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 7, the Los Angeles Lakers have tightened the screws. Their increased defensive intensity has resulted in five straight wins, including the 112-95 victory over New Orleans on Friday.

Following a 4-0 road trip, the Lakers were back home for the nationally televised matchup with Ingram, Zion Williamson, and the struggling Pelicans.

After a sloppy first quarter, the Lakers’ top-rated defense stymied the Pelicans, particularly in the second half. As per usual, the Lakers’ lockdown was led by Anthony Davis.

“He’s the centerpiece of what we’re doing on that side of the ball,” Vogel said about Anthony Davis in his pre-game session with reporters. “He sets a great tone for us … he’s definitely our leader on that side of the ball.”

Early on, the Pelicans’ young front-court duo got the best of a sluggish Lakers group. Ingram — mostly guarded by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — nailed eight of his first nine shots, while Williamson was an active bully.

However, things quickly shifted as the L.A. defense perked up. The Lakers surrendered 37 points in the second half and outscored the Pelicans 92-67 over the final three periods.

Anthony Davis bolstered his Defensive Player of the Year case with three steals and three blocks, including an impressive swat on Williamson.

Ingram missed five of his six field-goal attempts in a quiet second half, as he spent more possessions guarded by Davis or James.

“I know I could have been a little bit more aggressive,” Ingram said in his postgame remarks. “In the third quarter, they just took the momentum.”

It was Ingram’s second game at Staples since being traded for Davis in the summer of 2019 following three seasons in L.A. Last season’s Most Improved Player of the Year winner is averaging 23.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game this season.

Williamson finished with 21 points (9-for-19 shooting) and 12 rebounds.

Davis had an off night offensively, shooting 5-for-16 with 17 points. But, with the way his team shared the rock (31 assists) and shot from deep (15-37), his defensive impact was more than enough to deliver the Lakers a fifth-straight W.

“We’ve been locking in defensively,” Anthony Davis said after the game. “We had a slow start tonight, but we’ve been doing it on the defensive end. I think we’re first in defensive rating, and we want to keep that edge.”

Lakers, Anthony Davis

Davis cited guard Dennis Schröder’s fullcourt feistiness as a spark-plug in the second quarter.

“We were slow defensively. … So, it started with D.S.’s ball pressure. We fed off his energy. It takes one play to get us going.”

The Lakers second-half surge was sparked by a 15-0 run in the 3rd quarter. Head coach Frank Vogel praised his team’s defensive adjustments coming out of halftime.

“Your defense has to carry you and keep you in games,” Vogel told the media afterwards. “That’s what we challenge our guys to do. We made some adjustments defensively to slow the game down. … We had a great defensive second half.”

LeBron James, meanwhile, took just 11 shots and mostly played floor general, finishing with 21 points (6-11 FG, 2-6 3Pt, 7-7 FT), 11 assists and eight rebounds. Apparently, he is 36 years old in his 18th NBA season.

The Lakers next face off against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.