With Davis in limbo, Okafor has resurrected his career in New Orleans
Three different Chicago natives will be in the spotlight when the Bulls host the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
The NBA trade deadline arrives the following day, which means Bulls forward Jabari Parker might be moving on. Pelicans all-star Anthony Davis has already reserved the deadline spotlight by publicly requesting a trade from New Orleans.
Davis has been out since Jan. 18 with a finger injury. The Pelicans listed him as questionable for this game, but it seems highly unlikely he'll play.
The third Chicago native, former Whitney Young star Jahlil Okafor, has been terrific filling in for Davis. Over his last five games, Okafor has averaged 19.2 points and 11 rebounds.
Bobby Portis' eyes lit up when he was asked about the matchup Tuesday at the Advocate Center.
"It'll be a fun game," Portis said. "Obviously, Jahlil's rolling right now. He's having a big-time stretch the last eight, nine games."
Before the season, it seemed possible Okafor might not even play in the NBA and have to head overseas. Drafted by Philadelphia with the No. 3 overall pick in 2015, Okafor put up good numbers as a rookie, but quickly fell out of favor. He was traded to Brooklyn midway through his third season and played sparingly for the Nets.
He went to training camp with New Orleans last fall with no guarantees, but earned a roster spot and got his opportunity when Davis went out with the finger injury.
The Pelicans won at Houston last week without Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle or E'Twaun Moore. Okafor produced 27 points and 12 rebounds in that game. He had 25 points and 13 boards in a 2-point loss to Indiana on Monday.
After the Houston game, Okafor talked about the strange circumstances of Davis' trade request and uncertainty about the future of the franchise.
"It wasn't no drama to us," Okafor said. "A.D.'s here. He took us all to dinner last night. There's not really any drama for us. I know there's a lot of noise on the outside, but in the locker room we're still all together. We still love A.D. He still loves us. ... So we're all great."
There have been questions about Okafor's defense and his love of the game. But the 6-foot-11 center has been an effortless scorer since he first arrived in the NBA. A good comparison is Al Jefferson, a similar-sized big man who blossomed in his fourth NBA season after being traded from Boston to Minnesota.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said of Okafor. "He's getting an opportunity, consistent minutes and he's a skilled, big dude. We expect him to be a handful playing at home. So yeah, he's a priority for us."
All was quiet on the Davis trade front Tuesday. His preferred destination is the Los Angeles Lakers, but New Orleans might wait until the summer when more teams can join the bidding.
There was chatter Monday about the Bulls possibly sending Parker to the Lakers for shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but nothing seems to be happening there. Caldwell-Pope, a career 34.5-percent shooter from 3-point range, will be a free agent this summer and is probably not interested in sticking with the rebuilding Bulls.
The salaries don't match, either. The Lakers would have to send a second player in order for that trade to happen. Parker is back with the Bulls after leaving last weekend for a family emergency. It's not clear if he'll stay in the playing rotation with forward Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot joining the roster.
Bulls vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 7 p.m. Wednesday at the United Center
TV: NBCSCH • Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: The Pelicans (23-31) have stayed competitive despite losing all their starters to injuries, besides PG Jrue Holiday. New Orleans has lost three in a row, but the final margin in all three games was 6 points or fewer. Holiday has averaged 20.8 points and 6 assists the last five games, while Chicago native Jahlil Okafor has come alive while filling in for Anthony Davis, averaging 19.2 points and 11 rebounds. ... Davis has been sitting out with a finger injury, besides requesting a trade. PF Nikola Mirotic has missed six games with a calf injury, SG E'Twaun Moore has missed four with a quad injury, PF Julius Randle (ankle) has sat out six games and PG Elfrid Payton (ankle) has missed four.
Next: Brooklyn Nets, 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Barclays Center
-- Mike McGraw