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Pels’ Favors returns after grieving mother’s death

PHILADELPHIA — On Thanksgiving Day, early in the afternoon, New Orleans Pelicans forward Derrick Favors took the time to write out a thoughtful social media post to his mother Deandra Favors.

He thanked her for being a strong, hard-working presence in his life. He thanked her for the sacrifices she made in raising Favors, his older sister and his younger brother. He ended it by telling her Happy Thanksgiving, telling her he loved her and punctuated the post with three heart emojis.

A screenshot of the post is pinned atop Favors’ Twitter page. And it was his way of communicating his feelings as he went through his first holiday without his mother, who passed away suddenly just three days before on Nov. 25.

Deandra Favors used to talk to her son before and after every game. In fact, on the day she died, the two had a conversation about whether or not she was going to go on the Pelicans’ four-game Christmas road trip that ends in a Christmas night game in Denver.

It made the phone call he received on Nov. 25 all the more devastating.

In Favors’ last home game that he played in back on Nov. 14 — a night in which the 10-year veteran had his first 20-point, 20-rebound game of his career — his mother was in attendance. They walked out of the arena side by side.

After her death, Favors was shaken. He didn’t know how long it was going to take before he was ready to play basketball again. While his teammates were playing games, Favors was making funeral arrangements.

“A couple weeks ago, basketball was probably the last thing on my mind,” Favors said on Friday night.

The Pelicans allowed Favors as much time as he needed and after a week-and-a-half, he returned to the team on Monday before the Pelicans’ game against Detroit.

His teammates supported him the best ways they could. Center Jahlil Okafor, who lost his mom when he was nine years old, told Favors to remember the good times and did his best to lend a listening ear for the player whose locker is next to his.

Favors, who also missed five games with a back injury before his mother’s passing, warmed up pre-game but wasn’t ready to take the floor just yet. He traveled to the team to Milwaukee for Wednesday’s contest but something still wasn’t right.

“I felt like I just needed to get back to playing but in Milwaukee, I wasn’t right mentally,” Favors told ESPN on Friday morning.

During his almost two weeks away from the team, Favors said he barely picked up a basketball. He tried to go to the gym, but he had to keep searching for a reason to be there.

“I couldn’t. I went to the gym a couple times but mentally, I just wasn’t there,” Favors said. “The motivation wasn’t there. It wasn’t the right timing. When I got back to New Orleans, started working out, in Milwaukee, started working out, but (Thursday) when I was working out I started feeling better. Body was feeling good. It’s time to come back.”

He finally made that return on Friday night in the Pelicans’ 116-109 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Favors took his usual spot in the starting lineup and played exactly 15 minutes, which was the plan according to Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry.

Favors had eight points and eight rebounds in his return even as his minutes were monitored.

“I felt pretty good. My body felt good. My wind felt great,” Favors said after the game. “I thought I was going to be a little more tired than what I was. Physically, I felt great out there. I did a lot of good things. I still have to get some rust off, but I think I did a lot of good things out there.”

New Orleans attempted to get Favors involved early on. On their first possession, the Pelicans tried to get the ball to him in the middle of the lane only to turn it over. Favors’ first shot attempt at the 10:36 mark clanked off the rim. His first shot didn’t fall until a little over three minutes later.

His impact was felt more on the defensive end, a place the Pelicans have struggled this season. Gentry and players talked about the need for more communication on that end of the floor after the loss to Milwaukee in the game prior to Friday and Favors helped in that area.

“I think especially from a veteran point of view, you get to see how he thinks and how he quarterbacks everything on the basketball floor,” Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram said. “He was big for us, especially on the defensive end in the minutes that he played. He was communicating with everybody. He was doing the right coverage with everything.”

Favors posted a team-best 96.9 defensive rating, one of just two Pelicans under 107 (Jaxson Hayes was the other at 97.6), and he did so playing the majority of his minutes against 76ers center Joel Embiid.

But as tough of a matchup as Embiid is, that wasn’t his focus heading into the game.

“He’s a really good player, but I wasn’t really thinking about that,” Favors said. “With me, it was more mental. After what happened with my mom passing, I was just like I need to get back. I just need to get back to my routine, get back to playing basketball.

Favors sat the final 17:24 against the Sixers as he rested on the Pelicans’ bench with a heating pad wrapped around his back.

It gave him some time to reflect on his return to the game and he felt he made the right choice in waiting instead of rushing back.

“Early, I thought it wouldn’t have been 100 percent there,” Favors said. “Mental wise, I probably would’ve been somewhere else. I had to take that time off just to get my mind back re-focused and just talk to my family and be around my family so I can feel that love and support.”

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