Eric Gordon made his return to the lineup on Saturday night after a 16-game absence with a broken ring finger in his shooting hand.
And he couldn’t have picked a better time to come back.
Without Anthony Davis, who missed Saturday’s 112-110 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves after suffering a sprained big toe in pregame warm-ups, Gordon’s exit from the injury list provided a significant boost as he scored a season-high 31 points.
“We’re just happy to have another guy back,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said before the game. “Obviously, we lose Bryce (Dejean-Jones), so our depth changes a little bit, but it’ll be good to have Eric back. The one thing is that because it was his hand he’s been able to keep up cardio-wise.
“But I expect him to be a little rusty. For the 16 games he’s missed, he hadn’t been able to shoot the ball.”
There was no rust evident.
In his first touch, Gordon dribbled to his right and blew past a defender en route to an easy layup. He repeated a variation of that dribble-drive success two more times in the first half alone, showing some added explosiveness since he came out of the lineup on Jan. 19.
He also notched a season-high three steals and buried his typical array of shots from the perimeter, converting 4-of-9 3-point attempts.
“I just had to rely on attacking early on because I missed two 3s early and I knew I just had to keep attacking the rim,” Gordon said. “Eventually I thought my shot would get better, but that was the trade off at the start of the game.”
A pregame injury to Anthony Davis’ foot thrust Ryan Anderson into the starting lineup for just the seventh time this season.
In his last start, a Jan. 28 win over Sacramento, Anderson scored 36 points thanks largely to 30-point opening half. On Saturday, he found similar comfort in the starting lineup, scoring 13 points and hauling in seven rebounds during the first quarter alone.
It was a scene-setter to arguably his best game of the season. Anderson notched 31 points in a season-high 40 minutes, despite being forced to play out of position defensively without Davis flanking him at the other side.
However, he took just two shots in the last 15 minutes of action as Minnesota focused on him defensively.
More noteworthy was Anderson’s work on the glass. He notched his most rebounds in a half (nine) before surpassing his season-high (11) midway through the third quarter and finishing with 14.
An ankle injury to starting center Omer Asik has bumped veteran Kendrick Perkins into the rotation. And while the 7-footer isn’t as spry as he once was, Perkins has provided quality minutes for the Pelicans off of the bench.
Although he’s scored just four points over four games, Perkins contributed by helping defend the post on one and setting screens on the other. While he’s past the point in his career of making headlines, his effort has pleased Pelicans’ coaches and teammates who are quick to make a compliment when his name comes up.
“I think he’s done exactly what we’ve asked him to do,” Gentry said. “He’s going to play extremely hard and we’re going to get everything you possibly can get from him. That’s all you can ask for as a coach. He’s going to be a smart player and play all of the angles and really talk about what needs to be done. And he’ll get it done.”