The New Orleans Pelicans’ back court could get a boost when they face the Washington Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.
Eric Gordon practiced with the Pelicans on Sunday for the first time since he tore his left labrum Nov. 22. Gordon and coach Monty Williams said he did well in practice, with no setbacks — although he looked a little rusty.
Both stopped short of saying Gordon would play Monday, but it appears he will.
“I don’t want to say yea or nay, but it looks like it,” Williams said Sunday. “I’m just not sure yet.”
Gordon seemed somewhat apprehensive about whether he’s ready to return. He and Williams said his availability likely will be a game-time decision — which usually means the player will play. Williams said how Gordon looks in Monday’s shoot-around will factor “big-time” in the decision.
After Friday’s home win against the Houston Rockets, Gordon said his biggest concern is how the shoulder would hold up against contact. On Sunday, he said there was a lot to be encouraged by in his practice experience.
“I went to the basket, felt contact, setting picks, (did) different things, contact-wise, where I use my shoulder and arms,” he said. “I really tried to maneuver myself.”
He said he was able to extend his forearm against the player’s body he was defending — also a good sign.
“I used it, and it felt good,” he said. “I know it’s more loose — my shoulder is more unstable than in the past — but I’m going to feel some pain in there, more than likely, all the time.”
Williams was set to speak with Gordon and his coaching staff before making a decision on how to use him — in the starting lineup or coming off the bench.
With Gordon out, the Pelicans (17-16) went 11-11. They were 9-8 in December against a schedule that included 12 games against opponents in playoff position. That does not include two games against Oklahoma City, one of the best teams in the Western Conference, which has been plagued by injuries but is still in contention for the eighth playoff spot.
Against one of the NBA’s toughest early schedules, the Pelicans have not strung together three consecutive victories, a source of some anxiety. The tough schedule has fostered more of an appreciation for Gordon, Williams and point guard Jrue Holiday said.
“He scores, he’s got experience, can play pick-and-roll, he gives us another ball-handler,” Williams said. “He’s another guy you have to guard. He can shoot 3s, finish inside, he’s a willing passer. And the thing I like about Eric is he makes the right plays. If a guy is open, he gets off of the ball. And his defense is something that we miss, too, guarding some of these tough wings that we’ve had to guard.”
Holiday said Gordon is “tough, a bulldog” defensively.
That certainly will help against Washington. Although the Wizards have lost their past three games — all on the road during a five-game trip — they are 22-11 overall. That includes an 83-80 win against the Pelicans on Nov. 29 in Washington in which center Marcin Gortat scored a season-high 24 points. The Wizards were 12-4 in December, the league’s fifth-best record.
They feature one of the NBA’s more potent young back-court duos in Wall and Beal. Wall, a 6-foot-4, fifth-year point guard who was an Eastern Conference All-Star last season, is averaging 17.4 points and a league-leading 10.3 assists, a career high. Beal, one of five Wizards scoring in double figures, is averaging 15.5 points since returning from a wrist injury Nov. 21.
“(Wall) is arguably the fastest guy in the league,” Holiday said.
When he plays, Gordon said he will wear padding to protect the shoulder. Williams said he plans to restrict Gordon’s minutes, but that could change depending on how Gordon feels during the game. “His conditioning is better than I thought it was,” the coach said. … Director Li Tan, reporter Weiping Zhang and cameraman Ben Ma from China Central Television were at practice Sunday. They are featuring the Pelicans for the station’s wildly popular weekly show, “NBA Primetime.” Before interviewing Russ Smith, Zhang told him the show attracts 100 million viewers. Smith was seen mouthing, “Wow.” … The Wizards began their road trip with a 104-103 win at Houston but since have lost to Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Monday’s game wraps up a stretch of five games in eight days.