HOUSTON — There will be times, as was the case against the Rockets on Wednesday night at the Toyota Center, when Eric Gordon starts for the Pelicans. There will be games when he comes off the bench.
Shifting roles is the new normal for Gordon and his New Orleans teammates now that the Pelicans roster is rounding out. With guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole back from injuries that forced them to miss the Pelicans’ first 17 games, everything is changing.
“We’re trying to look and see what’s kind of best for our team,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said before Wednesday’s game. “We thought bringing (Gordon) off the bench and having an additional scorer — because we’ve struggled to score with that second unit — we just wanted to take a look at it. There’s not anything etched in stone.”
Gordon returned to the lineup Wednesday in part because point guard Jrue Holiday, still restricted from playing on back-to-back nights as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right leg, was out of the game. That allowed Evans to start at point guard with Gordon at shooting guard.
But there will be nights — as was the case in Tuesday’s home loss to Memphis, Evans’ season debut — when Evans and Holiday share the starting backcourt and Gordon is relegated to a reserve role.
“I’m always going to do what’s best for the team, follow what the coach says,” Gordon said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s just a major adjustment. I haven’t come off the bench — only a couple of times my eight-year career. It’s something different.”
Gordon, who is averaging 17.2 points per game, has started in 371 of 390 career games, and 13 of those 19 games off the bench came in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers.
In New Orleans, Gordon has started in all but four of 191 games over parts of five seasons.
Gordon said “of course” Gentry’s conversation with him came as a surprise. Coming off the bench requires “a whole different mentality,” Gordon said, and he’s not accustomed to it.
Gordon, who is averaging 34.6 minutes per game, played 19 in Tuesday’s loss, a season low. He played less than two minutes in the fourth quarter and was off the floor for the final 10:43 of the game.
“I’m always used to being in those (end-of-game) situations,” Gordon said. “Love those situations. But it is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and ever complain.”
The backcourt isn’t the only place the Pelicans are trying different looks.
New Orleans’ frontcourt rotation has shifted significantly over the course of the season and figures to continue doing so as the Pelicans go small at times — with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson on the floor together — and use other lineups with a more traditional center, Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca.
Asik started Wednesday’s game after Ajinca had gotten the nod Tuesday.
Whoever is playing minutes at center, Gentry said, needs to give the Pelicans more at the defensive end.
“We’ve got to be better defensively,” Gentry said. “I did think Omer came in and did a good job (against Memphis). I thought Lexi did a good job of spacing the floor like we talked about, where he can catch the ball and then space out and open the floor for AD some.”
Evans and Cole came into Wednesday’s game without setbacks after playing their first games of the season. Evans is coming off arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October, and Cole had been battling a high ankle sprain in his left foot.
Neither player was restricted from playing on the second of back-to-back nights, and Gentry said neither showed any ill effects from Tuesday’s game.
“I didn’t see anything that would alarm you in any kind of way,” Gentry said.