When you’ve missed more than half of your team’s games over the last 3½ seasons, you’re naturally anxious to get back on the court sooner than later.
Pelicans guard Eric Gordon may have pushed his return a bit Monday — so much so that he announced he was starting during the morning shoot-around hours before coach Monty Williams did so near game time.
But Gordon was on the court Monday for the first time since suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder Nov. 22 in the Pelicans’ 92-85 loss to the Washington Wizards at the Smoothie King Center.
Reclaiming his starting spot at shooting guard, Gordon, who had missed 21 games, scored only six points in 32 minutes, which was actually a minute more than he was averaging before his injury.
“When you’ve been out for six weeks and you’re asked to come in and play 32 minutes, that’s tough,” said Gordon, who even 40 minutes after the game and a long shower was still dressing very deliberately. “I could have waited another few days or even a week.
“But you’ve got to get your feet wet sometime.”
Gordon struggled with his shooting, hitting only one of six shots in the first half, including a 3-point attempt the first time he handled the ball that wound up short of the rim. He had just two attempts in the second half, but was in for the final two minutes when the Pelicans were unsuccessfully trying to overcome a deficit they couldn’t whittle to less than four points.
But Gordon did have five assists, matching his season high, including a crowd-pleasing feed from underneath the basket to Ryan Anderson on a wing for a 3-pointer.
That brought a cheer second only to the ovation Gordon received when being introduced to the home fans for the first time since Nov. 14.
For a player many fans accused of malingering as he nursed a nagging knee injury while also signing a $58 million contact — not to mention his being the only player left from the Chris Paul trade — the fact that he was out there after choosing to rehab rather than undergo surgery had to mean something to himself, his teammates and the fans.
“I think when you’ve been hurt as much as much as Eric has been, you learn how to get yourself back into shape,” Williams said. “It’s not like Eric has wanted to get hurt.”
Certainly not. Still, Gordon’s time on the IR since he came to the Pelicans from the Clippers just prior to the strike-shortened 2011-12 season have been well-chronicled:
Nine of 66 games played in ’11-’12.
42 of 82 in ’12-‘13
64 of 82 in ’13-’14.
11 of 33 in ’14-’15.
Also, during the first two seasons, Gordon spent much of his time in Los Angeles rehabbing his knee.
This time, while he did spend time seeing doctors to determine whether he should have surgery — after about two weeks it was decided that he would not — Gordon has been with the team, both at home and on road trips.
“This is a weird injury to have,” said Gordon, who wore a protective pad underneath a black T-shirt Monday. “Most people just go ahead and have surgery pretty quickly.
“We’ve got a special team, and this could be a special year for us. I just wanted to play offense, play defense, play within the team.”
Gordon’s starting — he has done so in all but two games with the Pelicans and all but four since the first dozen of his rookie season — sent Tyreke Evans, who had been starting at the shooting guard in Gordon’s absence, to the bench.
Luke Babbitt, the third person to get a starting shot with Gordon out following Austin Rivers and the since-cut Darius Miller, started but did not score.
Williams would not reveal if he will go back to the old starting five of Gordon, Evans, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik for Wednesday’s game at Charlotte.
But Evans, who shared scoring honors with Davis Monday with 21 points despite being ill during the day, did not appear to be too happy about losing his starting spot. At the least he was noncommittal.
“Monty said I wasn’t starting because I was sick,” Evans said. “But I think I came out aggressive and tried to play my game.
“I understand about tonight and that EG has got to play. Coach thinks I bring energy coming in to the game, so we’ll see.”
At the least, the Pelicans are finally back to full strength, a rare luxury for this team over the past four seasons.
That’s a big part of the reason why the record may be only 17-17, but this is the latest in the season the Pelicans have been at .500 since 2011.
“I knew tonight would be tough because my timing’s off,” Gordon said. “I was just getting my legs and stuff.
“I’m going to play better and hopefully help this team to win.”