COMMENTARY | After missing the first 29 games of the season for the New Orleans Hornets, Eric Gordon returned to action in late December. Not surprisingly, the Hornets improved considerably immediately upon Gordon's return. In fact, the Hornets even had a modest four-game winning streak in mid-January.
Just like last season, New Orleans looks like a different team with Gordon on the floor. In 2012-13, the 21-45 Hornets were 6-3 when he played. This season, the 14-29 Hornets are 7-5 with Gordon in the lineup. The main benefit of having Eric Gordon on the floor this season is the domino effect of reduced minutes for Austin Rivers.
However, Eric Gordon has not had many outstanding individual performances since his return to New Orleans. In fact, Gordon has only scored more than 20 points in four of 12 games this season. But this is understandable considering he wasn't running and shooting while rehabbing his knee for six weeks in California.
Since the Hornets aren't in the middle of the Western Conference playoff chase, Monty Williams has wisely taken a cautious approach with Gordon. Williams has benched Gordon on the second night of back-to-back games. And he's only played more than 30 minutes five times this season for New Orleans.
But despite the Hornets losing Friday night to the Houston Rockets 100-82, I saw a fire and explosion in Eric Gordon's game that I hadn't seen since his return. Gordon scored 16 points in the first half and single-handedly kept New Orleans in a game that his teammates were sleepwalking through.
All aspects of Gordon's game were on display. He shot 50 percent on three-pointers and when the Rockets defended him too closely on the perimeter, he drove the lane beautifully. Although not a point guard, Eric Gordon has terrific court vision and can pass the ball to open teammates if the defense collapses on him.
It's no secret that I have been critical of Eric Gordon in his time with the Hornets. But he played with more heart than any other Hornet against the Rockets. He was visibly angry when he missed shots and he was lobbying the referees for calls. I have also noticed that the New Orleans crowd is now supporting him.
If the young Hornets are going to be a factor in the Western Conference in the near future, Eric Gordon will have to be the catalyst. That's why Hornets' fans have to fight the urge to be angry at Monty Williams for sitting Gordon for much of the second half on nights when he has 16 points at halftime.
I don't know if Eric Gordon is 100 percent, but the Hornets' caution with respect to his injured right knee has clearly paid off. All aspects of his game are on display in New Orleans just one month after his return. Even his conditioning looks much better at this point.
If Eric Gordon can stay healthy, the 2013-14 season should be a lot of fun for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Patrick Michael was born in New Orleans and currently resides in the Big Easy. Patrick has followed the Hornets since they moved to New Orleans and has covered the team since 2010. He was in attendance the night the Hornets were one win away from the Western Conference Finals. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
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