N.O. faces San Antonio in opener
NEW ORLEANS — The Hornets are set for their NBA season-opener against the San Antonio Spurs at 7 p.m. Wednesday at New Orleans Arena.
That is, except for one big question mark. It appears the availability of shooting guard Eric Gordon will be a game-time decision as he continues to be hampered by a sore right knee, the same one on which he had arthroscopic surgery in February.
Coach Monty Williams had been optimistic Gordon, who missed 57 of 66 games last season, would play after he looked strong in practices the past three days.
“Eric, if he’s ready to play and he feels strong, he’ll probably command (the two guard) position,” Williams said. “But we’ve got to wait.”
Williams said if Gordon is a go, he won’t play the 35 to 38 minutes a player of his caliber usually plays. Gordon missed all of the team’s preseason games.
“He’s not in that kind of shape, and the last thing you want to do is have a guy who is coming off a surgery go out there and play heavy minutes and hurt himself because of fatigue or something like that,” Williams said.
Gordon averaged 20.6 points in the nine games he played last season, with the Hornets going 6-3.
This is an entirely different roster, however.
Since Sunday, Gordon has said the knee felt good, but he continued to take a wait-and-see approach, citing pain in the knee. The decision of whether he’ll play, he said, likely will not happen until game time.
“Of course, it looks good to the coaches and everybody here that the past few days I’ve been playing well and looking well,” he said. “But it’s also hard to deal with, especially over an 82-game season.”
Meanwhile, Williams is glad to have back power forward Jason Smith, a key reserve who injured his back in the first preseason game, then, when he returned to practice, injured a shoulder during a scrimmage.
Rookie guard Austin Rivers also will play after shaking off two sprained ankles in the past week.
Rivers will start in Gordon’s place, as he has all preseason, alongside point guard Greivis Vasquez. Xavier Henry and veteran Roger Mason will back Rivers.
The Hornets were hoping Gordon would help steady a young team that has struggled offensively, particularly with turnovers, although there have been enouraging signs of late. One, Williams said, is Vasquez, who committed 34 turnovers in preseason, including eight in a recent home loss to the Houston Rockets. However, he appears to have regained Williams’ confidence.
“He’s getting better,” Williams said. “He certainly knows he has to take care of the ball.
“I thought the second half of the Miami (preseason finale), not having turnovers and our team being able to play more efficient, he had a lot to do with that. So that should give us some comfort going into the first game.”
The small forward position has been one of concern for Williams. However, Al-Farouq Aminu, who is learning the position after starting his NBA career as an undersized but athletic power forward three years ago, gained the starting nod after a solid performance against the Heat in which he grabbed 10 rebounds and exhibited much of the attacking style of play Williams has been seeking from him.
Aminu will be backed up by Lance Thomas, who gives the team aggressive, physical play, and rookie Darius Miller, who has made an impression with his shooting (59.3 percent from the field, 71.4 percent on 3-point attempts) and lack of mistakes.
The Spurs also will be missing a key player to injury. Manu Ginobili has been dealing with back spasms. The injury will be reassessed Thursday.
Williams said that at 35, Ginobili, who plays shooting guard and small forward, remains one of the league’s a top players.
“He’s a guy you have to scout for,” Williams said. “He might be the best pick-and-roll player at that position in the league. He’ll make a play that you can’t draw up, and he’ll do it to win games.
“Obviously, they want to have him, but I see the big picture, they want to have him in the long run as the season wears on. ”
Ginobili missed 32 games last season with various ailments, but the Spurs went 50-16 and tied for the NBA’s best record.