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By Brett Martel | Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS -- Eric Gordon is tuning out trade talk and whispers that he's lost a step.
After missing much of his first two seasons in New Orleans with a nagging right knee injury, Gordon has played in 40 of New Orleans' 43 games this season, demonstrating a reliability previously unseen since he recieved a four-year, $58 million contract in July 2012.
Gordon has averaged nearly 16 points per game and will bring his game and his Pelicans to Cleveland tonight to face the Cavaliers in a game scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Two games ago, Gordon helped the Pelicans pull out a comeback victory in Detroit, hitting a clutch 3-pointer inside the final four minutes and later spinning into the lane to sink a game-winning floater in the final seconds.
Still, making the argument that Gordon's production is living up to his salary is anything but a slam dunk, even for Gordon himself.
"Individually, I think I can give more, do more," Gordon said after practice Monday, one day after his 14 points helped the Pelicans win for the third time in four games. "People here think I should be this big-time 20-point (per game) scorer. This is more of a team game here, this system here. It's a different adjustment. For me, now it's all about playing as many games as possible and getting my body back to being used to playing an 82-game season, because I haven't had that in almost two to three years now."
The Pelicans have declined to discuss whether they've discussed trade proposals involving Gordon, but Gordon has fielded numerous questions recently regarding speculation that New Orleans is looking to unload the remainder of his hefty contract. At this point, Gordon isn't really sure what to think, so he's trying not to dwell on what might happen by the Feb. 20 NBA trading deadline.
"It would be great to have that security to know if you're going to be here or not," Gordon said. "At the end of the day, I can't worry about that. All I can do is worry about trying to win."
At 18-25, and with forward Ryan Anderson and point guard Jrue Holiday sidelined indefinitely with injuries, New Orleans looks like a long-shot to rally into playoff contention this season. But the Pelicans are getting a chance to learn more about the assets they have in the backcourt.
Anderson and Holiday were averaging about 34 points combined, so in their absence, demands have increased on Gordon, as well as reserve shooting guard Tyreke Evans, to help forward Anthony Davis provide offense. Meanwhile, Brian Roberts has been elevated to starting point guard and Austin Rivers is seeing more playing time.
Evans, acquired last offseason from Sacramento in a three-team trade, is averaging 13 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
Roberts, now in his second NBA season after starting his pro career in Europe, has scored in double figures in six of seven games. Rivers, drafted 10th overall by New Orleans in 2012, has scored in double figures in a reserve role in two of his last three games.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams said the nine games since Holiday went out with a stress fracture in his right tibia is too small a sample size to for him to properly evaluate how far Roberts and Rivers have come.
"I do see signs, though," Williams said. "I see signs of solid play from Brian. Austin's certainly gotten better with more time. We just have to temper everything."
As for Gordon, Williams said he, too, thinks the shooting guard can do more, but that he is still "pleased with what we've gotten this year from Eric."
Williams said the final minutes at Detroit last Friday reminded him of the way Gordon played in his final season before his trade to New Orleans, when he averaged 22.3 points in 56 games with the Los Angeles Clippers.
"He turned into the Eric that I watched in L.A., where he knocked down a big shot and then he comes back and makes the game-winner," Williams said. "Those are the types of plays that guys like Eric have to make. That's what they're paid the big bucks for."