Gordon defies size (and nickname) to become Clippers' leader

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Based on his statistics, Eric Gordon is worthy of a better nickname. Something better than "Hobbit," which was given to him by Marcus Camby after watching The Lord of the Rings last year and seeing a likeness between the film's lead character and the Clippers' second-year guard.

"I like the name," said Gordon. "I'm an undersized guy who does powerful things. Hobbit -- that's a nice little nickname for me."

If that is Gordon's definition of a hobbit, than it certainly fits the 6-foot-3, 220-pound guard who is averaging 18.4 points for the Clippers this season and has given them reason not to run for the exits in the fourth quarter of games.

Gordon has developed into the most important player on a team that still believes it'll be in the playoffs if it stays healthy. And that's a big "if," considering it's almost never healthy. No. 1 draft pick Blake Griffin still doesn't have a timetable for his return and Gordon missed eight games in November with a sore left groin and hamstring.

Gordon's impact may not have been fully appreciated until he was sidelined and the Clippers went 3-6 and dropped three straight to teams they were favored to beat. They were blown out by 28 to a Hornets team in disarray and on the verge of firing Byron Scott, they only scored 10 in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Thunder, and they lost by 15 to the Raptors after leading by 22 in the first half.

The lineup of Gordon, Camby, Baron Davis, Chris Kaman and Rasual Butler has actually been one of the top five units in the league in adjusted plus/minus, in large part because of the playmaking ability of Gordon on both ends of the floor when he's in the game.

"He's so explosive," said Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy. "He gets a lot of easy baskets for us in the open court. He gives us a big three-point threat and stretches the floor. He also does it on the defensive end, as well. Typically whoever he guards isn't going to have a good night. If you take [an opponent] out of the scoring like he does, it helps us greatly."

While Gordon has become a fan favorite for the Clippers, largely for his scoring ability, his true impact on the team this season has been on the defensive end, where he has routinely been matched up against the top perimeter scorer.

Against the Wizards this week, Gordon held Gilbert Arenas to five points in the first half and 16 total before the Washington guard fouled out. When EarlBoykins came in, Gordon hounded him before hitting game-winning free throws and capping the night with a steal. He finished with 29 points in the 97-95 win, but the only stat his teammates talked about afterward were his five steals, all of which came in the game's last six minutes.

"The things fans might not see is the little things he does defensively as far as getting steals, causing turnovers and missed shots," said Kaman. "He's the best defensive player on this team."

Gordon has become a closer on a team that failed to hold onto a fourth-quarter lead in his absence. Even Davis, who signed a five-year, $65-million contract with the Clippers last year and became the face of the franchise, concedes that Gordon has taken over the leading role.

"He sets the tone and tempo for us," said Davis. "He's becoming a playmaker. He's making my job a lot easier and giving me open shots because the defense is going to focus on him and double team him a lot. Eric is the focal point of our offense. We just play off of him."