Magic wait a little longer before Nelson decision
AP Basketball Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) ” He’s an All-Star, he feels healthy, and he dominated the Lakers during the regular season.
So it seems pretty simple: Jameer Nelson should play in the NBA finals.
It’s not so easy to the Orlando Magic, who still weren’t ready to make a decision Wednesday before practicing for the final time before facing the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1.
“It’s a tough decision on Jameer either way you go, because I think he is able to play right now,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Now, how much he can do, I don’t know.
“We’ll just decide after today if we think playing him gives us a better chance to win than not playing him. It’s really as simple as that, but the decision won’t be easy.”
On the one hand, it should be. Nelson averaged 27.5 points in two victories over the Lakers, expertly utilizing the Magic’s pick-and-roll offense to create lanes to penetrate or step back for 3-pointers.
On the other, can Nelson play anywhere near that well after being out of action since tearing the labrum in his right shoulder on Feb. 2 against Dallas?
“No one knows. He doesn’t even know probably,” Lakers forward Luke Walton said. “You’ve been out as long as he’s been out, obviously if he was playing at the level he was before he got hurt, yeah obviously he would make a difference. But right now, at least until end of Game 1, there’s no way to know that.”
There may not be an answer then, either. Van Gundy, Nelson, general manager Otis Smith, or team medical personnel ” Nelson said everyone would take part in the decision ” all could decide the point guard simply isn’t healthy enough or have enough stamina to take part in a game.
Or, they could decide it’s not worth the risk to mess with the chemistry of a team that just knocked off Boston and Cleveland ” though that one seems unlikely.
“He can’t hurt us,” said Rafer Alston, who replaced Nelson as the starting point guard after a deal before the trade deadline.
Nelson was expected to be off the court until August following surgery on Feb. 19. But he’s regained full range of motion, and began taking part in full-court drills during the Magic’s Eastern Conference finals victory over the Cavaliers.
He said he’ll help the Magic somehow in the finals, even if it’s just offering encouragement from the bench. He’d prefer to do it from the court.
“You just want to play. You never know when you’re going to get back to the finals,” Nelson said. “You want to play, you want to compete with your team, but if I’m not able to, I can’t do it. I’m not going to do anything crazy or anything to jeopardize my future.”
He shot the ball fine and didn’t appear limited during the portion of practice that was open to the media Wednesday, but that all took place in the half court. Running up and down the floor could be different, but Nelson’s teammates seem to believe he should try it.
“We understand that Jameer has been out for a while. He’s rusty, he hasn’t had a lot of experience in playing,” All-Star center Dwight Howard said. “But I think the one thing that he brings to our team is he’s fearless. When he’s playing like that, when he’s playing with no care in the world and he’s not afraid to do anything, then that’s when everybody on the team, they follow behind him.
“I think that would be a great thing about having him back. But I just want to make sure he’s healthy first.”
While Nelson wants to play, he realizes the Magic may not need him, and said he would understand if Van Gundy or Smith told him they believed the team’s chances were better without him. All he wanted was a decision Wednesday night so he could begin his preparation, which he expected to get.
The Magic were one of the NBA’s best with Nelson, and they’ve remained that way without him, so they believe they’ll be fine no matter how much he contributes during the series.
“This team was great with Jameer and continued the level without him,” Alston said. “If he comes back, we’re going to try to be great again with him.”