Of the four NBA teams I saw in person this year, the Orlando Magic were by far the best. Sure, two of those teams were the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Mascot Thieves, but I also saw the Cleveland Cavaliers win that buzzer beater at Oracle in Monta Ellis’ first comeback game.
The Cavaliers’ offense was fraudulent as always against the Warriors, but LeBron James took advantage of the NBA rule that he alone is allowed to carry the ball through the lane like Adrian Peterson without being called for traveling. That, and James also hit a buzzer-beater while being guarded by Ronny Turiaf. The Cavs hardly looked like a title-contender on that night, but the Magic squad I saw was very impressive
The reason why the Magic completely throttled the Warriors that night in Oakland (109-98) was Jameer Nelson. Without an injured Dwight Howard, Marcin Gortat absolutely tore up the Warriors. Of course, Don Nelson was featuring Stephen Jackson at PF that night, while Brandan Wright played only 12 minutes and Tony Randolph only played 2.
Gortat and Rashard Lewis were efficient that night, but it was Jameer who was the best player on the floor, as he went 5-for-9 from behind the arc and scored 32 points in 35 easy minutes. Nelson was also the reason why the Magic swept the Lakers during the regular season, as he averaged 27.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, and 5 rpg on 59% shooting against Derek Fisher and Co.
Nelson’s labrum injury was why I thought the Celtics would beat them in seven games, and why I thought Cleveland’s defense would be enough to stop Orlando even though LeBron’s supporting cast wasn’t much better than Baron Davis’ this year.
So when you hear that Nelson is practicing with the team and possibly going to come back and play for the Magic against the Lakers in the Finals, one would think that would be good news for Orlando. The problem is, there are a few things working against Nelson and the Magic.
1. Nelson will certainly be rusty after being out for four months. For a team like the Magic that depends so much on three-point shooting, waiting for Nelson to find his stroke isn’t really an option.
2. Tight playoff rotations are always preferable, and splitting time between Nelson and Rafer Alston will lower the effectiveness of both players (this also applies to the Lakers, who played their best game of the playoffs last Friday when Derek Fisher played the majority of the minutes at PG).
3. While Nelson was fantastic over the first half of the regular season, he has hardly been consistent throughout his NBA career. Before this season was there may not have been a more maddening player to own in fantasy basketball, as Nelson has been known for alternating 30-point/10-assist masterpieces with 2-for-14/7-turnover disasters.
It’s hard to tell at this point if Orlando is floating the possibility of a Nelson comeback to give the Lakers something extra to prepare for, or if he may actually return. Regardless, while seeing Nelson return would provide an emotional boost to his teammates, it’s far from a guarantee Nelson would improve Orlando’s chance of winning the series. If Nelson can come in and provide some scoring off the bench while playing Anthony Johnson’s minutes, he would certainly help the Magic. If Nelson is ineffective, it will be up to Van Gundy to shut him down before he does more harm than good.