Jameer Nelson can shoot again. His injured right shoulder can take contact, and he has been cleared by doctors to practice. Though that doesn't add up to Orlando's All-Star point guard being healthy enough to play in the NBA finals, it does create a dilemma for the Magic's front office.

Nelson said yesterday that he has been playing full-court games, participating in contact drills and will practice with the Magic for the first time since tearing the labrum in his right shoulder Feb. 2.

"I'm a competitor," Nelson said. "No matter what the situation is, I always think I can go out there and get contact."

He had what was then called season-ending surgery Feb. 19. Nelson's rehabilitation was supposed to take at least another 2 months. Game 1 of the finals is Thursday night in Los Angeles.

Magic general manager Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy expressed doubt yesterday whether Nelson could seriously return for the finals. Smith, who had repeatedly said Nelson will not play this season, said yesterday a quicker recovery and the chance of winning a championship has forced him to at least take a look at Nelson.

"It's still no in my mind," Smith said, adding that the team will explore the idea even if Nelson doesn't return for Game 1. "There's a very smidgen of a chance he can play."

Nelson hasn't played in 4 months, and even he admits it will be difficult to convince the training staff and coaches that he isn't risking future damage.

"A miracle has to happen," Nelson said.


* TV viewership is way up for the NBA playoffs. Ratings for the Western Conference finals on ESPN increased 32 percent from the network's conference finals coverage last year. The Eastern Conference finals on TNT were up 30 percent from its conference finals coverage in 2008. *