Orlando Magic players say Jameer Nelson will play in the NBA Finals, even though the All-Star point guard and his coach remain publicly pessimistic.

Nelson participated in a full team practice yesterday for the first time since tearing the labrum in his right shoulder Feb. 2. While Nelson and coach Stan Van Gundy still said the point guard's status won't be determined until game day, players said Nelson looked "terrific" and expect him to be on the court against the Los Angeles Lakers tomorrow night for Game 1.

"I expect to see him out there at some point in the series," backup point guard Anthony Johnson said.

Nelson had what was then called season-ending surgery Feb. 19. His rehabilitation was supposed to take at least another 2 months.

Healed or not, Nelson wants to play.

"I'm not saying I'm any tougher or stronger than anybody, but I've been known to do some amazing things sometimes," Nelson said, lobbying for playing time.

Magic general manager Otis Smith repeatedly had said Nelson will not play again this season, but he recanted his comments Monday.

"It's still no in my mind," Smith said. "There's a very smidgen of a chance he can play."

Players said Nelson wasn't in his All-Star form, but even not completely healthy he was better than most NBA point guards.

"He was terrific," forward Mickael Pietrus said. "Hopefully, he will play and can help us win."


* The Cleveland Cavaliers said LeBron James has had a benign growth removed from his jaw at the Cleveland Clinic.

The team said the surgery took 5 hours, adding that James has been aware of the medical issue for several months. *