LOS ANGELES - Rafer Alston helped guide the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals, then helped them take a lead after the first quarter of Game 1.

Then he sat, for a long time - way too long.

By the time Alston got back into the game Thursday night, his rhythm was gone and so was Orlando's lead. He never recovered and neither did the Magic, whose strong start quickly turned into a 100-75 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Yesterday, Alston acknowledged the difficulty of sitting the entire second quarter while former St. Joseph's star Jameer Nelson played all 12 minutes - a decision coach Stan Van Gundy admitted was a mistake - in his return from a shoulder injury.

"That's unusual to start the game and then you don't even touch the court in the second quarter," Alston said. "But there's no pouting, there's no getting mad, there's going to be no Coach and Alston meeting about it. I'm going to go out here and get ready for Game 2 and prepare myself like I have been all playoffs."

Alston scored four points on 2-of-4 shooting in the first quarter as the Magic opened a 24-22 lead. Nelson entered to start the second and provided a quick spark as Orlando pushed the advantage to five early in the period. But he and the Magic faded late in the first half, and the Lakers surged ahead and were up by 10 at the break.

"The mistake I made was leaving him in too long. We've got to give Jameer shorter stints," Van Gundy said. "I may have overplayed him, and he got tired.

"As far as Rafer, having that affect his play in the second half, that's up to him. If I'm looking from the outside, that sounds like an excuse to me."

Not so, Alston said.

"I'll give you a good excuse. I sat 12 minutes real-game time, I sat about 30 minutes real-life time. So there's an excuse," Alston said while laughing. "It's different. I don't care who it is, it's different."

Alston missed all five shots and had just two points and no assists in the second half, finishing with six points on 2-for-9 shooting.

Nelson also struggled - the whole Magic team did while shooting 30 percent from the field - but said he felt good yesterday after playing 23 minutes in his first game in four months. The point-guard time was split almost evenly, with Alston playing about a minute more.

Nelson expected the lineup to remain the same but didn't know what the rotation would look like in Game 2 tomorrow night.

"No matter what the situation is, I know myself and Rafer will go out there and play as hard as we can for as long as we're given," he said.

The Magic's title aspirations appeared to take a hit when Nelson, who had been picked for the all-star team during the best season of his career, tore cartilage in his right shoulder on Feb. 2. He had surgery later that month, about the same time Orlando acquired Alston from Houston.

Alston stepped in as the starter and guided the Magic to upsets of Boston and Cleveland while averaging 12.7 points in the postseason.