NBA: Jameer Nelson in swing of NBA Finals
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Familiar area codes keep popping up on Jameer Nelson's phone. "Yeah, 215, 267," the Orlando Magic point guard said yesterday before the team practiced for Game 2 of the NBA Finals tonight. "I'm getting calls from everybody. Unfortunately, I can't call them back right now."
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Familiar area codes keep popping up on Jameer Nelson's phone.
"Yeah, 215, 267," the Orlando Magic point guard said yesterday before the team practiced for Game 2 of the NBA Finals tonight. "I'm getting calls from everybody. Unfortunately, I can't call them back right now."
He is a bit busy, suddenly. Four months after a shoulder injury that was expected to end his season, Nelson is playing against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, with both his presence and minutes a magnet for debate.
The Magic reached the Finals by dispatching the 76ers, Boston, and Cleveland with Nelson's replacement, Rafer Alston, at the point.
But Nelson, the 6-foot guard from Chester who starred at St. Joseph's - 215 and 267 are both Southeastern Pennsylvania area codes, of course - and made his first NBA all-star team this season before the injury prevented him from playing, recovered from February shoulder surgery sooner than expected.
The Magic activated him before the Finals, and coach Stan Van Gundy played him 23 minutes in Game 1, Nelson's first appearance since Feb. 2.
Not only that, Van Gundy played Nelson the entire second quarter, a decision the coach now says he regrets.
"I thought it was a mistake, in his first game back, to play Jameer 12 straight minutes," Van Gundy said. "I should have kept it to six to seven minutes regardless of how well he was playing.
"It not only kept Rafer on the bench an extended period, I think it ran the tank empty for Jameer."
Before his injury, Nelson averaged 16.7 points and 5.4 assists and shot 45.3 percent from three-point range - second best in the NBA. He provided an initial spark in Game 1, but finished with six points and four assists after missing 6 of 9 shots in the 100-75 loss to the Lakers.
Alston, who initially complained that sitting so long affected him in the second half - a statement Van Gundy suggested was an excuse - had six points and an assist in 25 minutes and missed 7 of 9 shots.
Van Gundy said his plan "right now" was to continue to start Alston and rotate the players, but the Lakers clearly expect to see more of the 27-year-old Nelson, especially considering he was the difference in the Magic's two regular-season victories over the Lakers.
"When you've reached this point of the season, although you don't want to change the chemistry of the team or the synergy of the team, you still don't want to leave anything in the cupboard," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "He could start the game, and that could prove that what they want to do is stretch the floor for Dwight Howard to operate in the middle."
Nelson, who scored 27 points in a 106-103 victory over the Lakers in December and had 28 in a 109-103 Magic win in January, contends his conditioning and shot are good.
"I think out of 35 threes in warm-up, I missed three," he said.
"But I'm not coming back to be the starter. I'm coming back to give energy," Nelson said.
"I didn't ever envision the Finals," he said. "I was telling people the preseason."
Make that the postseason. And Nelson is trying to make it last as long as he can.