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Eastern Conference Insider: With Nelson down, Magic scramble

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Feb 3 2009 1:27PM

If you had asked NBA scouts about the Orlando Magic's weakest link before this season, they would have pointed to the guy who played point guard.

Jameer Nelson was coming off a season in which he struggled with injury and the accidental drowning death of his father. But he dedicated himself anew this season and has become an integral part of Orlando's success. In turn, he's earned his first trip to the All-Star Game.

"He makes us go, there's no doubt about it," Magic GM Otis Smith said. "When he's playing aggressive and attacking the basket, we're a pretty good team. When he's content to stay on the perimeter and pass the ball around and take spot-up jumpers, we're just an average basketball team."

The Magic will find out what kind of team they are now that Nelson could miss significant time with a dislocated right shoulder. On Monday, Nelson got tangled up with Dallas' Erick Dampier while going for a loose ball and landed awkwardly.

"We don't even know how bad it is right now," Nelson told reporters after the game. "We just know it's dislocated. That doesn't mean anything right now until we get an MRI and see how it goes after that."

That MRI on Tuesday revealed a torn right labrum.

"The course of treatment for the injury will be determined during the next week," the Magic said in a statement. "At that point, his playing status will be evaluated."

Losing Nelson, having his best season as a pro, for any amount of time will hamper the Magic's quest for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. As of Tuesday, Orlando (at 36-11) is three games behind Boston for the East's best record. If the MRI reveals an injury serious enough to require surgery, Nelson could miss the rest of the season and the Magic's hopes of going deep into the postseason will take a huge hit.

The Magic were already thin at point guard before Nelson's injury. Anthony Johnson, a veteran of 12 years, was the only healthy backup point guard on the roster. (Mike Wilks was already on the shelf after tearing his ACL in the preseason.) One NBA scout noted that 6-foot-10 forward Hedo Turkoglu has, on occasion, run the Magic offense. Rookie Courtney Lee also could be pressed into service at the point.

With 15 players under contract, the Magic have little roster flexibility. In order to sign a free-agent point guard, the Magic would need to waive someone. Any trade also would need to include someone from the current roster.

Regardless of what the Magic do, finding someone to match Nelson's production will be a difficult proposition. Nelson was averaging career-highs in points (16.7 ppg), field goal percentage (.503), 3-point percentage (.453), free-throw percentage (.887) and steals (1.2 spg).

Nelson's injury also creates a hole in the Eastern Conference All-Star roster and in the PlayStation Skills Challenge. NBA commissioner David Stern will appoint the replacement in both events if Nelson cannot participate. While the Nets' Devin Harris is the only other player on the East roster who regularly plays point guard, the East is full of superstars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson who often initiate their respective team's offenses.

If the commissioner wants to add another point guard to the East, Cleveland's Mo Williams and Boston's Rajon Rondo would be the leading candidates, with Chicago's Derrick Rose -- who will be in Phoenix to participate in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam and the Skills Challenge -- as the dark horse candidate. If the commissioner decides to reward the best player regardless of position, either Boston's Ray Allen (who is averaging 18.0 points per game and is shooting nearly 50 percent from the field) or Detroit Tayshaun Prince (13.9 points and 6.5 reounds a game) could be the choice.

The .800 club

Even before Kobe Bryant exploded for a Madison Square Garden-record 61 points on Monday night, it was already shaping up to be quite the week at the World's Most Famous Arena.

With the Lakers on Monday, the Cavaliers on Wednesday and the Celtics on Friday, the Knicks this week host three teams playing .800 or better. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time a team has played three consecutive games against opponents with better than .750 winning percentages after Feb. 1 since the Celtics did it in February 1995.

"It's the three best teams in the league, record-wise," Knicks forward David Lee said before Monday's game, "and all three games present different challenges because they're completely different teams."

And while the fans and the media may get excited over the Knicks schedule this week, Lee wants to keep an even keel.

"It really is game-to-game" Lee said. "I don't get any more hyped playing the Lakers than I do whoever at home that doesn't have as good a record as we do. They all count the same in the win and loss standings."

As Lee and the Knicks witnessed first hand Monday, opponents come into the Garden with a little extra incentive.

"We know we're going to get everybody's best shot in this building," Lee said. "Everyone wants to come to New York and play a big game, just like everyone wants to go into Staples Center and play a big game against the Lakers.

"Those are the two buildings where everybody goes, 'Man, I can't wait to go there and play in front of everybody and all the celebrities and have a great game.'"


While the defending champion Celtics play a big part in the Knicks' week, the Celtics also have a killer schedule in the next seven days. After facing the resurgent Sixers in Philly on Tuesday, the Celtics return to Boston and host their ancient rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). After heading to New York on Friday, the Celtics return home again and host the Spurs on Sunday (1 p.m., ET, ABC). All-Star forward Kevin Garnett will miss his second straight game on Tuesday with the flu. The Boston Globe reported Garnett skipped his flu shot this year. "He's feeling better," Rivers said. "But he's not feeling great and we really want to try to keep him away from the rest of the guys." ... Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo and Chris Bosh both spent their Monday refuting a report that Bosh had told Colangelo he wouldn't re-sign with the Raptors once the All-Star forward's contract expired prior to the 2010-11 season. "There's no truth to the rumor or the speculation," Colangelo told reporters.

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