By Dan Savage
February 6, 2012
Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith rarely tips his hand on anything.
But one thing he’s always been clear about is the importance of Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson to this franchise’s success.
He’s often said that, “if Dwight is 1A, Jameer is 1B.”
So while Orlando’s overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers had to sting, Smith still had to be pleased with play of two of the franchise’s two cornerstones.
The Magic’s All-Star center performed at a supreme level, tearing L.A.’s defense to shreds by posting a game-high 33 points on 15-for-21 shooting from the floor. He also notched contest-bests in rebounds (14) and blocks (two) to go along with two steals.
“He is tough,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin explained. “He is a monster inside.”
Nelson was also brilliant in stretches, rebounding well from the concussion-like symptoms that sidelined him for the past five games.
“It was a very competitive game,” Nelson said. “He had a good game; I had a pretty good game.”
Despite Nelson’s struggles this season, Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy put his faith in Mighty Mouse down the stretch, even putting the ball in his hands for the final shot in regulation.
With the contest tied at 94, Nelson attacked the rack and settled for a baseline jumper that just rimmed out with 0.5 seconds left.
“It’s just one of the shots that didn’t go in for me tonight,” Nelson said. “Coach knows I like the ball at the end of the game for game-winning shots. He put me in a good situation and I took the shot and missed.”
While Nelson couldn’t finish off the Clippers, it’s a positive sign that he’s once again playing aggressively and effectively in Orlando’s pick-and-roll offense.
A number of people in the Magic organization felt that Nelson was one of the players most affected by Howard’s trade request, suspecting that his feelings were hurt by D12’s desire to potentially play with other elite point guards.
Hopefully, his 15-point, 12-assist effort is a sign that he’s now past any mental hurdles.
It’s no secret that for the Magic to be considered a championship contender this season, they’ll need Nelson to perform closer to his 2010 NBA Playoff form, when he averaged 19.0 points per game.
That Nelson paired with an ever advancing Superman and the Magic’s plethora of shooters, could help Orlando’s championship aspirations turn into a reality.
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