By Dan Savage
January 20, 2012
Anytime the Los Angeles Lakers roll into Orlando, there’s no shortage of storylines.
However, this Friday at Amway Center was jam-packed with topics to talk about.
There was Dwight Howard’s interior battle with Andrew Bynum, D12’s reaction to Shaq’s swipes and a sizzling showdown between two of the league’s better teams.
But perhaps the most intriguing issue of the day was Otis Smith’s insight into the struggles of Jameer Nelson.
Heading into their matchup with the Lakers, the Magic’s starting point guard was averaging a mere 8.3 points and 5.4 assists per game, while shooting a dismal 38.9 percent from the field and 25.8 percent from the floor. In addition to his struggles stroking the ball, Nelson also lacked the aggressiveness and play-making skills that have made him such a valuable piece to the franchise in the past.
While some of that can be attributed to a lockout layoff, shortened training camp, condensed preseason and a seemingly endless string of back-to-backs, the Magic’s President of Basketball Operations pointed out that Nelson may also be having a tough time coping with all the rumors surrounding Howard.
“We spend time talking about Chris Paul and Deron Williams, well what position do they play? It’s the same position that (Nelson) plays,’’ Smith said prior to Friday’s contest. ``So it’s not that (Howard) is necessarily throwing him under the bus, but he’s indirectly throwing him under the bus.”
Although Nelson may be struggling with the increased mental pressure, Smith made it clear that Superman and Mighty Mouse still remain close friends and that the co-captains remain supportive of one another.
Smith’s post-shootaround words with the media, quickly traveled into the ears of Nelson and perhaps in some therapeutic way, it allowed the Magic’s point guard to break out of his slump and have one of his most productive games against an annual Western Conference powerhouse.
He torched L.A. to the tune of 17 points and nine assists, while committing just four turnovers. He shot a scorching 50 percent from the field and 75 percent from long range.
“I thought he was a little more aggressive, he made better plays and he made three threes,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Nelson looked more like his jovial self after the contest, joking about the sloppiness of Von Wafer’s locker, engaging in conversation with the media and displaying his notable ear-to-ear smile. He even admitted that he was previously hurt by some of the rumored reasons behind Howard’s trade request, but that he has now moved on.
“I’m human and a lot of things affect you,” Nelson said. “We’re basketball players, but we’re also human. A lot of the stuff that came out about other point guards being here was basically months ago, so if I was hurt, I’m over it. I can’t allow myself to not be focused.”
If his performance against L.A. was any indication, Nelson is plenty focused now.
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