Denton: Nelson Questionable, Afflalo Likely to Play Tonight

Jameer Nelson

By John Denton
March 5, 2014

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ORLANDO – Many of the links to the highly successful Dwight Howard era in Orlando are long gone, and there’s a chance tonight that the all-star center will face an Orlando team with no one left that he played with in Magic pinstripes.

Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, who came into the NBA with Howard in 2004 and spent eight seasons alongside of him as a Magic teammate, is a game-time decision because of an illness. Nelson missed Sunday’s defeat of Philadelphia because of a sore calf muscle and was unable to practice on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning because of an illness.

Nelson, the only remaining Magic player who played with Howard, was told to stay away from the team on Tuesday for fear of getting others sick. He hasn’t been officially ruled out of tonight’s game, but he is highly unlikely to play after being inactive for three straight days.

There is even some uncertainty about Howard’s status. He was bothered by back spasms early in the week, but he played well in the Rockets defeat of the Miami Heat on Tuesday night in Houston. Howard is expected to at least travel to Orlando where the Magic will show a video tribute of the center as part of the year-long celebration of the franchise’s 25th anniversary season.

Orlando is poised to get back leading-scorer Arron Afflalo, who missd three games with a sprained ankle and two more with an illness. Afflalo got in an individual workout on Monday and practiced with the team on Tuesday. Afflalo leads the Magic in scoring at 19.7 points per game.

``I’m excited. I’ve been out a little more than a week, but I worked out the past few days and I’m excited,’’ Afflalo said. ``I feel fine. I had gotten sick for a few days. The other games I missed recovering from my (sprained) ankle. But I’m pretty stable now.’’

Afflalo and several of the Magic players were a part of the game last March when Howard returned for the first time following his Aug. 10, 2012 trade from Orlando to the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard was booed throughout that game and he even returned some of the trash talk back with season-ticket holders sitting courtside.

Orlando obtained center Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Afflalo in the trade for Howard, and none of those players ever played with the all-star center. Afflalo remembers the intensity of the atmosphere from last March, but he said he and his teammates will treat Wednesday like just another game because they have no ties to Howard.

``I kind of think we got over that last year,’’ Afflalo said. ``With him coming back last year to this building, it will probably be a reoccurring theme for a few years. But the guys who were here last year got over that situation when the Lakers came to town. For us, this is just another game.’’

Added forward Tobias Harris, who is in his second season with the Magic: ``It’s just another game for us against a very good team. It’s a chance for us to get better and go compete. We have to be physical tonight, so it will be a good game.’’

Vucevic played well against Howard in the preseason and missed the Magic’s loss in Houston earlier in the season because of an ankle injury. Orlando was badly outrebounded in the loss and Vucevic knows he has to do his best to try and keep the 6-foot-11, 275-pound Howard off the glass.

Howard’s Rockets have the NBA’s best record since Jan. 1 at 20-6. And they have been especially good since the All-Star break, winning 12 of the last 14 games. They have done so with Howard averaging 19 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. In Tuesday’s defeat of the Heat, Howard had 22 points and 16 rebounds and the Rockets were a plus-16 while he was on the floor.

``It’ll be a very good matchup for me with him being the best big man in the league. It will let me see where I am and I look forward to these matchups,’’ Vucevic said. ``It will be tough for me, I will have to be at my best and it will be a fun game.’’