Denton: Nelson to Return Tonight

By John Denton
January 2, 2013


ORLANDO– When Jameer Nelson became a free agent last summer, the Orlando Magic worked hard to make sure they retained their veteran point guard because of all the intangibles he brings to the team in terms of leadership, organization and professionalism.

But clearly Nelson is more valuable to the Magic than just providing intangibles. Here’s a statistic that shows the tangible benefits of the Magic having a healthy Nelson on the court and being without him:

When Nelson is out of the lineup this season, Orlando is 1-8. With him on the floor as the Magic’s starter, they are a .500 team at 11-11.

The fact that Nelson will return to the starting lineup tonight when the Magic (12-19) host the Chicago Bulls (16-13) at the Amway Center is delightful news to an Orlando team that has lost six games in a row. Nelson, who missed the past two games with a hip injury, went through the team’s morning practice and is expected to play tonight.

``It’s a lot better now,’’ Nelson said. ``I didn’t measure on a scale of 1 to 10 (the pain level) or give myself a percentage of my health, but it was bothered me quite a bit. I guess I just needed a couple of days of rest to make it feel a lot better.’’

The Magic are coming off a heartbreaking 112-110 overtime loss to the Miami Heat on Monday. Orlando led by four with a minute to play in regulation and had a chance to win or tie the game in the final seconds of regulation, but failed to convert each time.

One tremendous positive to come out of Monday’s loss was the work of blossoming center Nikola Vucevic, who grabbed a franchise-record 29 rebounds. That total eclipsed the 19-year-old previous franchise record of 28 set by Shaquille O’Neal in 1993. Vucevic, who also scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed 11 of his boards on the offensive end of the floor, received dozens of congratulatory calls and text messages from family, friends and former college coaches on Tuesday.

``I had a lot of people congratulating me for the rebounds and the way I played,’’ said Vucevic, 22. It felt good hearing from my friends, people from (the University of Southern California) and a lot of coaches that I met through basketball.’’

A win away from securing a .500 record two weeks ago, the Magic haven’t won since losing Glen Davis to a dislocated left shoulder. Of the six losses, the Magic have been either leading or within strinking range late in the fourth quarter in five of those games. However, they have struggled defensively and closing out games of late, leading to the losing streak.

Arron Afflalo said the Magic’s margin for error is so thin that it can’t afford to lose any player, especially two of them as important as Nelson and Davis. He is hoping that the return of Nelson tonight will help steady the offense.

``With the makeup of this team, we can’t afford to have anybody out,’’ said Afflalo, who has averaged 21.3 points over the last six games and had 28 on Monday against the Heat. ``With Glen going down, Jameer going down or if I or Turk were to go down, we can’t have anybody out.

``(Nelson) is very important because he’s a veteran leader. He’s the longest-tenured player here and a good point guard,’’ Afflalo continued. ``And he’s a good shot-maker, especially in the crunch time, and that’s probably where he’s the most valuable. We need him when it’s winning time. Five of these six losses have come down to when winning basketball was needed, so we’re glad to have him back.’’

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