Jameer Nelson Might Return for Finals
Since Nelson was injured against the Mavericks on February 3rd, there's been an obvious hole in the offensive punch of the Magic's backcourt. And while Rafer Alston has certainly filled in admirably, and Courtney Lee has blossomed with more minutes showing poise and explosiveness, the question has still been asked, "How good would this team be with Jameer Nelson back?"
Turns out there's a slight possibility we may get the answer to that question.
On Sunday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Nelson's rehab has progressed so well that if he's able to pass what General Manager Otis Smith called a "litany of tests," he may be available when the Magic open the Finals against LA on Thursday. Obviously, the odds of this are still small, as both the team and Nelson himself won't do anything to threaten what is looking like a very promising career for the scoring point guard.
Still, even if Nelson were only available to play limited minutes, it could be a huge swing for the Magic. The Magic already have proven that they're simply loaded with weapons. Getting Nelson back in any form, even for brief stints would provide them another matchup advantage on the Lakers, whose point guard corps have struggled mightily in the playoffs. Starting point guard Derek Fisher is widely considered to be the weak link on the squad, and neither Jordan Farmar nor Shannon Brown have provided consistent support.
Conversely, the Magic would then be loaded with four players -- Nelson, Rafer Alston, Anthony Johnson, and Courtney Lee -- who can run point for the Magic attack. And while Kobe Bryant is undeniably the best player in the series, much less the Lakers backcourt, Nelson's return would give the Magic the potential to overcome Bryant's scoring by committee, using the same formula the Magic used to get past Boston and Cleveland. Essentially, one guy scoring a ton is fine if no one else is producing and everyone on the Magic is getting buckets.
Still, there are risks to bringing back Nelson, who hasn't played in four months. If Nelson isn't immediately in game shape, he could provide an opportunity for the Lakers to turn their disadvantage at point to an advantage, preying upon a still injured player whose endurance isn't up. There's also the concern over chemistry. While Rafer Alston has been blasted for his shooting and decision making, there's no question the team feels confident with him running the reins. Additionally, the Magic have settled into comfortable rotations with Anthony Johnson taking the reins for extended periods and being productive in a backup role. Re-introducing Nelson could damage that chemistry, and the Finals are not really the time you want to start experimenting.
Odds are that the Magic will hold out Nelson in order to protect his shoulder after the rather large extension they gave him in Oct. 2007. But if for some reason Nelson is able to get back on the floor and produce, the Lakers may find themselves for the first time in the postseason staring at a team with more weapons than they have. Even with Kobe Bryant.