Nelson thinks you should believe in Magic
Standing at a generously listed 6 feet, Jameer Nelson has always figured out a way to stand tall in a game dominated by giants, from his stellar days at Saint Joseph's to the pro ranks with the Orlando Magic. His Magic have been dealt the same challenge as they are stuck in the mammoth Eastern Conference shadow of the defending champion Celtics and LeBron James and his Cavaliers.
But if Orlando keeps winning, the NBA may soon be forced to enter the Magic Kingdom.
"We're just flying under the radar winning games," said Nelson. "The other teams deserve credit. That's fine with us. Someone is going to get credit and someone is not going to get credit. That's fine with us. We're trying to win a championship."
With superstar center Dwight Howard leading the way, the Magic have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, having edged ahead of the Celtics Friday. It's very possible that they could be atop the East soon.
But outside of Howard, the Magic don't garner the kind of respect that other powers like the Celtics, Cavaliers, Lakers, Pistons, Spurs, and Hornets do. Why?
The best explanation is that Orlando hasn't done anything substantial in the playoffs since Howard arrived in 2004. The Magic were swept by Detroit in the first round in 2007 and lost in five games to Detroit in the second round last season.
"The last few years we have had our opportunity," Nelson said. "We ran up against Detroit and they handed it to us. But we are more focused now on what we need to do to win now."
Another slap on Orlando is that while Nelson and forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu are considered talented players, they are not considered surefire All-Stars. Howard could be the team's lone representative during All-Star weekend in Phoenix, but a team with that record should have at least two.
While Lewis and Turkoglu are quality candidates, Nelson is making an All-Star case for himself with a well-rounded game, averaging 16.2 points, 5.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals. He is leading all guards in field goal percentage (.509) and is 12th in 3-point percentage overall (.435).
Assuming Miami's Dwyane Wade and Detroit's Allen Iverson are voted in as the East's starting guards, Nelson's stiff competition for a reserve spot includes Boston's Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, New Jersey's Devin Harris, Atlanta's Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson, Cleveland's Mo Williams, Detroit's Rip Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey, and Chicago rookie Derrick Rose.
But with each Orlando win, Nelson's candidacy gets stronger and stronger.
"If you win, things happen," said Nelson. "If it happens for me, it means that things are going well."
With the Orlando glory days long gone with the departure of Shaquille O'Neal in 1996, it's easy to think of Mickey Mouse and Carnival Cruises - not the Magic - when Orlando comes to mind. The assumption of many is that Boston and Cleveland will play in the Eastern finals, with Detroit, Orlando, and Atlanta falling shy. Skeptics feel that Orlando's quality record has been padded by a favorable early schedule.
The confident Nelson merely snickers at the knocks. The tiny floor general was motivated to work harder by being told he's not tall enough, not this, not that. So with his own personal chip on his shoulder and faith in his team, he warns you to pay attention to what happens at the end of the Magic trick.
"I've always been overlooked," Nelson said. "They say I'm not good enough and I prove them wrong. We got a lot of people on our team like that.
"We know how to compete. We know how to win."
He gets thrown off, thrown outEx-Boston College star Sean Williams has been having more problems with officials than opponents in the NBA Development League lately.
After a promising 2007-08 rookie season with New Jersey that included 29 starts, Williams played sparingly this season before being optioned to the Nets' D-League affiliate, the Colorado 14ers, on Dec. 29.
Struggling to adjust to the D-League referees, the fiery 6-foot-10-inch, 235-pounder was ejected from two of his first four games. Williams, the 17th overall pick in the 2007 draft, averaged 4 fouls and just 20 minutes in those games. There was a report that Williams refused to go to the locker room at halftime of last Monday's game versus Austin, but Colorado coach Bob MacKinnon called it "totally false."
"He has been trying to do everything I've asked him to do," said MacKinnon. "He comes in for individual workouts and has been working hard. He's struggling with the level of officiating after coming from the NBA.
"His ejections have been in frustration from the foul trouble he has got into. He wants to play and he wants to adjust to the officiating. He's trying, though."
The Nets' roster is loaded with power forwards and centers, including Williams, Josh Boone, Stromile Swift, Yi Jianlian, Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson, and Eduardo Najera. To give him playing time and aid his development, the Nets sent Williams to the D-League to learn how to play small forward and work on defending on the perimeter. The 22-year-old averaged 5.3 points while shooting 35 percent from the field, with 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 blocks in those first four games. An NBA scout who saw Williams recently said he expected more from a D-League player from an NBA team.
"It was important for him to play," said Nets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe. "He wasn't going to play with us. We have a lot of games and we're not really practicing right now. I know it will be hard for him, but it was the right decision. It will be a positive experience."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org