NBA Finals Notebook

Unguarded opinion

Time wasted on bench doesn't sit well with Orlando's Alston

MARK RALSTON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES PHOTOS Opposing coaches Stan Van Gundy (above, with Dwight Howard) and Phil Jackson got right back to work, pointing out places where their teams can improve in Game 2 tomorrow. (Mark Ralston/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Associated Press / June 6, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - Rafer Alston helped guide the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals, then helped them take a lead after the first quarter of Game 1 Thursday.

Then he sat, for a long time - way too long.

By the time Alston got back in the game, his rhythm was gone, and so was Orlando's lead. He never recovered and neither did the Magic, whose strong start quickly turned into a 100-75 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Yesterday, Alston acknowledged the difficulty of sitting the entire second quarter while Jameer Nelson played all 12 minutes - a decision coach Stan Van Gundy acknowledged was a mistake - in his return from a shoulder injury.

"It was odd. I mean, I think everyone can see that. That's unusual to start the game and then you don't even touch the court in the second quarter," Alston said. "But there's no pouting, there's no getting mad, there's going to be no coach and Alston meeting about it. I'm going to go out here and get ready for Game 2 and prepare myself like I have been all playoffs."

Alston scored 4 points on 2-of-4 shooting in the first quarter as the Magic opened a 24-22 lead. Nelson entered to start the second and provided a quick spark as Orlando pushed the advantage to 5, but he and the Magic faded and the Lakers surged ahead and were up by 10 at the break.

"The mistake I made was leaving him in too long. We've got to give Jameer shorter stints," Van Gundy said. "I may have overplayed him and he got tired.

"As far as Rafer, having that affect his play in the second half, that's up to him. If I'm looking from the outside, that sounds like an excuse to me."

Not so, Alston said.

"I'll give you a good excuse. I sat 12 minutes real game time, I sat about 30 minutes real life time. So there's an excuse," Alston said while laughing. "It's different. I don't care who it is, it's different."

"You sit for a long period of time and again, the third quarter felt like jump tip again for me because now I've got to catch up to the rest of the guys because they already have a rhythm."

Alston missed all five shots and had just 2 points and no assists in the second half, finishing with 6 points on 2-for-9 shooting.

Nelson also struggled - the whole Magic team did while shooting 30 percent from the field - but said he felt good yesterday after playing 23 minutes in his first game in four months. The point guard time was split almost evenly, with Alston playing about a minute more. Anthony Johnson, who had been the backup, didn't play at all.

Nelson expected the lineup to remain the same, but didn't know what the rotation would look like in Game 2 tomorrow night.

Face time for Bryant
Magic Johnson had his magnetic smile. Michael Jordan soared to the basket with his tongue hanging out. Kobe Bryant is baring his teeth and scowling in these NBA Finals.

His young daughters don't think much of Daddy's attitude around the house, calling him "Grumpy," as in the Seven Dwarfs. His media sessions aren't exactly packing in the crowds, either. Bryant makes no apologies for his no-fun demeanor.

"I just think it's been building," he said. "I've been pacing myself all year waiting for these playoffs to come around. The table is set."

Much of Bryant's laser focus is the result of the Lakers losing to Detroit and Boston in their previous finals appearances in 2004 and last year. He detests losing, and at 30, he is more conscious that winning championships is the bedrock in building the legacy of a player who wants to be among the greatest.

"I just want it so bad," he said. "This time around we're just really locked in."

A cut above
Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic says his scruffy beard isn't coming off until the Finals are finished. He and teammate Pau Gasol are the hairiest bunch on the team, with overflowing locks and facial hair. "I shaved a couple of times, but I said I wasn't going to shave in the playoffs. Not until we get that," said Vujacic, pointing to the trophy drawing on the media banners. "I don't think it's superstition. The best excuse for me is that I say that I'm just lazy and I don't want to shave, but it looks really good for me. It makes me look older because I really have a baby face." And Gasol's looks? "I think he looks better like that," Vujacic said . . . Randy Smith, a blindingly fast All-Star guard with the Buffalo Braves in the 1970s, died of a heart attack while working out on a treadmill at the Mohegan Sun Casino where he worked. He was 60 . . . Toronto hired former Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni as an assistant to Jay Triano and are parting ways with assistants Mike Evans and Gord Herbert.

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