2008-09 NBA Finals Preview: Jameer Nelson Has a Chance To Be Willis Reed

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2008-09 NBA Finals Preview: Jameer Nelson Has a Chance To Be Willis Reed
(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Even the most casual NBA fan knows the name Willis Reed and what he did for the New York Knicks on May 8, 1970.

While I'm hardly a Knicks fan, nor NBA enthusiast, even I appreciate and know the history of this moment thanks to NBA footage and the memory of those who remember and witnessed it.

On this particular day, New York Knick lifer and best player on the team, Reed helped guide his team, in a Game 7 no less, to their first NBA Championship by scoring four points while hitting his only two shots which also happened to be the teams' first two shots, and his only two attempts for the whole game.

Reed, was hurt by a torn muscle he injured in the previous game, Game 6, and wasn't even expected to play despite being the team MVP, league MVP and playoff MVP that season. In making his first two shots, his inspiration willed his team to victory, at least that's how the tale goes.

Jameer Nelson was sidelined with a torn muscle in his shoulder that was meant to be season-ending at the time of the February 2 injury. However, reports have surfaced and confirmed that Nelson will indeed play tonight against the storied Lakers.

Why does this matter?

While Nelson is no Reed (he's not even the best player on his own team), he is an All-Star having made the NBA All-Star Team but being unable to participate. Thus, tonight will be the first time everyone gets to see just how good, or bad, he is, on the biggest stage in the sport.

Additionally, and more importantly, Nelson is a Los Angeles Lakers killer having averaged 27.5 points per game in two regular season, competitive wins against the club. Like Reed, he won't start and he won't get major minutes but his presence could be an X-factor or a liability and that is what makes it intriguing.

With the dramatic drop off I expect from Rafer Alston—who plays about has horrid on the road as he does torrid at home—Nelson's big game presence might not only be needed, but required.

Starting Lineup:

                             Orlando Magic              Los Angeles Lakers

Center                      Dwight Howard   vs.  Andrew Bynum          Advantage Magic

Power Forward           Rashard Lewis    vs.   Pau Gasol               EVEN

Small Forward            Hedo Turkoglu    vs. Trevor Ariza              Magic

Shooting Guard          Courtney Lee     vs. Kobe Bryant              Lakers

Point Guard               Rafer Alston       vs. Derek Fisher              N/A

Bench:  Pietrus, Johnson, Nelson,    Brown, Farmar, Odom, Walton, Vujacic    Lakers  

Coaching: Jackson vs. Van Gundy Advantage: Jackson

While he has all the lore, Van Gundy will give much better post game interviews and press conferences that actually have substance and thought.

While Orlando's guards of Johnson and Pietrus stack up favorably against the Lakers Vujacic and Farmar, Odom is an unfair X-factor and he won't be expected to be on the bench for long, if at all. Similar to Courtney Lee, who won't really be guarding Bryant, that responsibility falls on Pietrus who can't stay this hot (can he?) from beyond the arc. 

Howard's inside play versus the tandem of seven-footers in Gasol and Bynum may be too much for even Howard to handle who should still get his numbers, but just might not be able to dominate as the Magic will need him to if they want to win. The way I see it, Gasol is either really good or a liability. We just have to see which one comes up to play.

My guess is his home stats (and play) will be far superior to those on the road.

Lewis has the chance to exploit the slower but taller Gasol if he can drive the basket and pick up quick and cheap fouls on him thus creating more minutes for the lesser capable but still talented Bynum. If this becomes the match up Lewis' numbers could soar, unless they rotate in Odom whose similar to Gasol in that he's either really good or really bad.

Alston should dominate Fisher at home in Orlando but Nelson is the key here. If he were to mimic his stellar 20-point performances earlier this year the Magic will be fine, if not, they lack depth considering Alston is bound to be inconsistent and play bad road games.

Vujacic could be the Lakers three-point answer to Pietrus but even then I don't think he can match him shot for shot. While the Magic bench seems thin, he did outscore the Cleveland Cavilers all by himself in the prior series so rotation and minutes will be key (play him 30 SVG!)

Everything seems to favor the Lakers from coaching, the depth, to experience so why am I going with the Magic? Apart from being a blind homer and having to do it for the sake of a good series, we do have the 2004 Detroit Pistons as proof that the impossible can be done as they overcame a vastly more talented Lakers team.

Additionally, the Magic have so many X-factor players like Turkoglu that can play leader one night and score in bunches, the Nelson X-factor as all all-or-nothing unknown is intriguing to say the least.

Mix that in with the success I expect from Orlando once the series shifts back home, to the 2-0 regular season record against the Lakers, and the Magic's unorthodox living-and-dying-and-succeding by the three method.

Those all serve as points to be considered when evaluating this series.

Therefore I say Magic in 6 (and I got the Eastern Conference Finals exactly right)

Game 1 Magic Win

Game 2 Laker win (in LA)

Game 3 Magic win (at home)

Game 4 Magic win

Game 5 Laker win

Game 6 Magic win (in LA)

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