With a dozen games left on the Orlando Magic's 2010-2011 regular season schedule and the MVP Award on the line, it is natural that the eyes and attention of Magic fans would turn to Dwight Howard for some timely late-season heroics.
The Magic sit four games behind their division rival, the Miami Heat, and four games ahead of another, the Atlanta Hawks. As Orlando hopes to catch up to the Heat while fending off the Hawks, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Magic's will look to Howard's broad shoulders to carry the bulk of the load. Howard's 22.9 points and 14.2 rebounds per game leads the entire team comfortably in both categories, and also leads NBA centers as well.
Nelson, a first-round draft pick in 2004, entered the NBA as a ornamented collegiate superstar. After he and Delonte West led their 2003-2004 Saint Joseph's University team to an undefeated regular season, then to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, Nelson was awarded with the Naismith College Player of the Year, Oscar Robinson Trophy and John Wooden Award.
Despite Nelson's abundance of collegiate accolades, his professional career has failed to land him in that same realm of superstardom. However, paired with Howard (who was also drafted in the first round of the 2004 draft) in Orlando, Nelson has found his niche and become a valuable part of a fruitful Magic franchise.
In Orlando's win on Friday evening over the Denver Nuggets, Nelson proved his worth to the masses as he drilled a three from the top of the arc over the outstretched arm of Ty Lawson, beating the buzzer and allowing the Magic to escape with a narrow 85-82 victory on their home floor. Though he only scored 13 points in the game, narrowly surpassing his season average of 12.6 PPG, no other bucket was more important, or more clutch, than his three-pointer at the game's conclusion.
The final 12 games of Orlando's schedule feature the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Bobcats (two) and the New York Knicks (two). During the course of the season, Nelson, in one way or another, has typically come up big against most of these opponents.
For instance, Nelson has registered 20-point games, above and beyond his season average, against New Jersey, Cleveland, Chicago, New York and Toronto. These performances include a 20-point, six-assist game against New Jersey (11/5/10), a 23-point, eight-assist contest against Toronto (11/12/10) and a 24-point, nine-assist showing against Chicago (12/1/10).
Furthermore, Nelson's statistics seem to indicate that he gives more effort against New York, Toronto, Atlanta and Philadelphia. For example, against Atlanta and New York, Nelson averages 18 PPG, which easily eclipses his season average. The Magic are set to play two games against the Knicks and one more against the Hawks, which gives Jameer three more chances to put up some big scoring numbers.
Against Toronto and Philadelphia, Nelson averages over 15 points and eight assists per game, which also exceeds his season averages in both categories. Though his scoring is above average against both teams, the additional two assists per game are intriguing, especially when Howard is in the midst of MVP consideration.
Nelson has shown time and time again that he and Howard have are able to connect on alley-oops, but his quickness and ability to drive the lane and distribute the ball could result in more quality looks for the Magic center.
Nelson's past performances indicate that he is capable of putting up big numbers against the majority of Orlando's final 12 opponents. Personally, I do not expect him to outshine Howard, who has become a ravenous rebounder of late, but I do expect him to be a crafty complement to Howard by posting some more big numbers as the season winds to a close.
In short, Nelson is a far cry from an actual MVP candidate, but perhaps his ball distribution and playing solid defense against Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (who performs worse than his season averages when playing the Magic) can be Howard's most valuable partner in his quest to solidify his case as the NBA's MVP.
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