- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

LOS ANGELES | Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson was having an All-Star season before dislocating his right shoulder Feb. 2 in what was classified as a season-ending injury that required surgery.

Perhaps “season-ending” wasn’t an apt description.

The Magic’s surprise run to the NBA Finals gave Nelson’s shoulder enough time to heal. After missing the final 40 regular-season games and 19 playoff games, he returned to action Thursday, 30 seconds into the second quarter of Game 1.

Nelson fueled Orlando to two regular-season victories over Los Angeles, averaging 27.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds, but a debate arose whether his return would prove more disruptive than helpful to the Magic’s rhythm, especially because his replacement, Rafer Alston, had played so well since being acquired from the Houston Rockets.

Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy thought bringing back Nelson, who this season averaged a career-high 16.7 points, was well worth some possible speed bumps.

“In some ways it’s not a difficult decision, because it just comes down to trying to make the decision that we think gives us the best chance to win,” Van Gundy said before Game 1’s tipoff. “The easiest decision, the one that would create no problems, would have been not to play him. He would have understood, wouldn’t have upset our rotation or any of our players, and I wouldn’t open myself up to criticism by not playing him.

“But in the end, we just think he’s ready to go, think he can put some pressure on their defense, and we think he’ll get better as the series goes on.”

Said Nelson: “I feel pretty good working out and rehabbing. I felt pretty good [Wednesday] in terms of practicing and taking hits. My confidence is high.”

Same thing, only different

Orlando’s Dwight Howard has drawn comparisons to a young Shaquille O’Neal because of his size, strength and dominant play, and now he has the Magic back in the NBA Finals for the first time since O’Neal carried the team to this point in 1995.

Phil Jackson, who coached the Lakers to three straight championships with O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, noticed similarities between the way O’Neal was used during his days both in Orlando and in Los Angeles and the way Stan Van Gundy uses Howard to facilitate the Magic’s inside-outside offensive game.

But there are some differences, Jackson said.

“Their spacing obviously and their dedication to what they want to get accomplished, I think, is very similar,” Jackson said. “You know, obviously, the 3-point shot has taken more of a prominent place, I think, in their offense than the early Shaq teams did. … This team is really dedicated to 3-point shooting and one of the top two or three teams in the league shooting that shot.”

Silence costs James

NBA commissioner David Stern addressed the media an hour before Game 1 tipped off and discussed his pleasure with the quality of this year’s postseason and the development of the league’s young stars, including Howard, and the league’s continued growth in international popularity.

He did express displeasure in the behavior of league MVP LeBron James, who stormed out of Amway Arena after the Cavaliers lost in the Eastern Conference finals to Howard and the Magic. James refused to congratulate Howard and his teammates on the win and left without speaking to the media.

Stern has spoken to James since then and said the Cavaliers forward “expressed to me that when he left the building and did not meet the media or did not congratulate the Magic, he was wrong.”

“He’ll be talking to you, I assume, directly as he gets better and stronger [after surgery to remove a benign growth from his jaw], but he asked that I express to the media and the Magic and the fans and particularly the young fans because he knows he has responsibility to all of our fans and that sportsmanship is appropriate whether you win or whether you lose.”

Stern announced he has changed his mind and that James will be fined $25,000 for skipping media availability after last week saying James wouldn’t receive a fine.

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