Jameer Nelson checked out of Thursday’s game against San Antonio in the first quarter and slipped into the locker room to receive IVs to fight some dehydration (Nelson said it was definitely not the stomach bug that went through the team a few weeks ago). Then Gilbert Arenas took over.
Arenas checked in with 2:24 left in the first quarter and the Magic trailing by six points. By the time he checked out at the end of the first half, he had tallied 12 points, five assists and four rebounds and Orlando took a nine-point lead into the locker room.
Arenas, playing his third game in a Magic uniform, finished with 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds on 6-for-14 shooting in 28:43. Nelson scored seven points and had four assists in 21:09.
“It’s any given night, especially offensively, anybody on this team can go off the way guys went off tonight and contribute,” Nelson said. “If we play the right way and guys worry about just winning and not worry about statistics, we’re going to be pretty dangerous. Nobody should care about who scores or who gets the assist on this team because we have great players. And it’s going to be a different guy pretty much every night the rest of the season.”
That split, along with Arenas’ arrival, has had more than one person wonder when Arenas might challenge Nelson’s “right” to start. Stan Van Gundy said from the day of the trade Nelson will start, and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. That did not stop Brian Schmitz of The Orlando Sentinel from suggesting Nelson’s time as starter is running out.
But Gilbert Arenas could not disagree more. Arenas has been coming off the bench — and sometimes even playing alongside Nelson — in his three games since the trade last weekend, averaging 24.3 minutes per game. He has had one good game since the trade and is still shooting an icy 29 percent from the floor.
The game he had Thursday night is quite likely the type of game the Magic expect from their newest acquisition. His shooting may be inefficient. But, unlike the recently departed Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis, he does other things that show up in the box score and make him valuable.
For now at least, Arenas is happy to be coming off the bench. And endorses his position as the team’s sixth (or sometimes seventh) man.
“I get to play against the second unit,” Arenas said. “That’s good for me, get some ego up a little bit. I’m coming off the bench. Jameer’s starting. I come off and I do what I do. I don’t want to start on this team, it’s too talented.”
The good-natured Arenas — and from my observations in the locker room, he seems completely relieved and happy to be in Orlando and to get a fresh start — is still finding his way into the lineup and finding his rhythm within his new role. But from all appearances, he has completely embraced his role with this team.
Stan Van Gundy is still trying to get Arenas to be himself and not just try to fit in with this team (something he never could seem to get Vince Carter to do). He left a note for Arenas telling him to be himself and push the pace before Thursday’s game, and that is exactly what Arenas did.
“It’s hard to say what I’ll think about going forward,” Van Gundy said. “We’ll have to see what happens. Anything is possible. Gilbert, Jameer, Jason (Richardson) and (Hedo) Turk(oglu), one of them is going to come off the bench. They’re still going to play major minutes. I don’t think it matters a whole lot who it is. To me, Gilbert’s the guy who most easily plays two position. The other guys, I think our matchups to start games is a little bit easier. Could it change? Sure it could change.”
Van Gundy said he felt the team is good settling into an eight-man rotation now and he will take a look at how the team plays. He said earlier in the evening that he planned to stick with this lineup and rotation until at least Thursday’s game against New York. He said after Thursday’s game he is hoping to give his guards 28-32 minutes per game. That goes for both Arenas and Nelson.
Arenas will be able to contribute no matter who he is on the floor with.
“With a team like this, it really doesn’t matter, because the ball is going to find you and you are going to make plays,” Arenas said. “With the way this offense is, as soon as you get it, there is a pick and roll or you go one-on-one. Basically, you five go out there and just play.”