Jameer Nelson has been a little down on his luck lately. Just about every single trade rumor involving the Magic invariably involves his name and people clamor for Gilbert Arenas to start ahead of him. Nelson is not the problem with this team, despite what fans may say.
Nelson got his chance to go home to Philadelphia and play in front of about 60 family and friends whom he bought tickets for at the Wells Fargo Center. He will not put the restless fans and clamoring to rest in one evening. But he provided the stability to get Orlando going offensively in the third quarter and take control of a tight game in front of his home fans.
It was indeed a happy birthday and homecoming for the Chester, Pa., native.
Nelson scored 12 points, netting seven in the third quarter to help the Magic take the lead. His aggression and probing dribbles into the lane freed up an offense that is still looking to get back on track. The Magic’s offense showed signs of life for a second straight night, but was not overwhelming against the athletic 76ers team. Nelson did a good job getting the ball moving to the perimeter and, especially, inside in a 99-95 win Wednesday.
There is no doubt Orlando is a better team when the ball is moving. Nelson had eight assists to lead the effort. The Magic had 11 assists on their first 14 field goals in getting off to a hot start. The team finished with 25 assists on its 35 field goals. That is a pretty high percentage — 71.4 percent of field goals were assisted.
As Stan Van Gundy said in his post game, the shots still are not falling, but the team is executing and moving the ball much better. Orlando ended up shooting 46.1 percent from the floor and 10 for 26 from 3. The long-range shooting caught fire in the second half. If not for a 3-point barrage by Lou Williams (23 points on 3-for-5 3-point shooting, including two very late in the game), this game would have had a much wider margin.
But credit Orlando for surviving that late spat. The Magic made their free throws late — yes, even Dwight Howard — to avoid the fate they inflicted on the 76ers three weeks earlier.
Aside from that the defense was pretty superb.
Philadelphia shot 42 percent from the floor and, except for a few instances where the team was able to get out on the break, was kept in check. Orlando simply could not pull away because the team could not hit shots. It did finally and started to pull away.
Of course, the big problem in the offense was not getting the ball to Howard. That was typically when Orlando’s offense struggled. Because when Howard got the ball, Philadelphia had no answers.
Spencer Hawes and Tony Battie put up little resistance to stop Howard and Doug Collins kept to his strategy to send Howard to the line. Howard converted no matter how Philadelphia defended him. He scored 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. More importantly, he hit 14 of 19 free throws to make the 76ers pay for sending him to the line repeatedly.
When Howard is going like this it makes life easier for everyone. Orlando put all of its starters in double figures for the frist time since Jan. 22 in Houston. That should give you a sense of how much the offense has struggled these last few weeks.
It feels like in these last two games Orlando has started to put things together. Hard to make any conclusions because of the competition. But Van Gundy said this is the best win the team has had in a while. And to get one on the road is good.
Luckily for the Magic, they are home until the end of the month (when they go to Miami on March 3) and have some good tests against Hornets and the Lakers coming up. Now is the stretch to get things right.