David Manning/USA TODAY
One week ago, Jameer Nelson removed himself from the game against the 76ers, hopping off the court after a quick dish to Nikola Vucevic. There was nothing apparent on the play. Nelson came around the corner, fed a bounce pass to Nikola Vucevic for a dunk and then signaled to the bench to get him off the court.
That was a major turning point in the season, as all injuries to major players often are. Nelson is out indefinitely with a sprained foot. There is no telling how long it will be before he returns to the lineup. And there is a bit of a mystery as to how the team will handle life without him -- although it has just been three games.
"We miss Jameer," Jacque Vaughn said after the loss to the Spurs. "His ability to get in the paint for us and get the guys the ball where they need it. There's no doubt about that. But we still have enough people on the floor to pass and catch and shoot the basketball. But yes, we missed Jameer tonight."
Nelson is struggling a bit this season, statistically. He is averaging 11.7 points per game (the lowest of his career since his rookie year) and shooting 37.3 percent from the floor. If that continues it will mark just the second time in his career he will shoot worse than 40 percent from the floor. Not coincidentally, they would have happened in the last two years. Nelson is also averaging 6.1 assists per game.
According to NBA.com, the Magic have an offensive rating of 104.4 points per 100 possessions when Nelson is on the court and a mere 95.6 points per 100 possessions when Nelson is off the court (the defense is significantly better at 100.3 points allowed per 100 possessions while off the court and 105.0 while on the court). He makes a clear impact on the floor for the Magic.
In the three games since Nelson went out with the injury, the Magic have posted an average offensive rating of 98.4 points per 100 possessions. The games against the Spurs and the Wizards saw the Magic score less than a point per possession. Nelson is missed on the offensive end, it was only superhuman scoring performances from Glen Davis, Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo that made the offense look better Wednesday.
"I'm going to have to do something different," said Arron Afflalo after the Spurs game. Afflalo is averaging 27.0 points per game in Nelson's three-game absences, bolstered by his career-high 43 points in Wednesday's double overtime loss. "I'm doing too much standing around just watching us go down by 20. I just try my best to stay within the game, not try to do too much. But it's not fun getting blown out."
Afflalo said there is nothing more the team can do while waiting on Nelson's return. They just have to hold the ship steady and hope Nelson will not be out for too much longer.
Nelson said he twisted his foot in the first quarter of the Philadelphia game, tweaking a sprain he likely suffered the night before against Atlanta. He played through the pain and re-aggravated it, leading the Magic to slow him down just a bit. Nelson said he was not in a walking boot last week and he was seeing improvement, but recovery is a day-by-day process. Nelson said last Friday he is fortunate it is not something serious and that he just has to be smart to make sure he returns ready to make it through the rest of the season.
It is crazy not to think the Magic do not miss Nelson in some tangible way.
Nelson did travel with the Magic on this two-week road trip. He could very easily play Friday in New York (along with Nikola Vucevic who is sitting out with a sprained ankle) or he could be out until the Magic have more time to practice. That may not be until after the Magic get home from this trip and enter their late-December homestand.
His leadership from the sideline will remain a presence as the Magic try to piece together a lineup and band together during this time. Wednesday's game certainly was encouraging with Oladipo and Ronnie Price doing a good job filling the point guard role and leading the Magic into a tight game.
"He's played against every team in the league, so he knows what to expect and sets people up great," Victor Oladipo said. "He's a great leader in general. He's a big loss for us, but we've just got to keep playing together.