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IF THE five newcomers to the Magic's rotation jell with the returning veterans sooner than expected this season, credit Jameer Nelson. In August the point guard once again paid for a bonding retreat in his hometown of Philadelphia, where for a week he was joined by teammates old and new for games of hoops, bowling and paintball. Says Nelson of the paintball, "The funniest was [free-agent signee] Brandon Bass—he was actually crawling in the mud and taking people out."
It will take more than games, though, for Orlando to pick up where it left off last year. Gone are forward Hedo Turkoglu (who signed with the Raptors as a free agent) and two other starters from the Finals (guards Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston, both dealt to the Nets in the Vince Carter trade). Then there's Nelson himself, who needs to get back in the flow after missing the second half of last season and most of the playoffs with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Nelson bravely chose to return and come off the bench when the Magic made it to the Finals against the Lakers, but his shooting stroke was hopelessly rusty. While coach Stan Van Gundy was criticized for playing Nelson, who shot 34.8% (8 of 23) in the five-game series, his teammates saw his coming back as another act of leadership.
Orlando needs Nelson's shooting to return to its elite level—last season he connected on 50.3% of his attempts, including 45.3% from the three-point line—to help space the floor for Dwight Howard in the paint and Carter on the perimeter. The Magic believe it has improved by importing Carter, Bass, and forwards Matt Barnes and Ryan Anderson, but to make the expensive gambles pay off, Orlando will need the best efforts of its 6-foot point guard. "My confidence is high," says Nelson, 27. "I know at this point of my career who I am as a player and a person, and the person you saw in the Finals wasn't 100 percent."
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F Matt Barnes, 10.2 PPG; G Jason Williams, 4.6 APG*; F Ryan Anderson, 7.4 PPG; F-C Marcin Gortat, 4.5 RPG • New acquisition • *'07--08 stats
COACH: Stan Van Gundy (third season with Magic) • 2008--09 RECORD: 59--23 (first in Southeast) POINTS SCORED: 101.0 (10th in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 94.4 (sixth in NBA)
Three-pointers made by forward Rashard Lewis last season, the most in the NBA. Since coming to the Magic in 2007--08, Lewis has hit 446 shots from beyond the arc, 67 more than any other player.