The Orlando Magic got some devastating news earlier this week when they found out point guard Jameer Nelson might miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum, and on Thursday they made a trade to give themselves some depth at the position.
In Orlando’s first game without Nelson, Anthony Johnson didn’t look like he needed much help.
Coming off one of the best games of his 12-year career, Johnson will see what he can do for an encore Friday when the Magic visit the Indiana Pacers, one of his former teams.
Orlando (37-11) was rolling along atop the Southeast Division heading into February, and a 113-90 victory at Toronto on Sunday was its 10th win in 12 games.
The Magic came home the next night to face Dallas, and not only did they lose 105-95, but they also lost Nelson to a potentially season-ending shoulder injury. That left Orlando with the 34-year-old Johnson as the only natural point guard on the roster.
Johnson came into the Magic’s game Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 assists in just about 18 minutes per game, but in his first start since Dec. 3, he more than adequately filled in for Nelson. Johnson scored a team-high 25 points—two off his career high—and missed just two shots in 27 minutes, as Orlando routed the Clippers 125-96.
“I felt I shot them well today in shootaround,” Johnson said. “Once I made my first one the other ones came easily, just like when I was going around the horn in shootaround today.
“I’m not looking to produce like that night in and night out. If I did, I would be a starter in this league.”
One Magic player who had been a starter until Wednesday’s game was Courtney Lee, who averaged 9.1 points alongside Nelson for the past 13 games. But with coach Stan Van Gundy looking to give Lee some minutes at the point, the rookie came off the bench and had the best game of his young career, going 9-of-10 for a season-high 21 points.
“Obviously, I think A.J. and Courtney were unbelievable,” Van Gundy told the Magic’s official Web site. “We dominated it throughout; I thought those guys were tremendous.”
With Nelson considering season-ending surgery, Orlando general manager Otis Smith made a minor move Thursday, acquiring veteran backup Tyronn Lue (4.7 ppg) from Milwaukee in exchange for reserve guard Keith Bogans. Lue was a backup on the Los Angeles Lakers teams that won NBA titles in 2000 and 2001.
Indiana (19-31) could use every advantage it can get as it tries to avoid a season sweep by Orlando and a sixth straight loss in the series. The Pacers fell 100-98 in overtime at Conseco Fieldhouse on Nov. 21, then dropped their two visits to Orlando by an average of 19 points.
Dwight Howard averaged 26.0 points and 16.0 rebounds in the three Magic victories.
Johnson played three seasons in Indiana starting in 2003-04, and each season, the Pacers were among the top five defensive teams in the league. That’s not the case in 2008-09, as Indiana is giving up an East-worst 107.0 ppg.
The Pacers allowed an average of 119.0 points in home losses to New York on Saturday and Minnesota on Tuesday, but a lack of offense was the problem Thursday at Philadelphia.
Indiana shot 39.3 percent and All-Star Danny Granger went 6-of-15 in a 99-94 loss. Granger made only one shot after halftime, and blamed a nagging knee injury that he said may sideline him for Friday.
“We know that we need these games and if we keep losing, I know that I can’t be taking games off,” Granger said.
Granger is shooting 37.0 percent in his last 11 games. He was 4-of-14 and had 10 points in a 135-111 loss at Orlando on Jan. 27.