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Jameer Nelson: Will he play or won't he?

Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy says the point guard is 'ready to play right now,' but there's no word yet on whether he will.

June 04, 2009|Broderick Turner

The Lakers were thoroughly beaten in last year's NBA Finals by their most hated rivals, the Boston Celtics.

They lost Game 6 in dubious fashion, the 39-point differential being the largest in a clinching game in NBA Finals history and the second-largest margin overall for any Finals game. The Lakers were labeled "soft" when they withered from the physical pounding delivered by the Celtics.

The Lakers say they refused to run from their suffering; rather, it become their motivation this season, what drove them through 82 regular-season games and 18 playoff games and pushed them to seek redemption.

For the Lakers to stand alone on the mountaintop, they must now beat the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals, starting with Game 1 tonight at Staples Center.

The Lakers cannot forget what happened against Boston; no one will let them.

"I think it definitely made us hungry," Pau Gasol said after practice Wednesday. "Obviously, we're mad. We're upset about losing in the Finals, especially the way we lost.

"Also, the last game, we just felt that we could have given it a better shot than we did. But it didn't happen, and now we're here again and we can give it a much better shot and really get it done. We've got to live in the present and remember what happened in the past and learn from it."

The Lakers waltzed through the Western Conference playoffs last season, going 12-3.

This postseason was different.

The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz in five games in the first round.

It took the Lakers seven games to defeat the depleted Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals and six games to get rid of the physical Denver Nuggets in the conference finals.

While going through the regular-season journey and the postseason travails, the Lakers said they drew strength from the disappointment of losing to the Celtics in the Finals last year.

"We've talked. . . in the playoffs about how our dedication, what our dedication is and the selflessness that it takes to play a role or to be part of the roles that have to be played on a team so that you can get to a position where you want to win," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "Everybody has to do their job in this aspect. So it's referred to, but it's not dwelled on."

The Lakers' task now is to beat the Magic's imposing center, Dwight Howard, and his merry band of three-point-shooting teammates, seeking the first championship in franchise history.

The Lakers are playing for an NBA championship for the 30th time, and they are seeking their 15th title.

They have lost the last two times they played in the NBA Finals, to Detroit in 2004 and the Celtics last season.

"We're determined to try to come up with a better result," said Kobe Bryant, who has won three NBA championships. "The last few times we've been there, it's been the short end of the stick. Hopefully this time around will be better."

Gasol's assignment

Gasol has a big defensive challenge before him, one that could stretch him.

He'll start by defending Magic forward Rashard Lewis, a perimeter player who can put the ball on the floor but also make three-point shots.

Then Gasol will wrestle in the paint with the athletic 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard.

"It's going to take a big focus on my part to be able to flip the switch every time I change matchups and I change players, coverages," Gasol said. "But it's a big challenge, no doubt about it, to guard either player because they're both really good players and they present so many different looks to you. It's going to be hard, but I look forward to getting it done and being effective against them and helping our team."

Different lineup

The Magic has the Lakers' attention.

The Lakers lost both of their regular-season games with the Magic, one in Orlando and the other at Staples Center.

Both teams are somewhat different since then, however.

Vladimir Radmanovic, whom the Lakers traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in February, started at small forward for the Lakers in both Magic games. Trevor Ariza now starts in that spot for the Lakers.

Meanwhile, Magic point guard Jameer Nelson played in both regular-season games against the Lakers and averaged 27.5 points and 6.5 assists. But he has been out since Feb. 3 recovering from a dislocated right shoulder and a torn labrum. There has been talk that he might play in the Finals. And Keith Bogans started at shooting guard but was traded. Now Magic rookie Courtney Lee starts at shooting guard and Rafer Alston, acquired from the Rockets after Nelson was injured, starts at point guard.

"It was four months ago," Jackson said, "but it certainly gives us a great deal of respect for them."

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broderick.turner@latimes.com

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