Denton: Harris Continues to Be All Business

Tobias Harris

By John Denton
March 9, 2014

MILWAUKEE – So bothered by a Wednesday night performance where he failed to attack the rim and also missed shots he usually makes, Tobias Harris knew that getting a good night’s sleep was likely out of the question.

Just three nights earlier, Harris had battered the hapless Philadelphia 76ers for a career-best 31 points by relentlessly driving to the rim and dictating the game throughout.

So when Harris followed that strong effort up with a 10-point stink bomb on Wednesday, he personally blamed himself for the loss. After the 101-89 loss to Houston, a teary-eyed, voice-cracking Harris ignored the 31 points scored by James Harden and said he personally let his teammates down and cost them a shot at winning a game the Magic led by 14 early on.

Then, Harris – nicknamed ``All Business’’ for years because of his no-nonsense approach to the game of basketball – went and did something tangible to flush the bad game out of his system.

``That night after the Houston game I was so upset with myself and the way that I played that I could barely sleep,’’ recalled Harris, who is still four months away from his 22nd birthday. ``I went back to the gym about 1 o’clock in the morning just to get my mind off everything that was going on.

``I’m the type who is always going to continue to work, continue to stay prayed up like I always am,’’ Harris continued. ``At the end of the day, that’s how you bounce back and how you keep going.’’

Harris bounced back in a big way on Saturday, scoring a team-high 23 points as the Magic pushed the San Antonio Spurs deep into the fourth quarter. Orlando (19-45) ultimately lost, but head coach Jacque Vaughn called it one of the team’s best offensive performances of the season – largely because of the aggression and efficiency of the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Harris.

Now, the trick will be to see if Harris can string together several good games in a row. On Monday, he and the Magic will next face the 12-50 Milwaukee Bucks, the team that dealt Harris to Orlando last February at the trade deadline. Harris, who is eligible for a contract extension this summer for the first time in his three-year NBA career, knows the final 18 games of this season are important on a lot of levels.

``It’s important for us as a team to find our identity,’’ said Harris of a Magic team that has five of their top seven players younger than 25 years old. ``The season is coming down to the end, but there is still a lot of growth that we can make in these last games. We can get better. (Saturday) was a good night for us and it’s all about taking that next step every time that we play.’’

Harris responded quite well to a new role as a reserve Saturday in San Antonio. He was moved to the bench following his three-of-12 shooting night on Wednesday, but it had more to do with Orlando’s need to play a bigger lineup with 6-foot-10 shot-blocker Kyle O’Quinn at power forward than it did with Harris being demoted.

Prior to Saturday in San Antonio, Harris had started 33 of the previous 35 games and he had played almost exclusively at power forward since the contractual buyout of Glen Davis. Harris didn’t pout about Saturday’s role change and instead played so well that he was on the floor for starter’s minutes (32 minutes).

Harris was so good in making 11 of 16 field goals that San Antonio had to go away from its big lineup and it played Tim Duncan just 28 minutes. Harris was able to use his quickness in the halfcourt and speed on the fastbreak to repeatedly get into the lane and keep the Magic within striking distance.

``What makes him the individual that he is is that he has a high standard of how he wants to play,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``He did a good job playing off the bench, did a good job of seamlessly getting into the game and being aggressive. He did a lot of good things.’’

Thrust into the reserve role on Saturday, Harris and Strength and Conditioning coach Bill Burgos went back to the tunnel at AT&T Center midway through first quarter for some exercises to loosen up the power forward. They seemed to work as Harris outran Boris Diaw down the floor on his first possession for a three-point play just 20 seconds after checking in.

Harris had 13 first-half points as the Magic went into the break with the lead. He scored 10 more points in the fourth period, including a difficult spinning bank shot that had Orlando within four points of the Spurs with seven minutes to play.

``Coming off the bench, I wanted to be a spark for us,’’ Harris said. ``I thought I did a pretty good job of taking what was there, being efficient and doing what I could for my team.’’

Vaughn has lauded Harris for his serious approach to basketball, and Saturday was no different. Vaughn has said that there is no player on the team more prepared to play from night to night than Harris, who often gets in extra work on the court and is a regular in the film room watching footage of foes.

Harris is still just 21 years old, and with youth often comes inconsistent play throughout the NBA’s marathon season. He was pleased with how he responded on Saturday from Wednesday’s disappointing performance. Now, he added, the key is playing well again and again the rest of this NBA season.

``It was tough to sleep after that one (on Wednesday) and I was more disappointed in myself than anything,’’ Harris said. ``I just got back in the gym and kept working hard. I took advantage of the days off that we had. I just wanted to keep my focus on what was next. It’s just about playing the way that I know how to play and doing what my team expects me to do.’’