Denton: Harris Continues to Thrive Since Trade From Milwaukee

By John Denton
Jan. 31, 2014

ORLANDO– When Tobias Harris last faced his former team, the Milwaukee Bucks, it was clearly more than just another game. The forward was eager to show the Bucks what they had traded away as he poured in 30 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and capped Orlando’s overtime victory with a controversial dunk.

Much has happened since that moment, with the Bucks trading away or losing many of the players that Harris teamed with during his 1 ½ seasons in Milwaukee. In Orlando, Harris finished last season strong, but has followed it up with one that’s been full of highs and lows. He missed seven weeks because of a high ankle sprain early in the season, and recently he’s gone from being a starter to a reserve. It’s not a change that he was necessarily pleased with, but one he’s vowing to try and make the best of.

``Man, I just try to play basketball,’’ Harris said after a long pause when asked about his changing role. ``I was in a rhythm starting. Coming off the bench now, it is what it is. I just have to go out there and play and try to win … try to do what I can to help my team.’’

Heading into tonight’s Magic (12-35) game against the Bucks (8-37) at the Amway Center, Harris has started 21 of the 26 games he’s played in. Those 21 starts came in a row from Dec. 18 to Tuesday in Detroit. With center Nikola Vucevic returning from a concussion, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis was moved back to power forward. Rookie Victor Oladipo was put back into the starting lineup along with Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, meaning Harris had to be used off the bench.

Harris had 14 points and nine rebounds on Tuesday in Detroit in his last game as a starter. On Wednesday in Toronto, he made just two of eight shots in 27 minutes, but he still contributed nine points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Harris’ best play of the night came when he drove hard down the lane and kicked the ball to the left wing to a wide-open Maurice Harkless for an open 3-pointer.

``We’re just trying to get in positions where we can score, play together as a team and move the ball,’’ Harris said. ``We have to feed off each other.’’

Both Orlando and Milwaukee come into tonight’s game struggling. The Magic dropped all three games on their recent road trip to New Orleans, Detroit and Toronto and have lost eight of 10 games. The Bucks have lost nine of 10 and four in a row.

Orlando beat Milwaukee 94-91 on Nov. 13, but not before wiping out a 19-point deficit for its biggest come-from-behind victory of the season. Arron Afflalo, who found out on Thursday that he was being left off the Eastern Conference All-Star team, had 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists that night, and the Magic needed every bit of it to win. The guard was at his efficient best, hitting 11 of 15 shots, eight of 11 3-pointers and all six of his free throws.

Harris, who was traded from Milwaukee to Orlando last February, missed that game against his former team in November because of the ankle injury he suffered in the preseason. Harris struggled to get completely over the ankle injury, but showed glimpses on his massive potential last Friday when he battered the Los Angeles Lakers for 28 points and 20 rebounds. For the season, Harris is averaging 13.7 points and 8 rebounds a game, but his shooting percentages – 42.9 percent from the floor and 19.4 percent from the 3-point line – have fallen short of his expectations.

Harris said on Friday that other than close friend John Henson, he hardly recognizes the Milwaukee roster what with the number of players that have defected from the Bucks. Not that Harris is focused on what Milwaukee is doing. He said his only goal is helping the Magic get back on the winning track.

``It’s a winnable game and both teams need a win. For us, we’ve lost the last few games that we’ve had, so this is a big game for us. It’s a must-win game for us,’’ Harris said. ``Whether it’s the Bucks or any other team, our mindset should be to win the game. … I’m not too worried about the Bucks; I’m worried about the team that I’m on now and that’s the Magic. We’re focused on what we can do to get better and that’s to come out and work every day.’’