Denton: Harris Searching for Consistency

By John Denton
Jan. 8, 2014

PORTLAND – After joining the Orlando Magic in a trade last February, Tobias Harris averaged 17.1 points and 9.5 rebounds – something only three other NBA players did over the full season.

Harris’ strong play had expectations soaring and some wondered if the versatile combo forward was headed for an All-Star Game appointment.

This season, has been anything but All-Star quality for Harris for a variety of reasons. First, he suffered a high ankle sprain that knocked him out of action for five weeks and then another two weeks when the pain in his lower leg and ankle continued to haunt him.

Secondly, Harris has had to assimilate himself back into a Magic team already in place. When he posted his stellar scoring and rebounding numbers a year ago, Harris did so while Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis was out the second-half of the season and guards Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo missed long stretches because of injuries.

For various reasons, Harris has had to battle to form some sort of consistency this season. He’s averaged 11.2 points and 6.5 rebounds over 13 games, nine of which he has started. He’s shooting just 38.3 percent from the floor and 17.1 percent from 3-point range.

In some ways, Harris said he’s still in a feeling out process with this Magic team.

Harris was highly upset with his performance on Monday in Los Angeles against the Clippers, a game where he missed eight of nine shots and scored just two points in 31 minutes. He said he will be focused on bouncing back tonight when the Magic (10-24) against the Portland Trail Blazers (26-9).

``It’s just a matter of bouncing back from a game like (Monday) night and playing with more energy and more fire,’’ Harris said. ``I have to trust the work that I put in. The last game is probably one of the worst games that I’ve ever played in. Now it’s about bouncing back and growing from there.’’

Harris has had promising starts to games of late, scoring 10 and 11 points in the first half against Cleveland and Miami. Much of it goes back to Harris’ willingness to sprint back on the fastbreak and desire to get easy buckets in transition.

But Harris’ second-half production has fallen off of late, and much of it has to do with him going long stretches without getting the ball and in inability to find consistency with his outside shot. Much of the scoreless stretches go back to Harris having to fit in with Afflalo, Nelson and Davis and find shots wherever and whenever he can. For a rhythm shooter, that sometimes is a chore.

``It’s a little tough, but that’s the nature of basketball,’’ Harris said. ``I still have to be able to be aggressive out there and still get to my spots and my shots. I have to still play with a lot of energy and focus on other things.’’

The Magic began their five-game, 10-day road trip on a sour note Monday night with a 101-81 loss to the Clippers. Up next is a Blazers team that has been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season. Portland entered last night a game out of first place in the rugged Western Conference, but it lost in Sacramento.
From Portland, the Magic also play in Sacramento (Friday), Denver (Saturday) and Dallas (Monday) on this trip.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has done his best to try and jump-star the offensive production of Harris, calling the first play of the game for the small forward on Monday in Los Angeles. Vaughn has also stressed to Harris to not focus so much on his touches and to try and do other things to create opportunities. Running the floor is an area where Harris excels and he is arguably Orlando’s hardest runner on all-out sprints.

``There has to be a balance of the player, whoever it may be, not pressing and letting the game give them the shots that become available. Then, if I see mismatches, I’ll take advantage of that (with a play call),’’ Vaughn said. ``I think I called (Harris’) play the first last game. What you don’t want to do is get in a place where you are stressing and putting too much strain on an individual. One of the great things about the game is that the ball will find the right people. If he continues to believe that and play the game the right way, over time good things will happen.’’