Denton: Tough Challenge Tonight for Afflalo

Arron Afflalo

By John Denton
March 18, 2014

OAKLAND – It usually doesn’t take much to get the competitive juices of Arron Afflalo flowing, but the challenge ahead the next two nights for the Orlando Magic will certainly do the trick.

Tonight in Oakland against high-powered Golden State, Afflalo will be chasing stellar shooters Steph Curry and Klay Thompson around screens and he’ll be asked to provide offense against defensive ace Andre Iguodala. And on Wednesday in Phoenix, Afflalo will be matched up at times with elite guard Goran Dragic and he’ll be facing another team in the playoff mix.

For Afflalo, who has admittedly struggled at times with the Magic being out of the playoff hunt, such matchups excite him greatly and give him purpose.

``At this point in the season it’s about getting those competitive juices going and trying to get better every night,’’ Afflalo said. ``I want to have fun playing in the game, playing in a great environment and going against (Golden State’s) great guards on their perimeter. For me, it will be a fun night and I’ll be ready to play.’’

The Magic (19-48) should also be ready to play after having three days without a game. The team practiced in Orlando on Sunday and spent most of Monday flying to the West Coast. The Magic will be at full strength tonight and they will have center Nikola Vucevic, who slightly sprained his ankle in Friday’s overtime loss to Washington.

Golden State and Phoenix are the first two opponents on the Magic’s four-game, seven-day trip to the West Coast. The Warriors (42-36) are in the sixth spot in the rugged West, but they have just a slim lead over Dallas (41-27) and Memphis (39-27). Phoenix (38-29) has been the surprise story of the season and trails the final playoff slot by 1½ games.

Afflalo started the season well and made a strong push to make his first all-star team with some of the best shooting of his NBA career. He missed a week with an ankle injury and an illness, knocking him out of rhythm and playing a role in him averaging just 17.8 points and shooting 41.4 percent over the last 10 games.

Still, Afflalo is in the midst of a career year, averaging all-time highs in scoring (19.5 points), rebounds (3.9) and assists (3.6). He’s also shooting a stellar 42.7 percent from beyond the 3-point stripe – the second-best shooting season of his career. He is on line to raise his scoring average for a seventh straight season – something only one other player (Derek Harper with eight) has done to start a NBA career.

Afflalo won a state title in high school, took UCLA to two Finals Fours in college and made the playoffs during his first five NBA seasons. Being out of the postseason hunt again this year is crushing to him, but he’s pushed through and been determined to finish strong because he wants to be a leader for Orlando’s gaggle of young players. And games like these – tonight against the Warriors and Wednesday versus the Suns – make it easier for Afflalo to lock in and play with playoff-like intensity.

``Just competing against good teams that are competing for playoff position allows you to get the feel of big games,’’ Afflalo said. ``It’s not so much about trying to knock them out, but it’s still fun for me to play the game and play competitive games like this. I look forward to this back-to-back of games, for sure.’’