Denton: Harris Continues to Play Through Ankle Pain

By John Denton
Jan. 13, 2014

DALLAS – Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris said that he’s still coming to grips with the fact that an ankle injury that delayed and damped his season might be with him until the offseason.

Harris is almost three months removed from the high ankle sprain that he suffered in a preseason game against the Detroit Pistons, but he admitted recently that he still has to play through pain every night. Harris said that the injury has robbed him of some of his explosiveness and confidence, but he is trying to find other ways to work through the lingering pain in his lower leg and ankle.

``It took a big toll on me, but I’m still fighting through pain in my ankle day-in and day-out and every game,’’ Harris said as his ankle was dunked into a tub of ice water. ``It’s just probably going to be a thing that’s going to last all year. The days I do get off, it’s beneficial for me to rest my body. You know, I just have to keep fighting. I’m a fighter and I’m tough. I’ll deal with this all season and continue to find my niche out there on the floor.’’

The Magic (10-27) certainly need Harris at full strength if they hope to beat the Mavericks (22-16) in Dallas and end their seven-game losing streak. Orlando will once again be without leading scorer Arron Afflalo because of a strained foot and point guard Jammer Nelson (sore finger) and Maurice Harkless (sore knee) are game-time decisions because of minor injuries.

The loss of Afflalo further weakens a Magic team that is already without standout center Nikola Vucevic (concussion) and Ronnie Price (sinus infection). The Magic have yet to win on their five-game road trip, losing to the Clippers, Blazers, Kings and Nuggets.

``It’s a great teaching lesson for us that we aren’t whole,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of his team being short-handed. ``We have to be able to cut down on turnovers, not have as many breakdowns and being more focused and detailed on every possession. That’s tough to do. But you can’t have that one out of five possessions where you had a little relaxation. We need concentration and focus five out of five possessions.’’

Through 16 games of action, Harris is averaging 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds – down from the 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds that he averaged in 27 games with the Magic last season after he was acquired in a February trade. Of issue with Harris are his shooting percentages from the floor (40 percent) and 3-point line (20.4 percent) – numbers he blames, in part, to lacking explosion in his ankle to beat defenders off the dribble.

Harris missed five weeks after severely spraining his ankle on Oct. 20 in a preseason game. He came back for one game, hurt the ankle again and was on the shelf for another two-plus weeks. He said he never knows from game to game how the ankle will react and the level of pain that he will have to deal with during games.

``It’s still a work in progress, but it’s getting back,’’ Harris said of the ankle. ``Each and every game I have to adjust how I’m playing.’’

Vaughn likes that Harris is willing to play through the pain and be there for his teammates. The coach knows there is a difference between being injured and being hurt, and he’s proud of the fight that his versatile forward is showing in less than ideal circumstances.

``The great thing is he’s trying to be out there on the floor for his team,’’ Vaughn said. ``No one at this point is playing at a 100 percent level. You play through some pain and you give him credit for being on the floor for his teammates – if he can.’’

Harris will have his work cut out for him against Dallas all-star power forward Dirk Nowitzki, who is coming off a 40-point game on Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans. He has four 30-point games this season – all of them resulting in Mavericks wins – and 22 20-point games. ``It’s going to be a good challenge for me,’’ Harris said. ``He’s a stretch four who can pretty much do it all. It’s the type of matchup that I embrace. I’ll just go in and play my hardest and hopefully lead my team to a victory.’’