By John Denton Jan. 18, 2018
CLEVELAND – Orlando Magic forward Arron Afflalo was suspended two games on Thursday by the NBA for his role in Tuesday’s mid-game fight with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica.
Afflalo, 32, hoped that his solid track record off the court and in his 11 seasons in the NBA would soften his suspension, but the league ultimately decided that his actions – two wild swings at Bjelica’s head –warranted a two-game suspension.
``We don’t ever want our guys to be throwing punches, but dust-ups happen in the NBA and pro sports and it’s an unfortunate part of the game,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``But I like the competitive spirit that he played with the other night and we’ll miss him in the lineup.’’
The Magic didn’t find out about the suspension until just before 5 p.m. on Thursday – a little more two hours prior to tipoff against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Afflalo will miss Thursday’s game and he was not allowed inside of Quicken Loans Arena during the game. A Magic spokesman said that Afflalo will not appeal the suspension, meaning he will also miss the Magic’s game on Sunday afternoon game in Boston against the Celtics.
Afflalo and Minnesota’s Bjelica were ejected with 7:28 left in Tuesday’s second quarter after a brief, but wild fracas. The two players were hit with double technical fouls 30 seconds into the second quarter when Afflalo accidentally hit the Timberwolves’ forward in the face on a drive to the basket. Bjelica confronted Afflalo and responded with some nose-to-nose trash talk.
Several minutes later, Afflalo attempted to box out a hard-charging Bjelica with a chuck and the two players then collided another time. The usually mild-mannered Afflalo then swung wildly with his right arm, hitting Bjelica in the back of the head and neck. The much-bigger Bjelica got Afflalo in a headlock before referees and security personnel ultimately got the two players separated.
Afflalo, who has averaged 3.0 points in 35 games this season, apologized to his Magic teammates following the squad’s defeat of Minnesota on Tuesday night and he was contrite on Wednesday when discussing the fight.
``It’s an unfortunate incident and just competitive nature and an isolated incident within a particular play,’’ a remorseful Afflalo said on Wednesday.
Vogel said playing without Afflalo will likely mean more playing time for D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack at the shooting guard position.
``Shelvin Mack is a deserving player and we’ll use him some off the bench at the shooting guard position or use him at the point and let D.J. play some at (shooting guard),’’ Vogel said. ``(Augustin) is someone who has earned the right to play more than he’s playing and he’ll have an opportunity now.’’
LINEUP CHANGE: Back on Nov. 27, when Vogel made a change to the Orlando Magic’s lineup, moving Jonathon Simmons into the starting five, the shuffling was done primarily to find a way to get more shots for guard Terrence Ross.
At the time, Vogel rationalized that too often Ross was ``getting lost’’ on the offensive end while playing with Orlando’s top three leading scorers – Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic. Playing Ross with the second unit, Vogel figured, would give him more opportunities to be in a primary scoring role.
Vogel is once again contemplating a lineup change, but this time it involves Simmons, who has struggled much of the past month while getting fewer chances in the starting five. Vogel kept Simmons in the starting lineup on Thursday in Cleveland, but the coach hinted recently that a change could be coming.
Simmons, who is enjoying his finest NBA season in his first year in Orlando, came into Thursday averaging just 8.3 points on 8.0 shots and 35.4 percent shooting in six games in January. In 15 games in December, Simmons got 14.7 shots a game on average and he scored 15.8 points a night while connecting on 43.9 percent of his tries.
Simmons was a reserve in his first two NBA seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and he was used off the bench in his first 19 games with the Magic. Now, Vogel is wondering if a change into that role might be beneficial.
``I absolutely do (think he gets lost in the starting lineup) and we’ve just got to figure out a way to get him either more involved or involved in a better way,’’ Vogel said. ``Maybe we can get him back in with the second unit more. But that (lack of involvement) is part of his struggles.’’
T-ROSS IS BACK: For NBA players, an often-overlooked aspect of suffering a major injury is the isolation that comes from being away from teammates and out of the usual routine of games, practices, shoot-around sessions and bus rides together.
Even though he was still able to communicate with his teammates via a group chat, Ross admitted that he struggled with being away from the Magic after spraining his right knee on Nov. 29. Ross suffered a sprained MCL and a non-displaced fracture of his tibial plateau following a hard landing on a layup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Finally to the point where he could shed his crutches and heavy knee brace, Ross rejoined the Magic on the bench for Tuesday’s defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Also, he is once again travelling with the team and will be in Cleveland and Boston.
``It’s fun to be back with the guys and at least be back in the swing of things travelling again,’’ Ross said. ``We have a big group chat that’s called `It’s just us,’ and the coaches don’t even know. But we’re always chatting and talking about anything funny that happened.’’
Ross, who averaged 9.0 points and 3.2 rebounds in 22 games, said his knee is feeling better and he hopes to be back running in the near future.
``I’m so happy to have no crutches and I took walking around for granted,’’ Ross said. ``It’s good (walking) and (the knee) feels good, too. Really, it’s just walking right now and I’ve got to take it slow, but hopefully in a couple of weeks I can start jogging and then progressively speed up. But it’s just about taking it step by step now.’’
UP NEXT: Orlando planned to fly to Boston after Thursday night’s game and it will have a couple of days to prepare for the Celtics prior to Sunday’s afternoon game. The Magic are scheduled to be off on Friday and practice on Saturday prior to facing the Celtics at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Orlando has dropped its last six games and 20 of 25 against the Celtics. Two of those losses have come this season.
The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Tuesday when they host the Sacramento Kings.
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