Denton: Afflalo, Magic Hope to Have Continued Success in L.A.

By John Denton
Jan. 5, 2014

LOS ANGELES – Arron Afflalo loves L.A. So, too, do his Orlando Magic teammates thanks to events that transpired in Southern California last season.
Twice last season, the Magic headed to Los Angeles down and with significant losing streaks in tow. And twice, the Magic responded with some of their best basketball of the season, resulting in stirring victories for the ball club.

Both times, the victories were sparked by Afflalo, a Los Angeles native who always enjoys the comfort and convenience of being back at home. In wins against the Lakes and Clippers in Staples Center, Afflalo was aggressive and locked in while pouring in 30 points in each game. Just the mention of performances that took place near where he grew up brings a bright, toothy smile to the veteran shooting guard’s face.

``I wish I could somehow mentally have that feel that I’m home every day,’’ Afflalo said with a wistful chuckle. ``But the reality is that this is your job and you travel to different environments and different places. But L.A. is just a very fun place to play, even if I wasn’t from there.’’

The Magic (10-23) hope to have fun in Los Angeles once again on Monday night when they face the Clippers (23-13). For the Magic, it’s the start of a five-game road trip that will span all of part of 10 days. After playing in Los Angeles on Monday – opposite college football’s BCS National Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn in nearby Pasadena – Orlando will play in Portland (Wednesday), Sacramento (Friday), Denver (Saturday) and Dallas (Monday).

Orlando has lost three games in a row after dropping a home game to the Miami Heat on Saturday night. The Magic also head West having lost nine straight games against teams from the Western Conference.

``It’s getting back to that point again where we just want to win,’’ Afflalo said. ``Regardless of any and everything, we just want a win. The taste of winning – it gets annoying a little bit when you keep leaving these games with losses. I don’t care if it’s a late-game loss or a blowout, I’m just tired of moving on to the next game with losses. You have to because it’s a long season, but we just want to win.’’

The Magic were in similarly dire straits last season when they headed to Los Angeles twice early in the season. Orlando went to L.A. last December riding a three-game losing streak, but emerged with an emotional 113-103 defeat of Dwight Howard and the Lakers. Then, in January, the Magic were in the midst of another frustrating skid, but found success against the Clippers in the form of a 104-101 victory.

``Those were fun and Arron had big games out there for us,’’ Magic captain Jameer Nelson said. ``We grinded the game against the Clippers out. And I know that game against the Lakers was a little emotional for certain guys for playing against Dwight – call it what it is. We’ve got to go out there now and stick together. That’s all we have on the road – each other.’’

Orlando played arguably its finest game of this season on Nov. 6 when it whipped the high-powered Clippers 98-90 at the Amway Center. Magic center Nikola Vucevic dominated his matchups against DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin by scoring 30 points and grabbing 21 rebounds – the fifth game of his career with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds.

The Magic have been without Vucevic because of a sprained ankle each of the past two games – both losses. In fact, they are 0-6 this season when Vucevic has been unable to play and they lost badly last Tuesday to Golden State when the 7-footer left the game in the first quarter. The hope is that Vucevic will be ready to go in time for Monday night’s game because his loss causes a domino effect on the roster.

``Whether it’s rotations, whether it’s the different positions we have to fill throughout the course of the night or whether it’s searching for an opportunity to get a mismatch in our favor or whether it’s the rebounding – a lot goes into it when a big part of your team is missing,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said.

Without Vucevic serving as a threat in the low post, teams have taken more liberties at trapping Afflalo to get the ball out of his hands. The shooting guard is in the midst of a career year, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and 3-point shooting, so teams have targeted him with traps and defensive shifts his way.

After a streak of five straight games in which he had at least 20 points and shot at least 50 percent from the floor and 3-point line, Afflalo’s efficiency has dipped dramatically the last two games. He made just five of 16 shots and missed all five of his 3-pointers while scoring 16 points on Saturday against the Heat. Afflalo said he’s still trying to figure out ways to beat defenses that overplay on him to take him out of the Magic offense.

``I still have to hit my available shots and I had some looks (on Saturday) that I should have made,’’ Afflalo said. ``The defense had a lot of focus on me, but I still have to make the shots that I take. I just need to heighten my concentration. I have to get my efficiency back up. I haven’t shot better than 50 percent the past two games and we haven’t won those games either. So it will be in the best interest of the team if I’ll heighten my focus a little bit.’’

Afflalo’s concentration was certainly dialed in last year in Los Angeles. In the win against the Lakers, he made 11 of 18 shots, four of eight 3-points shots and all four of his free throws for 40 points. He was a plus-15 in his 40 minutes on the floor and keyed a massive Magic run in the fourth quarter for the victory.

In the win against the Clippers last January, Afflalo hit another 10 of 19 shots and all three of his 3-pointers. And he supplemented his 30 points with seven rebounds and seven assists to key another Magic victory.

Afflalo, who has boosted his scoring average all seven of his years in the NBA, said much of his work ethic as a player was shaped during his formative years in Los Angeles. He grew up with the dream of playing in the NBA, and he made it happen by improving steadily each year while in college at UCLA and then in the NBA.

Now, Afflalo is excited about heading back to his hometown and is hopeful that he can deliver another big performance in Los Angeles. He knows that his home area played a major role in the player that he is today, and maybe that’s why he’s so relaxed and confident playing there.

``(Growing up in L.A.) shaped my personality a little bit because of some of the guys that I looked up to,’’ Afflalo said of his hometown. ``Where you grow up can shape your character a little bit in terms of the edge that you can have on the court. I am who I am, but I don’t think all L.A. guys are the same.’’