Denton: Afflalo to Return Tonight

By John Denton
February 8, 2013

CLEVELAND – Slowly, but surely, the Orlando Magic’s veteran-laden backcourt is taking shape again with players returning to health. And when Arron Afflalo joins Jameer Nelson in the starting lineup tonight, the Magic are hoping it pushes them closer to being victorious again.

Orlando got Nelson back on Wednesday following an injury and tonight Afflalo will play for the first time after missing six games with a calf strain. A third member of Orlando’s high-scoring backcourt, J.J. Redick, will miss his third straight game with a sore right shoulder, but the return of Afflalo should help the Magic (14-35) tremendously when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers (15-34).

``I’m excited. I had a chance to sit back and watch a little bit and get healthy. Now hopefully I can get back and provide a certain spark that will get things moving in a positive direction,’’ Afflalo said Friday morning. ``I’m just trying to provide that extra `oomph’ on either end of the court. But the guys have been doing a great job of maintaining and fighting despite all of the injuries.’’

Generating offense has been quite difficult of late with Nelson, Redick and Afflalo out of the lineup. The Magic shot just 33.8 percent and scored only 61 points in Monday’s loss in Philadelphia. Nelson helped the Magic scored 76 points with a big first half on Wednesday, but Orlando still made just 34.5 percent of its shots. And in those two games, Orlando has hit on just seven of 32 3-pointers.

Afflalo, Orlando’s leading scorer at 16.7 points per game, should help provide more firepower on the offensive end of the floor. He’s shooting 44.2 percent from the floor and 34.6 percent from the 3-point line. Remarkably, over his six-year NBA career Afflalo has raised his scoring average five times in a row. It’s the same thing he did during his three years at UCLA when his scoring average climbed each season.

``The offensive side of basketball is a big part of the game and that’s where most of the stats are taken. So for me, it’s my way of expressing that I’m becoming a better player,’’ Afflalo said. ``It’s my way to show that I’m going to be a better player. Hopefully, it’s not just in the scoring area and I continue to get to higher levels defensively, higher levels of leadership and higher levels of winning.’’

Afflalo did have a big impact on the team while he was out, encouraging rookie small forward Maurice Harkless to become a more aggressive and confident player. Twice last week, Harkless set new career highs in scoring and he also had career-bests in rebounds (14) and steals (four) last Saturday night in Milwaukee.

``I’m very happy with him the past two to three games. It’s not all about the numbers; it’s the confidence,’’ Afflalo said of the way Harkless has played of late. ``The knowing that you can get out there and compete at a high level, regardless of whether you are a rookie or in your sixth year, is huge. Hopefully when I come back now, he keeps that confidence. It’s same thing that Nik, Kyle, Andrew and Ish have gained. Those things carry over and stick forever.’’

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