ORLANDO, Fla. — “You definitely move on. But you don’t forget.”
No, that wasn’t what Tracy McGrady said Friday night before the Orlando Magic’s home opener in a veiled reference to John Weisbrod, the former general manager who clearly won’t be part of any of the franchise’s 25th anniversary festivities.
That quote came from Arron Afflalo, the guard who put on a shooting display which was downright McGrady-like at times to help the Magic post their largest margin of victory in more than a year.
Afflalo’s conscience wouldn’t let him forget what happened Wednesday night toward the end of regulation against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was not the potential game-winning jump shot that he missed that bothered him most. Rather, it was what he called “a horrible defensive mistake” which allowed Kevin Love to spring free and nail a 3-pointer when it appeared the Magic had salted that game away.
“I take a lot of that stuff personal sometimes,” Afflalo said after his game-high 30 points enabled the Magic to hand the New Orleans Pelicans a 110-90 loss. “So I thought it was important that not only do I come to play tonight but (to) make sure that we win.”
When coach Jacque Vaughn took him out for good with 3:52 remaining, the seventh-year pro was only two points shy of matching his career high. Yes, Afflalo wasn’t even halfway to the franchise single-game scoring record of 62 points set by McGrady in 2004. But chances are T-Mac never had a 10-of-14 night in which even his one missed 3-pointer in five attempts looked as if it was about to go down.
“He had no qualms or any reservations that he would be ready to play tonight,” Vaughn said. “And that’s what guys who have been there and done that before do. They respond the next night. And you realize you still earn your pay, you still lead your group, and you still come to play.”
For as hard as Afflalo was on himself, it might be easy to overlook that he finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists at Minnesota. The Magic will be happy to get that sort of production from him on a semi-regular basis.
“Yeah, it’s three games. But I worked extremely hard this summer hoping to be a better player this year,” he said. “Outside of opening night (when he went 3 of 14 at Indiana), I just have that expectation to play well every single night.”
Afflalo’s rebounding numbers against the Pelicans weren’t that great. But in an example of doing the things that don’t show up in the box score, Vaughn was pleased with the play of the guards in that area because it meant center Nikola Vucevic didn’t need to battle for every loose ball by himself.
“Our biggest emphasis is just rebounding,” Afflalo said. “Nik was such a huge rebounder for us last year. But now the plan for us is having the guards help contribute to that and limit second-chance points.”
Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson and especially Maurice Harkless have improved so much since their arrivals in Orlando that Afflalo no longer finds himself the object of repeated double-teams with the shot clock about to expire.
“It’s just their added confidence, their added aggression,” he said. “Sometimes in this game, a team knows you’re getting the ball and they know you’re going to shoot the ball, and it becomes more and more difficult. But when you have a good team and five guys who are contributing, it kind of loosens up everything for everyone.”
Harkless had a truly forgettable night against the Timberwolves. But his level of aggression was noticeable to Vaughn over the course of a 20-point showing to complement Afflalo.
“That’s the mindset and the attitude every player has to have each night,” Vaughn said. “There are no nights off, unfortunately.”
This particular night, the Magic couldn’t have been more on.