ORLANDO, Fla. — Arron Afflalo was hot. Ronnie Price was Hot Rod Hundley.
Hundley, the onetime journeyman for the Los Angeles Lakers who parlayed his gift for gab into a lengthy broadcasting career, once made this tongue-in-cheek observation: “My biggest thrill came the night Elgin Baylor and I combined for 73 points at Madison Square Garden. Elgin had 71 of them.”
Price is far more soft-spoken than droll, and the Amway Center isn’t known as the world’s most famous arena. But while Afflalo established a career high with 36 points as the Orlando Magic defeated the undermanned Milwaukee Bucks 94-91, the contributions of the backup 30-year-old guard who was signed as a free agent during the summer went well beyond the two points he scored.
With coach Jacque Vaughn deciding early on to play small ball, Price came up big. And a player whose name often doesn’t appear in the box score gave the Magic a boost in areas which could and couldn’t be seen in the box score.
“He’s an unbelievable professional,” Vaughn said. “He’s great to have in the locker room. It’s great for me to see him every day. His approach every day doesn’t change. We talk about consistency. I told the guys after the game he had no idea he was going to play. He worked out before the game to get his conditioning in, and he does that every game in preparation. He was in tune with the scouting report, in film this afternoon. He was ready to play.”
Price played almost the entire second quarter and was on the floor to open the second half instead of Jason Maxiell, the Magic’s usual starting power forward. When the fourth quarter began, Vaughn had a lineup of 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic and four guards, all non-starters — Price, Victor Oladipo, E’Twaun Moore and Doron Lamb.
Price ended up logging more minutes than Oladipo or Moore and chipping in with seven rebounds, two assists, a steal, a blocked shot and several floor burns.
“You never know when this game can be taken away from you,” he said. “Every opportunity that I get to play basketball, I’ll play as hard as I can and try to enjoy the game.”
That enjoyment included watching Afflalo go 7 of 9 from 3-point range following a first half in which he got off only four shots and the Magic trailed by as many as 19 points.
“Every time he took a shot when I was on the floor, they were going in,” Price said. “It was maybe after the third or fourth one that I realized, ‘Man, Arron’s really shooting the ball tonight, so we’ve got to find him.'”
Considering Afflalo was leading the Magic in scoring with a 19.5-point average going into the game, it was somewhat baffling that it took so long for him to get into a shooting rhythm.
“I noticed in the first half that every time Jameer (Nelson) got into the paint, every time Victor got into the paint, every time that Nik touched the ball, they were kind of conditioned to sink in and help,” he said. “So I had a lot of open looks.”
Vucevic was on the receiving end of an assist from Afflalo which resulted in a game-clinching dunk with 9.2 seconds to go. That play might have made Afflalo happier than any of the eight 3-pointers he made in all.
“I’ve had a few games like that where, late in the game, I’d turn the ball over being indecisive,” he said. “So I knew late in the game that I would draw a lot of attention. I had made up my mind to either go get fouled or, when I saw all the defenders come over, I knew Nik would be wide open.”
It’s only nine games into an 82-game schedule, but it’s hard not to be impressed with Afflalo’s accomplishments to begin his second season with the Magic.
“I do feel like there’s much more I can do,” he said. “There’s much more growth in my game. Nights like tonight are a good confidence boost, but I’m at a stage where I’m worried about Saturday now.”
Maybe it’s the Dallas Mavericks, the Magic’s next opponent, who should be worried about him.