Tobias Harris started this basketball season with high hopes, both for the Orlando Magic and for himself. He thought the Magic could win more games than they did the year before. Individually, he wanted to earn a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
But something happened along the way that Harris never expected, and it has jeopardized both of those objectives. On Oct. 20, he suffered a high-ankle sprain, and the injury forced him to miss over a month's worth of games.
Although he played in his first game of the season Sunday night, Harris now must overcome additional obstacles. He has to knock off the rust that accumulated during his absence, and he has to carve out a niche for himself at the same time as he attempts to build chemistry with his teammates.
"That's the nature of the game," Harris said. "We're going to have to adapt to different things that are going on during the season."
Harris' return, as well as Glen Davis' return one game earlier, coincided with a rough stretch for the Magic.
Orlando now has lost seven of its last eight games.
Making matters worse, a difficult matchup looms Tuesday night against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. The Magic have lost 11 consecutive regular-season games to the Hawks and haven't won a regular-season game in Atlanta since Nov. 26, 2009, almost four years ago.
As the Magic try to regain some traction, Harris must adapt to a relatively new situation and to a few unfamiliar teammates.
He appeared in just 27 games for Orlando last season after the team acquired him in a mid-February trade, and guards Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo sat out many of those games because of injuries. Harris also hasn't played much with Magic rookie guard Victor Oladipo and has played alongside Davis just once — in Sunday night's loss to the Phoenix Suns.
"A lot of it is getting to know those guys," Harris said. "But I love playing with Glen. He's a great teammate and he brings a lot of energy. He wants to win more than anybody on our team. So, just to be out there with him is going to help my game, and I'm going to help his game also."
Harris is a gifted scorer who averaged 17.3 points per game after his trade to Orlando.
But, as with most young players, a few question marks surround the 21-year-old's game.
Can Harris make the teammates around him better on offense?
Last season, he attempted 19.6 shot attempts per 48 minutes — the third-highest average on the Magic, trailing only Davis and Al Harrington.
And, defensively, is he better-suited to guard power forwards or better-suited to guard small forwards? Fairly or unfairly, the knock on Harris is that he's not strong enough to defend power forwards and not quick enough to defend small forwards.
In his injury-abbreviated preseason, Harris logged most of his time at small forward.
But Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said he envisions Harris playing at both spots.
"We'll see how our rhythm is," Vaughn said. "Once we get everyone completely healthy, we'll have to find a balance of both units, and it could be him playing three [small forward] or four [power forward]."
Right now, Harris is most concerned about regaining his rhythm.
He sounded optimistic after he played in his first game.
An All-Star berth for this season likely is out of the question now, but the Magic still have plenty of time to win more games.
"We play with a lot of passion night-in and night-out," Harris said. "If we continue to do that with everybody back on this stretch of games that we have, it'll be good to get more wins."
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