The week of center reunions continues for the Orlando Magic.
Two days after squaring off against former center Nikola Vucevic, the Magic now take on his former backup Khem Birch.
Birch, after being a more than competent backup with his high-energy, high-IQ, high-aggression style of play, was waived on April 8, giving him an opportunity to get a larger role elsewhere before becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer, while also clearing a path to more playing time for Mo Bamba in Orlando.
The Canada native quickly signed on with the Toronto Raptors (currently the Tampa Bay Raptors), who trail the Bulls by one game for the 10th spot. Shortly after, Birch was thanking the Magic for the “opportunity of a lifetime” and then, shortly after that, was saying he was stuck in a “box” in Orlando.
“I was in a box in Orlando. Not to be disrespectful, but when I went there, I was raw, and I guess that’s what they expected of me.” - Khem Birch.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 15, 2021
That comment didn’t sit well with some of Magic Twitter coming from an undrafted player who’s minutes gradually increased, who got opportunities to both start and play at power forward, and who began incorporating the three-point shot into his repertoire this season, despite connecting on just 21.7 percent of his 0.5 attempts per (a grand total of four makes).
Nevertheless, in his first start with the Raptors on Wednesday, Birch matched a career-high of 14 points in 29 minutes. He went 6 of 9 from the field, matching the second most shots he’s taken in a game this season behind the 15 shots he got the day after the trade deadline for the shorthanded Magic. He has scored in double figures in two of three games for the Raptors, while doing so just five times in 48 games for the Magic this season.
Keeping Up With The Canadians— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) April 15, 2021
Khem Birch | vs. San Antonio
2 BLOCKS#WeTheNorth | @Raptors pic.twitter.com/R10tbZfRQj
Still, Birch said he will have all the feels when he plays against his former team and teammates. And he did give the organization its proper due.
“It’s going to be emotional, I feel like,” Birch told reporters. “Orlando’s all I knew before I got here. Without Orlando, I wouldn’t even be here.”
As for the Magic, they are coming off their best all-around performance since the trade, upsetting Vucevic and the Bulls by correcting the issues that had hampered them during their six-game losing streak: outside shooting, rebounding and overall defense.
“We had 48 deflections, which just shows effort into the ball, the ball pressure,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game.
The defense will have to do a better job this time around against Fred VanVleet, who torched the Magic for a career-high 54 points and 11 three-pointers in the Raptors win in February. VanVleet is expected to make his return after being out since April 5 with a hip flexor injury.
It could be a tough assignment for Cole Anthony, who is expected to be back in the starting lineup with Michael Carter-Williams listed as out with an ankle injury. The Magic, who signed Devin Cannady to a two-way contract, also could be without Bamba (hip) and Otto Porter Jr. (foot), who are both questionable.
The Raptors are expected to be without Pascal Siakam (rest) , Kyle Lowry (injury) and OG Anunoby (rest), while DeAndre Bembry and Gary Trent are listed as questionable.
Who: Orlando Magic (18-37) at Toronto Raptors (22-34)
When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Amalie Arena - Tampa, Florida
TV: Bally Sports Florida