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Magic vs. Pacers preview: The debut of Gary Harris

The veteran shooting guard is set to join the rebuilding Magic

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The departures and debuts continue for the Orlando Magic.

Friday’s game against the Pacers marks the first game of the post-Khem Birch era, and the first game of the Gary Harris era.

The veteran shooting guard, who has been out since mid-February with an adductor strain, is set to make his Magic debut after being acquired in the Aaron Gordon deal at the trade deadline.

The 26-year-old could be the perfect offensive complement to the Magic’s young backcourt, and with one year and nearly $21 million remaining on his contract for the 2021-2022 season (when he is slated to be the rebuilding Magic’s highest paid player), he has plenty to prove. With his 3-and-D ability, he could receive plenty of opportunities to prove it.

Harris’ production has steadily declined amid injuries since he had a career year during the 2017-2018 season, averaging a personal-best 17.5 points per game. Harris is a career 35.9 percent shooter from deep, but over the course of his two peak seasons (2016-2017 and 2017-2018), he shot 40.5 percent on 5.2 attempts from deep per game.

Harris played in only 19 games this season with the Nuggets, averaging 9.7 points while shooting 32 percent from three in 30.6 minutes per, the lowest numbers since his rookie year in 2014-2015. He has been something of a corner-three specialist is his limited playing time this season, shooting 47.1 percent from that area, with over 45 percent of his three-point attempts being launched from the corner spots.

Steve Clifford’s newest juggling act, with the departure of Birch clearing the way for Mo Bamba (coming off a career-high 19-point performance) to serve as the clear backup center to Wendell Carter Jr., will be how he balances the playing time of Harris and Michael Carter-Williams while trying to develop younger backcourt players like Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton, both 20 years old. Harris, at 6-foot-4, got considerable playing time at small forward over the first four seasons of his career, with 49 percent of his playing time spent at the three during his career-year in 2017-2018, per Basketball Reference’s position estimate.

Either way, it will be interesting to see what Harris adds to a Magic team that is approaching the full strength version of its 2020-2021 self after Anthony made his return from a 25-game absence in Wednesday’s loss to the Wizards. Only Otto Porter Jr. and Karim Mane are listed as out on the Magic injury report.

They’ll take on a shorthanded Pacers team that is could be without its two leading scorers in All-Star Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon (both listed as questionable), as well as Myles Turner (out). Without that trio on Wednesday, the Pacers still dropped a season-high 141 points on the Timberwolves, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field behind some efficient outside shooting by the Holiday brothers, Justin and Aaron, who combined to go 9 of 12 from deep.

The Pacers are middle of the pack in both offensive rating (111.0, 16th) and defensive rating (111.4, 14th), and sit a game out of the eighth spot.

The Magic have lost three in a row, and 16 of their last 20, and currently sit just 1.5 games ahead of the Pistons for the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Who: Orlando Magic (17-34) vs. Indiana Pacers (23-27)

When: Friday at 7 p.m.

Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida

TV: Bally Sports Florida