MAGIC

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS MONDAY - [email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com

not show it, but he's a big part of that [Mi­ami] game,” Clif­ford said. “They all love playing with him. He's such a good screener and he knows what's go­ing on, and he's playing a po­si­tion he hadn't even prac­ticed un­til this morn­ing. He makes us big in there and phys­i­cal.

“Khem's smart, and he brings a phys­i­cal­ity, a rim pro­tec­tion and a screen­ing as­pect to our team that helps every­body play bet­ter.”

For­ward Aaron Gor­don agreed.

“He does his job very well, he doesn't com­plain, the ball doesn't stick, he looks [for team­mates] and he's a smart bas­ket­ball player at the end of the day,” Gor­don said. “He knows how to play the game and so he's very fun to play with.”

For his part, Birch knows what his role is. He takes pride in his phys­i­cal play, es­pe­cially when it comes to set­ting screens and free­ing up team­mates for shots.

“I love it. I just love go­ing in; love to sac­ri­fice,” Birch said. “Some­times I don't score. My stat line some­times is not good, but as long as we win and my team­mates, like T-Ross and Evan, get open shots, I'm fine with that. As long as we win, I'm happy.”

Step­ping in when­ever he's needed and giv­ing the Magic pro­duc­tion is noth­ing new for Birch. He played a key role last sea­son when re­serve cen­ter Mo Bamba missed the fi­nal 30 reg­u­lar-sea­son games with a leg in­jury.

The Magic cer­tainly will need more pro­duc­tion from Birch with Isaac and re­serve for­ward Al-Farouq Aminu out with knee in­juries.

Fournier said Birch's con­tri­bu­tions have been and con­tinue to be in­valu­able to the team.

“The best part about

Khem is re­ally he's the only big we have that does the dirty work like that. He em­braces it and he's happy to do it, and he's elite at it,” Fournier said. “Last year, when we made that run, he was a huge part of it. Like when we set those pickand-rolls, I love to see Khem just com­ing full speed, just set­ting a good screen and rolling. He brings it ev­ery night. That's ex­tremely valu­able to have some­one of that type night in and night out.”

Clif­ford plans to con­tinue mix­ing up the start­ing for­ward spots to match the op­po­nent, us­ing Birch against big­ger line­ups (like Fri­day against the Heat) and Wes Iwundu against smaller ones (like Satur­day against the Jazz). Gor­don will move into the power for­ward spot when Iwundu starts.

Birch and the Magic (16-20) will con­tinue a fourgame home­s­tand on Mon­day against the Brook­lyn Nets (16-18).

Af­ter get­ting to 15-12 with an over­time win against New Or­leans, Brook­lyn has lost five straight games and six of its past seven. The sev­enth-place Nets sit just one game ahead of Orlando in the Eastern Con­fer­ence stand­ings.

All-star point guard Kyrie Irv­ing re­mains side­lined with a shoul­der in­jury that has kept him out of the past 23 games. He was av­er­ag­ing 28.5 points and 7.2 as­sists per game be­fore the in­jury. The Nets are 4-7 in the 11 games in which Irv­ing has played.

With Irv­ing out, Spencer Din­wid­die has taken over the point guard du­ties. He's av­er­ag­ing 22.9 points and 6.3 as­sists per game.

Led by shoot­ing guard Joe Har­ris (42.7% on 3s), the Nets ranks 8th in 3-point­ers per game (12.5).

The game tips off at 7 p.m. and will be broad­cast on Fox Sports Florida.

NICK WASS/AP

Magic cen­ter Khem Birch goes to the bas­ket past Wizards guard Bradley Beal dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NBA bas­ket­ball game, Wed­nes­day, in Wash­ing­ton. The Magic won 122101. Birch scored 7 points, shoot­ing three-for-three from the field and mak­ing a free throw.

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