NEW YORK – Just the mere sight of promising forward Jonathan Isaac being back with the team and participating in some light shooting drills on Monday had to be glorious vision for the Orlando Magic.
The nearly 7-foot Isaac has been out since Jan. 1 when he suffered a posterior lateral corner injury and a medial bone contusion in his left knee early in a Magic victory over the Washington Wizards. Isaac, 22, did not need surgery for the injury, but he was forced to walk on crutches and keep his leg in a cast and later a thigh-to-shin brace for a six-week period – all of which he has since shed. For now, Isaac said he’s just happy to be back around basketball and his teammates.
``It feels amazing just to get on the plane, get on the bus and be around everybody, be able to go to dinner again with the guys,’’ he said. ``As you get more and more a part of it, you start feeling good.’’
At the time of his injury, Isaac was one of just two players in the NBA ranked in the top 15 in both blocked shots and steals. In 32 games – all starts -- Isaac averaged 12 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.44 blocks and 1.56 steals a night. This season, the third-year pro set new career highs for points (25 at Indiana on Nov. 23), rebounds (13 at Toronto on Nov. 20), steals (seven at Milwaukee on Dec. 28) and blocked shots (six at Dallas on Nov. 6).
Isaac said he can’t speculate as to whether he will play again this season or in the playoffs in mid-April. For now, he’s just trying to attack his rehabilitation schedule each day so that he is doing all that he can to get his knee healthy as soon as possible.
``(The injured knee) feels good. I’m happy to be off the crutches and it’s good to walk around on my own power. And being able to just come out here and shoot free throws, it feels really good,’’ Isaac said.
``I think (taking the process day by day) is the best way to look at it,’’ he said. ``I just want to put in the work that I need to put in that day and worry about the long-term stuff in the long term. (The Magic medical staff) has got the long-term in their head and I’m just like, `J.I., get better every day and do what they ask me to do.’
``I want to be back right now,’’ he added. ``The goal is that I want to be back right now, so that keeps me pushing and taking care of it day by day. … I’m not completely sure (about playing again this season). I just want to continue to be wise, listen to the coaching staff and what management is thinking and then move accordingly.’’
AUGUSTIN-DURANT FRIENDSHIP STILL STRONG: Another long and lanky forward, Kevin Durant, is trying to battle his way back from injury after tearing his left Achilles’ tendon in the NBA Finals last June.
Durant, a two-time champion, two-time Finals MVP and a former regular-season MVP award winner, left the Golden State Warriors and signed with the Brooklyn Nets in July. Durant has already been ruled out for the season, but the 6-foot-10 forward recently was seen on video stroking in 3-point shots as he works his way back into basketball shape.
Durant has remained close friends with Magic point guard D.J. Augustin from their time playing together at the University of Texas and later in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Augustin caught up with Durant on Sunday night in New York City to record an episode of his podcast, ``The Magic Life with D.J. Augustin’’ and he said the superstar forward is progressing nicely from the injury that kept him out of action in his first season with the Nets.
``He’s doing great, his Achilles is healing pretty well and he’s back working out on the floor and stuff, so he’s excited about that part of it,’’ Augustin said. ``The rest of it is still a journey for him and he’s just trying to figure out when he’s going to come back and be healthy again.
Augustin and Durant were freshmen together at the University of Texas during the 2006-07 season. Durant averaged 25.8 points per game, while Augustin contributed 14.4 points and 6.7 assists a game. The two of them reunited in 2015 when Augustin was traded from Detroit to Oklahoma City, where Durant was already an established star. Today, their bond is like one of two family members, Augustin said.
``We’re pretty close, man, and we’re like brothers,’’ Augustin said. ``We don’t talk as much as we used to because we’re in different aspects of our life. But when we get together, it’s like we had never left one another. We still stay in touch and we’re very close.’’
ENNIS III’s REPUTATION PROCEEDS HIM: One of the reasons that the Magic traded for James Ennis III back on Feb. 6 just prior to the NBA’s trade deadline was the strong recommendation that he got from former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whom he played for for half a season in 2018 while with the Detroit Pistons.
Van Gundy and Clifford are close friends and the two of them worked together for five seasons in Orlando from 2007-12 when they helped to guide the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. With Van Gundy out of coaching and back living in Orlando, he can Clifford talk regularly and often dine together. During one conversation, Van Gundy recommended that Ennis III could possibly give the Magic some depth, defense and shooting at the small forward position. Ennis III said he was honored that Van Gundy thought so highly of him and gave him a glowing recommendation.
``People talk and if you do good at one spot, handle your business and carry yourself like a professional, it goes a long way,’’ said Ennis III, who has now played for seven organizations in five years. ``You never want to burn bridges. … (Van Gundy and Clifford) are similar. I was lucky to play for Stan for three months after a trade, just like I’m here to play with Cliff for three months. They’re coaches that know what they’re talking about and they will put you in the right position to help yourself and help the team.’’
In just his third game with the Magic, Clifford elevated Ennis III into the starting lineup on Friday. However, the small forward missed all three of his shots – two of them from 3-point range. He feels that he will fare much better in the days ahead as he grows more comfortable.
``All my shots that I took felt good and I’ve been putting in a lot of work, so I’m confident in my shot,’’ said Ennis, who averaged 5.0 points in his first three games with the Magic.
UP NEXT: The Magic will be back on the practice floor on Tuesday in Atlanta, where they will take on the Southeast Division-rival Hawks on Wednesday night. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Orlando and Atlanta have already played three times and Wednesday’s game will be the final one between the two teams this season.
The Hawks won 103-99 in Atlanta in the second game of the season for both teams. All-star guard Trae Young scored 39 points that night, including a game-sealing 3-pointer with 26.2 seconds remaining that he banked in.
Atlanta won 101-93 on Dec. 30 in Orlando despite Young missing the game because of an injury. The Magic got a small measure of revenge on Feb. 20 when they outlasted Young and the Hawks 135-126 at the Amway Center.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.