Jonathan Isaac Taking It Day By Day

ORLANDO - Once thought to be out for the season because of a serious knee injury suffered on Jan. 1, Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac said it feels surreal to be competing again and given something of a chance at returning because of the four-month layoff in the NBA season.

``I feel like it’s a movie,’’ Isaac said on Monday after going through his second workout with contact in three days with the Magic. ``Getting hurt, and then having this long pause and being able to work on my leg and my game, and now I’m back with the team and in the bubble. So, I feel good about it and I’m glad that we had this little break, but sorry for all of the effects of the coronavirus.’’

Isaac, a nearly 7-foot forward whom the Magic consider to be one of their cornerstone pieces for the future, continues to make progress toward a potential return for the NBA’s restarted season. Isaac, one of just two players in the NBA to be in the league’s top 15 in both blocked shots (2.44) and steals (1.56) per game, suffered a posterior lateral corner injury and a bone contusion to his left knee in a win over the Washington Wizards on Jan. 1. Isaac, 23, suffered no structural damage to the knee, but he proceeded to miss the next 30 and was presumed to be out for the season with an injury for the second time in his three-year career.

However, the four-plus-month delay in the NBA season – from March 11 to July 30 – has given the eternally optimistic Isaac hope of a return. The Magic, 30-35 and currently in position to return to the playoffs for a second straight season, have steadfastly said that they will proceed cautiously with a talent such as Isaac and they will only allow him to return if he is fully cleared by the team’s medical staff.

``First of all it’s great just having him around because he’s a great person, a great teammate and he’s a guy who brings a lot of positives to your group even when he can’t play,’’ said Magic coach Steve Clifford, who had assistant coaches Mike Batiste and Rick Higgins scrimmage with Isaac with contact on Saturday. ``In terms of, `Will he be ready?’ I don’t think we’ll know that for, whatever, two-to-three weeks. You know, he’s not able to play five-on-five yet. He’s made great progress, he’s a terrific worker, so I couldn’t say enough good things about him. It’ll be difficult to know for a couple more weeks if he’ll be able to play.’’

Isaac, who has steadily progressed through the rehab process while going from a cast, to a brace to running freely, likes how his body has responded to the process of trying to return fully. Like any sort of rehabilitation process, Isaac said he’s had his good days and bad days, but he is pleased with where he stands now some 17 days prior to the NBA season restarting.

``I feel good, my body responded well and I’m back doing some more contact (on Monday),’’ Isaac said via a Zoom call with media. ``I played a little bit (on Monday), running up and down and stuff, so I feel good and I’m getting there, day by day.

``I’m optimistic,’’ he added later. ``I have no reservations in my mind about (a potential return). If I’m ready to play and if I get the clearance, I’m ready to go. That's pretty much where I'm at. We’re taking it day by day. I’m listening to our front office and the guys that are working with me each day to get there. So, I’m just taking it one day at a time. But I feel good. I’m getting there.’’

A possible return by Isaac could do wonders for a Magic squad hoping to pass the injury-and-illness-ravaged Brooklyn Nets in the standings for the No. 7 seed. Not only would that allow the Magic to play either Toronto or Boston instead of likely top seed Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs, it could help them avoid a potential play-in series just to qualify for the postseason.

Following a breakout second season in the NBA last year, Isaac made major strides early on this season in terms of becoming a dominant defender. He had at least one blocked shot in 30 of the 32 games he played in and at least one steal 22 times. He blocked two or more shots 23 times, including a career-best six blocked shots on Nov. 6 at Dallas. He also notched his career-best in steals this season by swiping the ball away seven times against Milwaukee on Dec. 28.

Isaac also set a new high in scoring (25 at Indiana on Nov. 23) and equaled a high in rebounding (13 at Toronto on Nov. 20).

For now, though, the only numbers he is concerning himself with are the ones that determine his percentage of making a successful return this season for the Magic. Regardless of his fate, Isaac said he will make himself a positive force for the Magic this season.

``Rehab, honestly for me, was a grind and I had to have the right mindset every day to get myself out of bed and to work,’’ said Isaac, who averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds in 32 games this season. ``I tried my best to attack (rehab).

``I try my best to lean on my faith, and just trust God in that in everything He has a plan for my life,’’ added Isaac, who recently got engaged to his longtime girlfriend. ``I know exactly where I’m at, and nothing happens by accident or by chance. I try to always have the mindset that I can either get bitter or better, and I choose to always try to get better. It is frustrating maybe on the day-to-day when you’ve got to get up and you don’t feel like it and push and grind, but it’s also rewarding to try and get better every day.’’

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.