ORLANDO – Jonathan Isaac is a man of unwavering faith, so even after injuring his left knee on Wednesday night and needing a stretcher to transport him to the Orlando Magic’s locker room, he gathered himself by doing what came natural to him.
``I just sat down, prayed and thanked God that I was alive, still,’’ said Isaac, who was equal parts serious and joking when recounting his first minutes after climbing off the stretcher that took him off Washington’s Capital One Arena floor on Wednesday. ``I could move my leg and I just trust His plan for my life.”
That faith will be put to the test after Isaac got disappointing news on Thursday about his left knee injury. An MRI conducted in Orlando on Thursday revealed that he suffered a posterior lateral corner injury and a medial bone contusion. Isaac will be out indefinitely and re-evaluated in eight-to-10 weeks. Operative and non-operative Treatments will be considered and his return to the court will depend on how he responds to treatment and rehabilitation.
The eight-to-10-week diagnosis likely puts Isaac out until either Feb. 27 or March 12. Those dates are when he will be evaluated, meaning a return to game action could be a couple of weeks after those dates.
“While this certainly is disappointing news, there was no damage to his ACL, MCL and PCL ligaments,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “All signs point to a complete recovery and this should not impact his future growth.”
Isaac, who was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee on Wednesday, initially thought he had avoided a serious injury. While many of his Magic teammates – and even Washington Wizards’ point guard Isaiah Thomas – feared that the budding defensive star was badly injured in the opening minutes of Orlando’s 122-101 victory, Isaac stayed calm on Wednesday night by falling back on his faith.
``It is what it is. (Getting injured is) a part of the game,’’ Isaac recalled. ``But like I said, I trust God and I just wanted to get back here (in the locker room) and clear my head.’’
The Magic will have to adapt to life without Isaac starting on Friday night when they face the rival Miami Heat on Friday at the Amway Center.
Orlando (15-19) is hopeful that forward Aaron Gordon – out the past two games with soreness in his left Achilles’ tendon – will be ready to go as well by Friday night. Already without Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus in right knee) and Michael Carter-Williams (sprained AC joint in his left shoulder), the Magic could use the return of the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Gordon to bolster their roster against a Heat team that has been one of the NBA’s surprise teams this season.
Gordon, who was forced out of last Saturday’s loss in Milwaukee early in the second half with Achilles’ pain, said he hoped to get in some court work on Thursday. If all goes well, he’ll go through shootaround with the Magic on Friday morning and could be cleared to play by the 7 p.m. tipoff.
``I think (on Thursday) we’re going to get back on the court and it’s feeling a lot better,’’ Gordon said of his Achilles’ tendon. ``(Athletic Trainer/Manual Therapist) Aki (Tajima) has been doing a great job with it, getting the swelling down.’’
As for Isaac, when Magic point guard Markelle Fultz saw his teammate face down in the paint, writhing in pain and later on a stretcher being wheeled off the floor, he hurt for him as a person instead of as a basketball player. Throughout last summer while working his way back into basketball shape following a two-year bout with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his right shoulder, Fultz got a daily look at just how hot Isaac’s competitive fire burns. Isaac’s tireless work to better his body and grow his game told Fultz plenty about the mental and spiritual makeup of the nearly 7-foot forward.
``My heart dropped, just for him as a person let alone basketball,’’ Fultz said. ``I just know how hard-working he is and what kind of guy he is and as soon as he went down, I was trying to think positive and hope that he was OK. I was a little hurt, especially seeing a stretcher come out, so I just said a little prayer for him.
``I’ve been able to play with him before we even got to the NBA and I saw the skill set and potential that he had,’’ Fultz recalled. ``In the offseason, we were in the gym together a lot, and seeing the work ethic and the passion that he has for the game, you can tell that he loves it. The thing that is so scary is there’s still so much that he can get better at and keep elevating his game. I’m rooting for him and I’ve got his back no matter what.’’
Isaac’s offseason work has allowed him to post career-best numbers across the board in this, his third NBA season. Despite being limited to just two minutes in Wednesday’s game, Isaac is still averaging 12 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals. The blocks and steals are both Magic bests.
He failed to block a shot on Wednesday for just the second time in 32 games with both instances of being shut out being games he left early because of injuries. He did register a steal in a 22ndgame this season, and it happened just before he went down injured.
After poking the ball away from Bradley Beal and scooping up the loose ball, Isaac tried driving to the rim, but got his feet tangled up with the Washington all-star guard. As he did that, his left knee twisted and buckled and caused him to fall to the floor.
``With my foot, I kind of kicked it with Beal and I felt my knee hyperextend and it hurt pretty bad,’’ Isaac recalled later. ``I’m glad to be back on my feet and be OK. I was scared at first, but I know God’s got me and I tried to stay composed and get back here, clear my head and start moving forward.’’
Magic coach Steve Clifford, who was standing just a few feet away from a prone Isaac, feared for the worst when the play transpired. After seeing Isaac up in the locker room at halftime, Clifford thought the Magic got “lucky” with the injury. As it turns out, the news was much worse on Thursday than anticipated.
Pressed further about the pain he was in at the time of the injury, Isaac admitted to allowing fear to creep into his thoughts.
``You know, I’ve never hurt my knee before, so as soon as it happened, I just naturally started thinking the worst. I was like, `Awww, man, it’s over,’’’ Isaac admitted. ``But as I was down there (on the floor), it started feeling better and better and that was a reassurance that I was going to be OK.’’
Orlando proved to be OK on Wednesday night when D.J. Augustin scored a season-best 25 points, Nikola Vucevic added 20 points and 12 rebounds and Evan Fournier chipped in 18 points.
Nearly as impressive was what Amile Jefferson (two points, six rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes), Khem Birch (seven points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a block in 26 minutes) and Wes Iwundu (10 points, six rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes) did while filling in for the injured Isaac.
Those steady performances, combined with the rapidly improving feeling in his left knee, put Isaac at peace.
``Everybody was checking on me and making sure that I was OK. I’m just glad that we pulled out the win. If they didn’t, I would have been upset,’’ he said playfully. ``It’s huge that guys stepped up. Amile came in and played big minutes, Wes was in there in the fourth and Khem and Mo (Bamba) were in there at the same time. It was huge that guys stepped up and made plays for us.’’
Now that the Magic know that they will be without Isaac for at least two months, they will need those players to continue to step up and make plays for an Orlando team without its top defender.
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