Clifford Could Have Opportunity to Play Bamba and Isaac Together Tonight

by John Denton

ORLANDO – The NBA’s preseason is a time of experimentation and exploration and as such Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford has used his team’s previous four exhibition games to try out big lineups and various rotations of player groupings.

Tonight, Clifford will have another opportunity to experiment with a player pairing that is filled with length, athleticism and promise.

Orlando’s final game of the preseason tonight against the San Antonio Spurs (2-2) could see the Magic utilize second-year forward Jonathan Isaac and rookie center Mohamed Bamba together for the first time. Orlando’s first-round picks from the past two NBA Drafts have played alongside of one another plenty in practice, but they have yet to be alongside of one another in a preseason game because of injuries. Isaac slightly sprained his right ankle in the preseason opener and missed the next two games, while Bamba sat out of Wednesday’s rout of Memphis because of a bruised right wrist.

Bamba, a 7-footer with a 7-foot, 10-inch wing span, went through shooting drills on Thursday and participated in the Magic’s shootaround on Friday morning. His status for tonight isn’t firm, but he is hoping to play. And Isaac, for one, is hopeful that he will get some court time with his close friend and fellow highly touted big man.

``It’s just a lot of length (with the two of them) and Mo can move and I can move and we can block shots at the rim,’’ Isaac said. ``A couple of times when we did play together in scrimmages, we did block a lot of shots. It’s just about that length and him being able to step out and hit shots and me as well.’’

After facing the re-tooled Spurs tonight, the Magic (2-2) will take Saturday off and then practice for three days prior to opening the regular season on Wednesday. For a third straight season, the Magic will open the regular season against the rival Miami Heat at the Amway Center. Clifford, who was hired in late May and charged with getting the Magic back in contention, has been happy about the steady progress that his team has made this preseason.

``I’m actually really happy,’’ said Clifford, who also has raved about his team’s commitment to working and focusing on details. ``(Wednesday) night, we played a lot better and every game we’ve played, we’ve been better. (Wednesday) night was a lot better than Monday (in Miami) and Monday we did a lot of good things, too. So, I feel like we can get there. … It’s the same thing (throughout the NBA) – you’ve got to get better every day because that’s what this league is all about. I feel like we’re doing that.’’

Orlando is also hopeful that guard Terrence Ross (bruised foot), Jonathon Simmons (offseason wrist surgery) and Timofey Mozgov (dislocated finger) will be available to play tonight. Ross missed most of last season with a knee injury and has been bothered most of the preseason by a nagging foot injury. While he is likely to play tonight, assuredly he will be on a minutes restriction that could range from 17-19 minutes.

The last time Bamba and Isaac were on the floor together in a game it was the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and both young standouts played well. Bamba’s adaptation to the NBA has been impressive this preseason as he’s averaged 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.33 blocks a game.

Isaac, whose rookie season was marred by a series of ankle injuries, was especially impressive on Wednesday after returning from another ankle sprain. He had 15 points, eight rebounds, two steals, two 3-pointers and a block. The number that mattered most to Isaac was five – as in the number of fouls that he committed in 17 minutes of playing time. He studied film on Thursday in an effort to clean up some of his fouling defensively.

``The refs are really focusing on us grabbing each other and hooking down low, so I’ve got to be more conscious of my hands and not wrapping guys up,’’ said Isaac, who noted that he will be put to the test defensively against San Antonio all-star forward LaMarcus Aldridge tonight.

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