Isaac Stayed Positive While Recovering From Injury

by John Denton

ORLANDO – When Jonathan Isaac’s preseason started much the same way last year’s rookie season went for him – out of action while nursing an ankle injury – the Orlando Magic forward turned to his faith to help him handle the frustration.

Isaac, who recently turned 21 years old, said the power of positive thinking and few timely prayers helped him deal with the misfortune of slightly spraining his right ankle just nine minutes into the preseason opener. That injury came after Isaac played just 27 games last season as an NBA rookie because of a series of ankle issues. He said it took some perspective to avoid having a woe-is-me mentality.

``My first, initial reaction was frustration,’’ said Isaac, who hurt his ankle in the preseason opener when he accidentally stepped on the foot of Philadelphia forward Dario Saric, causing his ankle to twist. ``But, at the end of the day, God has me, man. I know that He has a plan and I have to deal with that and respect that. It was kind of a quick turnaround (mentally) for me, so I didn’t have to worry about it much.’’

Isaac proved he was healthy on Wednesday when he compiled 15 points, eight rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot in 17 minutes. The only negative was the five fouls that he committed – errors he attributed to trying to play defense with his hands instead of shuffling his feet.

With Isaac back in the lineup again on Friday, it allowed him to play with rookie center Mohamed Bamba for the first time this preseason. Bamba, who missed Wednesday’s game because of a bruised right wrist, was cleared to play on Friday.

Isaac and Bamba have been Orlando’s No. 6 picks in the past two NBA Drafts and the Magic front office sees them as poster boys for the modern NBA game because of their blend of athleticism, height, versatility and basketball smarts. Issac has liked what he’s seen thus far from being on the floor alongside another 7-footer in practice. (Isaac has grown to that height but prefers to be listed at 6-10).

``It’s just a lot of length and Mo can move and I can move and we can block shots at the rim,’’ said Isaac, who previously played alongside of Bamba in the NBA Summer League last July. ``A couple of times when we did play together in scrimmages, we did block a lot of shots. It’s about that length and him being able to step out and hit shots and me as well.’’

SENSE OF URGENCY: Orlando’s Steve Clifford, a coaching lifer who has worked in the NBA in various roles for 19 seasons, laughed on Friday morning when he was asked if he and his team would have more of a sense of urgency now that the regular-season opener is less than a week away. A blunt, no-nonsense type of coach who prides himself on his work ethic and attention to detail, Clifford said there should be no on/off switch at the professional level – be it preseason or regular season – because of the high stakes on the line.

``Let me say this: This is 19 years (in the NBA) and in this league if there’s no urgency for every preseason game and every practice, you’re not going to last long,’’ Clifford said with conviction. ``There’s no different urgency here than any other place that I’ve been. That’s part of being in this league.’’

Clifford said part of his job as a head coach is to ramp up the need for daily improvement every day. He said his team has done a good job of that in this training camp, and he feels like Orlando is in a good spot heading into Wednesday’s regular-season opener against the Miami Heat at the Amway Center.

``The biggest thing that I preach, and I don’t know if urgency is as good a word as progress,’’ Clifford added. ``If you look at the best players, the guys who last the longest and get the most out of their abilities, the thing that NBA credit for is they get better every year. With the top X-amount of players, maybe it is ability, but they improve too.’’

ROOKIE STRIDES: Among the Magic’s players who have made the most noticeable strides during the preseason has been forward Melvin Frazier Jr., a second-round pick from last June’s NBA Draft. Frazier Jr. came into Friday having scored in double digits twice this preseason – 11 points against Flamengo last week and 10 versus Memphis on Wednesday night.

Known primarily for his athleticism and ability to smother foes defensively, Frazier Jr. has flashed a reliable mid-range jump shot thus far while also making a 3-pointer in each of Orlando’s games earlier in the week.

``I’ve been happy (with his play), but I’m just trying to be a good team player, be in the right spots, getting teammates involved and having good communication,’’ Frazier Jr. said. ``These preseason games are really just practice games, so it’s just a matter of getting everything together and trying to get ready for the season.’’

Frazier Jr. said the transition to the NBA was made easier for him by the fact that he played for head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. during his final two seasons at Tulane. Dunleavy Sr. played in the NBA from 1976-8 and he coached five NBA franchises off and on from 1988-2010. Frazier Jr. said he and his former college coach still talk regularly and he gives him advice about making it in the NBA. He even joked that playing for Dunleavy was like ``having the answers to the test’’ as it relates to transitioning the NBA.’’

``Him coming from the NBA, he brought his NBA stuff to college and the things that we’re doing out here (with the Magic), we did them in college,’’ Frazier Jr. said. ``So, I’m kind of like ahead. Coach (Dunleavy) has been telling me, `You know this stuff.’ The calls, really, are just different and I’ve got to get those down.’’

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.

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