By John Denton Dec. 14, 2017
ORLANDO – Having dynamic forwards Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac back at practice on Thursday had to be a sight for sore eyes for the Orlando Magic. However, their returns are still a bit fuzzy because of a variety of circumstances regarding their health.
Gordon and Isaac went through a full-contact practice on Thursday for the first time in extended periods. Gordon has been out since suffering a concussion last Friday, while Isaac hasn’t had full clearance to work out since Nov. 11 when he severely sprained his right ankle.
What matters most now is how each player reacts to that practice. If they came through the session unscathed and there are no lingering issues, one or both could potentially return on Friday night when the injury-ravaged Magic (11-18) host the Portland Trail Blazers (13-13). Both Gordon and Isaac are officially listed as questionable to play on Friday.
``I hope to be cleared, but it’s really just up to everybody else,’’ said Gordon, who still needs clearance from an independent physician before being released from the NBA’s concussion protocol. ``I’m just going to do my part and hopefully be ready.’’
Isaac, the prized No. 6 pick from last June’s NBA Draft, missed his 16th consecutive game on Wednesday when Orlando fell 106-95 to the Los Angeles Clippers. With the Magic being without Evan Fournier (ankle sprain), Terrence Ross (knee sprain), Arron Afflalo (back spasms) and Gordon (concussion), they would gladly welcome a return of the 6-foot-10, 210-pound Isaac.
After missing more than a month, the rookie has a way to go to rebuild his conditioning and shake off the rust before he’s back to the form he had early in the season. Still, Magic head coach Frank Vogel liked what he saw on Thursday from the 20-year-old who averaged an encouraging 6.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.25 blocks in 12 games before being injured.
``A tired, young man, but he looked good and he looked healthy,’’ Vogel said of Isaac. ``Obviously, his conditioning is pretty far behind, but we look different (defensively) with him out there and we’re eager to get him back.’’
As for Fournier, the Magic’s second-leading scorer at 18.3 points per game showed some improvement on Thursday as well. Out since severely spraining his ankle last Wednesday, Fournier was able to shed his walking boot, do some core exercises and shoot free throws. However, his return could still be several days away because of the severity of his injury.
``Obviously, I can walk without limping and that’s a big step for me considering a week ago that I couldn’t walk,’’ said Fournier, who will miss his third straight game on Friday. ``This is the biggest (sprained ankle) I’ve had, I think. I’ve only had three and the previous two were minor and it was a week (absence) or so. But this is the biggest one that I’ve had.’’
Both Fournier and Gordon admitted having to watch the Magic struggle without them being able to help has been more painful than their actual injuries. Orlando is in a stretch of its schedule where it has plenty of days off, a spate of home games and the level of competition has dropped a bit, but the team hasn’t been able to take advantage because of being hard hit by injuries.
``It’s really frustrating because these last four games were really important for us and it was the right moment for us to go back to .500,’’ Fournier said. ``But having so many guys out, it’s tough. It’s bad timing again.’’
Gordon, 22, had hoped to play on Wednesday after passing the first three stages of the NBA’s concussion protocol (riding a bike, sprinting and non-contact drills) without symptoms. However, he admitted that ``a couple of symptoms returned like grogginess,’’ and the decision was made to hold Gordon out for his own safety. Gordon, who was injured after running face-first into the shoulder of Denver guard Gary Harris, is averaging career highs in scoring (18.5 ppg.), rebounding (8.1 rpg.), assists (2.2 apg.), steals (1.0 spg.) and blocks (0.9 bpg.) this season.
``It’s difficult with concussions and you never know when symptoms are going to react or come back and I was really frustrated, man,’’ Gordon said of not being able to play on Wednesday. ``I was real down and I wasn’t even able to eat last night because I wanted to help my team get that win.’’
Because he is still dealing with concussion symptoms, Gordon was instructed by the Magic to not attend Wednesday’s game at the Amway Center. Instead, he said alone in isolation and suffered along with his struggling teammates in the ugly loss to the Clippers.
``They just said stimulus, sounds, bright lights, the extra adrenaline – not necessary, so I watched it from my house,’’ Gordon said glumly. ``I was sitting in a dark room watching the game.
``I feel good now, but we’ll see by (Friday),’’ Gordon added. ``I don’t like (going slow) and one of the things I have to continue to teach myself is being patient with my body. But I have great guys around me (on the Magic training staff) taking care of me.’’
Isaac has had to be tremendously patient with his body as he’s tried to overcome the first ankle sprain of his life at any level of basketball. He originally thought he’d make a quick return after shedding his walking boot within days of the injury, however he experienced sharp pains in his ankle when trying to cut or push off his right foot.
``I would say pray, to be honest,’’ Isaac said of how he’s dealt with the frustration of being out. ``I’ve been seeking the Lord’s counsel to try and get through this time of not playing. I’ve just been trying to stay consistent and stay positive and not bring more negativity to them.’’
There were plenty of positives in seeing Isaac back on the floor on Thursday what with his ability to guard multiple positions and also protect the rim with his long-armed defense. Early in the season, when Isaac was on the floor and the Magic’s squad was intact for the most part, they ranked sixth in the league in defensive efficiency. The Magic have since plummeted to the bottom five in the NBA in that all-important category. The loss of Isaac isn’t the entire reason for that fall, but getting his high basketball IQ and versatility as a defender back can’t do anything but help Orlando’s sagging defense.
He said he and the Magic training staff will know a lot more about his progress when he wakes up on Friday morning. If his ankle is sore and stiff, he almost certainly won’t play. However, if he comes through unscathed, there’s an outside chance he could play for the first time since Nov. 11 when the Magic were 8-5 and full of optimism. If he can return, some of that early-season optimism could return as well.
``It felt good being able to move around and I’ve got to see how (the ankle) responds (Friday) morning after treatment,’’ Isaac said. ``If it does respond, we’re moving in the right direction.’’
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