Isaac Could Miss Final Few Games With Sprained Ankle

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

ORLANDO – Coming into his rookie season in the NBA, Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac said he had never before suffered a sprained ankle.

Now, a second ankle injury could very well end his first season prematurely.

When Isaac stepped on a foe’s foot and sprained his left ankle late in Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the injury was initially thought to be a minor one. After further review, Isaac’s latest injury could be one that keeps him from playing over the final three games.

Isaac, Orlando’s prized pick from last June’s NBA Draft, missed his 52nd game of the season on Friday night – with a chunk of those absences because of sprains to his right ankle (on November 11) and left ankle (on April 1). This time around, the pain and swelling in Isaac’s ankle has lasted much longer than he anticipated, and those negative influences put his availability for the remaining three games in jeopardy.

``There’s still some swelling and still some soreness,’’ said Isaac, who scored a career-best 15 points in the game on Sunday when he twisted his left ankle. ``It’s a sprained ankle and you can’t really rush it back or come back until it’s ready.’’

Isaac, 20, has shown tremendous flashes as a defender, shot-blocker and finisher in transition when he’s been available. However, the two ankle injuries, a G League stint for rehabilitation and a foot strain have limited him to just 27 NBA games with 10 starts. In 19.8 minutes on the floor, he’s averaged 5.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.22 steals and 1.11 blocks a game.

While he’s certainly frustrated about the ongoing injury issues, Isaac said he still gained plenty of valuable experience this season when he’s played and while being around his Magic teammates.

``The situation is very frustrating because I just want to play. I want to be out there with my teammates, help win games and be completely a part of it,’’ Isaac said. ``To be in and out is super frustrating. But I’m OK and I’ve seen the silver lining of being here with these guys and being able to come in and help any way that I have. That’s been great, so I wasn’t out the entire season. I was still able to play, still was able to contribute and was still able to help the team win some games. To me, that’s better than not doing it at all.’’

Magic coach Frank Vogel said of Isaac that, ``there’s a good chance he doesn’t play again this year,’’ because the franchise does not want the rookie on the floor playing on a compromised ankle. Vogel said a major point emphasis in the offseason for the 6-foot-11, 222-pound Isaac will be adding strength – not just in his upper body, but also in his legs and ankles so that he can potentially avoid future ankle sprains.

``We know he’s a young, tall player who still needs to grow into his body,’’ Vogel said. ``Part of his offseason – most of the emphasis will be strengthening his lower extremities.’’

HEZONJA HAPPY: Fresh off another highly productive two-game stretch where he was at his do-everything best for the Magic, forward Mario Hezonja pronounced himself to be as comfortable and confident with his role as he’s been in three NBA seasons.

Sadly for the Magic, it’s coming at the end of the season and possibly at the end of Hezonja’s time in Orlando.

Hezonja played 36 and 35 minutes in Orlando’s defeats of New York and Dallas early in the week and put up big numbers in both games. He had 19 points, six rebounds and five 3-pointers against the Knicks and racked up 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks against the Mavs. Hezonja, a three-year veteran, said a big reason for his surging confidence is the playing time that he’s finally been able to secure.

``It’s definitely the most in rhythm that I’ve even been in here, but it’s just playing time,’’ said Hezonja, whose numbers have been better in his 26 starts this season (14.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.46 steals in 30.7 minutes per game). ``I’ve seen a lot of talk about `improvement’ and all of this – man, I work every day of the season. I’ve been working before I got here and when I was playing all over the place with my (Croatian) National Team and I’m still working. But it’s just playing time and consistent playing time. It’s different playing 40 and 35 than 15 or 20. It’s just very different.’’

Hezonja will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after the Magic decided to not pick up his fourth-year option prior to the season. At the time, Hezonja was still battling through knee pain and was playing nowhere near as well as he is now. He said the way he is producing now is what he is capable of doing on a nightly basis with consistent minutes on the floor.

``Playing time, man,’’ Hezonja said with conviction. ``It’s different to play 35 minutes (instead) of 15. Then, I have to be perfect with everything with defense and offense. Now (that he is playing more), I’m solid while I’m out there and if I commit a mistake, I’m (hungrier) to make up for it. It’s kind of like if I get an easy basket, if I make a mistake it gets me going to not let it happen again.’’

CHARLOTTE COLLAPSE: The season has been a highly disappointing one for the Charlotte Hornets, who figured they would be heading back to the playoffs after acquiring veteran center Dwight Howard in the offseason to pair with a talented starting lineup of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

However, the Hornets have slumped badly, and they fell out of the playoff race for good after making a brief run just after the break for the NBA All-Star Game. The reasons, head coach Steve Clifford said, is because the Hornets underachieved badly on defense and failed to overcome their offensive shortcomings. Charlotte came into Friday ranked 20thin the NBA in points allowed per game and 23rdin field goal percentage surrendered.

``To me in my five years (in Charlotte), I thought this was potentially our best team,’’ said Clifford, an assistant coach on the Orlando teams that reached the NBA Finals in 2009 and the East Finals in 2010. ``What we haven’t done and it’s the No. 1 thing you have to do to be a good team, we haven’t established a team game and a way to play consistent every night. I thought we could be a Top 5 defensive team and instead this has been our worst defensive team. It’s really ended there.’’

Horward, the Magic’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots, has played well for the Hornets, averaging 16.8 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.62 blocks while playing in 78 of his team’s first 79 games. Outside of Walker (22.5 ppg.), Batum (11.6 ppg.), Kidd-Gilchrist (9.3 ppg.) and Williams (9.3 ppg.) have regressed.

Said Clifford: ``If you look at our roster, we don’t have a ton of offensive firepower.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic leave on Saturday for their final road trip of the season. They play the East-leading Raptors in Toronto on Sunday and then face the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. It’s the Magic’s only trip to Canada this season, while it will be the second time playing in Milwaukee.

It also will be the Magic’s final back-to-back set of games this season. Thus far, Orlando is 12-16 in back-to-backs, going 5-9 on the first night and 7-7 on the second night.

The Magic close the regular season at the Amway Center on Wednesday when they host the Washington Wizards.

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