ORLANDO – When the Golden State Warriors made the decision to rest Kevin Durant on Thursday – the superstar’s first missed game of the season – it denied Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac the opportunity to face his idol once again.
Not that Isaac has any ill will toward Durant, especially after the way the former MVP and two-time champion spoke about the 21-year-old recently when discussing the evolution of the small forward position in the NBA. Despite being nearly 7-foot, Durant has become arguably the game’s best perimeter player with his ability to comfortably get off shots against any smaller defender.
``Guys like Dirk (Nowitzki), Cliff Robinson, Darius Miles and Jonathan Bender – guys that I grew up looking at that were my size playing on the perimeter – they helped me dream a little more when I worked out as a kid,’’ Durant said during an NBA TV interview at All-Star Weekend. ``The game is about evolution and as we keep pushing the boundaries, it’s only going to make the game better. I come along, then (Anthony Davis) comes along, then Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and then you’ve got Jonathan Isaac, the young guy in Orlando that’s this size. So, you’ve got a lot of guys playing on the perimeter now that are `bigs’ and we’re just stretching the boundaries.’’
The fact that Durant merely mentioned Isaac – a second-year pro – was extremely flattering to young Magic standout. With a similar frame as a younger Durant, Isaac grew up idolizing the star forward and dreaming of the day he would get to face him. That moment came back on Nov. 26 when Isaac had 15 points, four rebounds and a steal. Durant, of course, scored 49 points and led Golden State out of a 19-point hole to beat the Magic. Isaac apparently made quite the impression on Durant during their one meeting.
``It means a lot to me. K.D. has been my guy since I’ve been little,’’ Isaac said recently. ``I still feel like it didn’t really happen … that he really said that. I haven’t talked about it much and I don’t really want to. It’s something that I want to tuck in my back pocket and tried to stay focused. But like I said, K.D. has been my guy and someone that I’ve always looked up to, being a big guy on the perimeter.’’
Isaac, a nearly 7-foot wing player, is an evolving shot-maker and he has used his expansive length to be one of the team’s most impactful defenders this season. Like Durant did while watching the players before him, he wants to use Durant’s praise as motivation going forward.
``With my mindset of trying to get better each and every day, to have a guy of K.D.’s status and stature to call me out, it just means so much,’’ he admitted. ``It’s very humbling and I’m very excited about it.’’
BRISCOE BACK: The Magic got good news about 90 minutes prior to tipoff when reserve point guard Isaiah Briscoe received final clearance from the NBA’s concussion protocol and was allowed to return to action.
Briscoe, a rookie who played professional basketball last season in Estonia, suffered a concussion last Friday when he took a charge from Chicago’s Otto Porter Jr. and he hit the back of his head on a teammate’s knee as he fell backward. Briscoe stayed in the game at the time and didn’t show symptoms of the concussion until several hours later.
Briscoe missed Sunday’s game in Toronto and Tuesday’s game in New York while working his way through the league-mandated protocol after players suffer concussions. Briscoe had to pass a series of progressively rigorous tests without showing symptoms and his final clearance was approved by an independent physician.
Briscoe, 22, has made major strides over the past month and he came into Thursday averaging 4.6 points, 4.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds in his previous nine games. In his first 35 games this season, he’s tied for ninth among all NBA rookies in assists per game (2.2).
KERR MAKING A STAND ON GUN VIOLENCE: In the hours leading up to tipoff Thursday night, Warriors coach Steve Kerr showed his support for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence by wearing a purple T-shirt from the organization. Kerr said wearing the shirt was also a nod to the tragedies that took place in Orlando with the Pulse Nightclub shootings and in South Florida with the Parkland school shooting last year.
Kerr lauded The U.S. House of Representatives for passing what advocates call the most significant gun control measure in more than two decades on Wednesday when it approved a bill (The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019) aimed at broadening the federal background check system for firearms purchases.
Kerr, an outspoken advocate for human rights, knows the pain and suffering that gun violence can create. His father, Malcolm Kerr, was killed in 1984 by Shia Lebanese militia while he was serving as President at American University in Beirut.
``Today is the 25th anniversary of the Brady Background Check bill, and also being the day after HR 8 passed the House, and I felt especially here in Orlando, where the Pulse Nightclub tragedy happened a few of years ago, (it was appropriate to wear the shirt),’’ Kerr said. ``And, not that far down to road to Parkland where so many of our fellow citizens have been so traumatically affected with people killed and families changed forever (in a school shooting).
``So, I felt it was appropriate to wear this shirt today to show my support for the Brady Center and March for Our Lives and everybody who has fought for HR 8,’’ Kerr continued. ``A good reminder, too, is that this isn’t about partisan issue; this is about the safety of our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our friends and family and this doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. Ninety-seven percent of Americans want background checks, so I’m really happy that what happened yesterday happened in the House and we’ll see where it goes from here. But there are a lot of people doing a lot of great work out there, I’m proud of them and I support them.’’
UP NEXT: Home just two nights after being on the road four days earlier in the week, the Magic will head back out on the road on Friday for what figures to be a difficult three-game, five-night trip.
Orlando, which was 1-1 earlier in the week in games in Toronto and New York, plays in Indiana (Saturday), Cleveland (Sunday) and Philadelphia (Tuesday).
The Magic have split two games against the Pacers this season – both of them in Orlando. They are 1-0 against Cleveland and 1-1 versus Philadelphia.
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