Isaac Out Tonight; Gordon Will Play

by John Denton

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic won’t have rookie Jonathan Isaac tonight, but they will have standout forward Aaron Gordon when they face the only team in the NBA that they’ve yet to square off against this season.

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, severely sprained his right ankle on Nov. 11 and hasn’t played in a NBA game since Dec. 26. He played in two G League games for the Lakeland Magic last week and was hoping to return tonight when the Magic (18-42) face the East-leading Toronto Raptors (42-17) at the Amway Center. Instead, the team’s medical staff thought it was best to withhold the 6-foot-10, 222-pound rookie at least one more day after he experienced some aches and pains in his body from the game action. That means it will be Friday at the earliest before he returns to NBA action.

The good news is that Gordon will play after experiencing more soreness in his left hip. Gordon, Orlando’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, missed the nine games before the break for the NBA All-Star Game because of a strained left hip flexor. In Monday’s loss in Oklahoma City, Gordon scored 13 points in the game’s first 10 minutes but finished with just 18 points in the game. Gordon experienced some pain during the game and iced the hip following the defeat.

``He had some soreness in his hip, but it shouldn’t change anything in terms of him being out or anything like that,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said.

Gordon will most likely be matched up against Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, who was traded from the Magic to the Raptors on Feb. 14 of 2017. Orlando traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Ibaka, but the power forward never truly fit in during his 56-game stint in Orlando (15.1 ppg., 6.8 rpg., 1.6 bpg.).

This season, Ibaka’s numbers have fallen in Toronto (13.1 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 1.4 bpg.), but he’s clicked with Raptors’ veterans DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Ibaka said he still keeps his offseason home in Orlando, his daughter continues to live in the area and he had dinner on Tuesday with Magic center Bismack Biyombo, but his situation with the Magic just never worked to his liking.

``In life sometimes, not everything that we try to do or every plan that we have works our way,’’ Ibaka said. ``So, sometimes we just have to say, `Hey, I tried the best that I (could) and it didn’t work and move on.’ I’ve just tried to move on and focus on my (Toronto) team, enjoy that and keep moving.’’

This will be the Magic’s first look at a Toronto team that comes into this game having won eight of nine games. The Raptors have scored 100-or-more points in 12 straight games and they are 10-2 in those games. They have plenty of motivation to keep winning what with the Boston Celtics trailing them only by a half-game for the top spot in the East.

Rare is it the case that teams make it 60 games into a NBA season without facing another team from its same conference, but that’s the case with Orlando and Toronto. Both squads have faced all 28 other teams in the league at least once. The Raptors will play in Orlando again on March 20 and the Magic will be in Toronto on April 8 for the Raptors’ final home game of the season.

``We haven’t seen anything from them yet because we haven’t played them yet – which is kind of crazy since it’s almost March,’’ joked Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 19 points and five 3-pointers in Monday’s loss in OKC.

As for Isaac, the rookie said that he had some lingering body soreness following his two-game stint in the G League. He stressed that his right ankle is structurally sound, and he is fully on board with the medical staff’s decision to withhold him and wait until he’s fully ready to play. That return could come on Friday against Detroit, Saturday against Memphis or potentially even later.

``Their rationale is that they just want to make sure that everything is 100 percent and that everything is perfect,’’ said Isaac, who didn’t go through drills with the team in Wednesday morning’s shoot-around session. ``Obviously, I just want to get back on the floor and do the right thing. I’m just following their instructions and I’ll be ready to go on Friday.’’

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