DENVER – What might have passed as a forgettable moment for many other NBA players proved to be a ``small victory’’ recently for Orlando Magic prized forward Jonathan Isaac.
Isaac, who has had much of his first season-and-a-half in the NBA marred by ankle injuries, survived a scare recently when he once again landed on the foot of a foe. Isaac said he accidentally stepped on an opponent’s foot last Saturday when the Magic whipped the Los Angeles Lakers, causing his troublesome right ankle to briefly twist. This time, however, Isaac stayed in the game and he showed no ill effects when he checked back in after some time on the bench.
That sort of occurrence happened 12 games into last season and the subsequent injury knocked Isaac out of action for more than a month. A couple of other ankle injuries limited the promising forward to just 27 games as a rookie.
Nine minutes into Orlando’s first game of the preseason, Isaac came down on the foot of Dario Saric and the ankle twist knocked him out most of the preseason. Then, eight games into the regular season, Isaac had the same thing happen once again, keeping him out of the next six games.
Isaac, who was used off the bench again on Friday despite starting to show flashes of becoming the dynamic two-way player the Magic thought he could become when he picked him sixth overall in 2017, made it through the ankle twist in last Saturday’s game. At the behest of the Magic’s high-performance medical staff, Isaac recently switched to the same model of ankle braces that helped three-time champion and two-time MVP Stephen Curry turn his career around.
``That was definitely a small victory being able to step on somebody’s foot and stay in the game and be able to come back,’’ said Isaac, who came into Friday averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.33 blocks a game.
Being back in Denver reminded Isaac of the first ankle sprain that he suffered last season when he blocked Emmanuel Mudiay’s shot only to land on the guard’s foot – causing an injury that resulted in him missing the next 17 games and 41 of 43. Going into that Denver game last season, the Magic were 8-4, but they proceeded to drop the next nine, in part, because of the loss to the versatile forward.
``We definitely got off to a good start last year and Denver was the place that I got hurt,’’ Isaac remembered. ``I just want to win (this season). We’ve got to come out here and continue to improve as a team as we have all season.’’
MILE HIGH MEMORIES: It usually doesn’t take long upon the Magic arriving in Denver for guard Evan Fournier to be hit with memories of his time spent in the Mile High City from 2012-14. Fournier, a native of France, was selected in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft by the Nuggets and he learned to speak English in Denver. The city was also significant to him because it allowed him to live in the same place in consecutive years – something he rarely got to do while rising through the basketball ranks in France.
``When you’re a kid and you’ve never been to America and you stay in a city for two years, at the time that was the longest I had stayed in one place, so of course Denver has a special place,’’ said Fournier, who helped the Nuggets reach the NBA playoffs in 2013. ``They drafted me and gave me a shot. I see (Denver) like an old girlfriend now. You had a good time, but now you are married, and you have a wife. … Orlando is my wife now.’’
Fournier still he greatly enjoyed his time while living in suburban Denver because it allowed him to get outdoors quite often and he had enough land for his dog to roam in the yard. He still keeps in contact with one of his former neighbors, but he wasn’t able to visit any of his favorite haunts in Denver because the Thanksgiving holiday had most restaurants closed.
When Fournier was traded from Denver to Orlando following the 2014 season, he sent out a message on Twitter that fans could meet him at the Pepsi Center and get his Nuggets gear that he no longer wanted or needed.
``I was surprised (at the size of the turnout), and I was just being real and, obviously, I didn’t want to keep anything from the Nuggets,’’ he said. ``Instead of throwing it away, I just thought, `Why not give it to the fans that welcomed me?’ Those boxes (of Nuggets gear) were empty in like one minute.’’
EUROPEAN BROTHERHOOD: With the Magic in Denver on Thanksgiving and many of the restaurants closed due to the holiday, Nuggets’ standout center Nikola Jokic reached out to Magic center Nikola Vucevic and invited him to his home for dinner.
Vucevic, a native of Montenegro, and Jokic, a Serbia native, first got to know one another on a personal level two years ago when Vucevic and his wife took Jokic and his girlfriend to dinner in Orlando. Because the two of them obviously don’t celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving, Jokic had traditional Serbian dishes prepared and the two talked for a couple of hours while speaking Serbian.
``I’m trying to bring the guys that I know to my house because I think it’s a nice way to stay in contact and we have a good friendship,’’ Jokic said of dining with Vucevic. ``He’s a really good person and he comes from a really good family. I know him and his wife have a son on the way and (dinner) is just one way to stay in touch with friends.’’
Said Vucevic: ``We catch up once in a while. If one of us has a good game or something (they will communicate). … It was fun to catch up because he’s a good guy off the court. It was good to see him and it will be fun to play (on Friday).’’
UP NEXT: The Magic were scheduled to fly to Los Angeles after Friday’s game where they will practice on Saturday in preparation for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Lakers (3:30 p.m. ET tipoff). Orlando whipped the Lakers 130-117 last week at the Amway Center behind 36 points from Vucevic.
Orlando has lost its last five games to the Lakers in Los Angeles. That streak dates back to Dec. 12, 2012 when the Magic defeated the Lakers in their first game against Dwight Howard after the center forced a trade out of Orlando.
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