ORLANDO – In his nine weeks away from basketball, Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac worked on more than just simply rehabilitating his injured right ankle.
His also went to work on his total body, hoping to come back stronger and heavier than when he went down with the troublesome ankle injury.
Up from 6-foot-10 to 6-foot-11 thanks to his continuous growth, the 20-year-old Isaac also bulked up his body from a rail-thin 210 pounds to a solid 222 pounds. He’s spent countless hours in the gym with Head Strength and Conditioning coach Bill Burgos and assistant strength coach Daniel Erickson to add the kind of strength that should make him even better defensively.
``I would say even shooting the ball, that had even gotten easier with the added strength,’’ said Isaac, who also drilled with shooting coach Dave Love on adding more balance for his shooting form. ``Having that extra strength in my arms and legs has helped. And being able to move and bang a little more on the inside, that helps me.’’
The was evident on Friday in Isaac’s first game since Dec. 26. On one play in the first half, he used his 7-foot wingspan to bat a pass into the backcourt. Isaac then had the agility and strength to outfight Detroit’s Anthony Tolliver – who had an 18-pound weight advantage – to the loose ball for a steal.
Isaac, the No. 6 pick from last June’s NBA Draft, was back in action on Saturday night as the Magic hosted the Memphis Grizzlies. His final line from Friday – three points, two rebounds, two steals and a block in just 15 minutes – shows why Magic head coach Frank Vogel can’t wait to unleash Isaac on the rest of the league without the limits of a minutes’ restriction.
``His length is legit and it’s going to be a difference-maker for our basketball team,’’ said Vogel, who re-inserted Isaac in the final second of regulation and he deflected away Tolliver’s in-bonds pass.
FAST STARTERS: Say what you will about the Magic’s overall play and their consistency this season, but they usually show up dialed in and ready to play at the start.
Orlando’s best quarter all season has been the first quarter – one where it has averaged 27.8 points. That’s three points better than the second quarter (24.8 points), slightly better than the third period (27.2 points) and a couple of notches better than the fourth quarter (25.5 points). In its past five games, Orlando has scored 31, 37, 38, 18 and 41 points in the first quarters of games.
The Magic’s top three scorers – Evan Fournier (347 points), Aaron Gordon (274 points) and Nikola Vucevic (229 points) – have totaled their most points in any quarter in the first quarter of games this season.
``In complete fairness and honesty, in this time of year, (opposing) teams look at our record and don’t expect us to come out and play hard and play well,’’ Vogel said. ``We’ve gotten up on teams early and we’ve kind of woken them up. The old adage as a coach is that you never want a 20-point lead early in a game in the NBA because the other team will be motivated for three quarters.’’
GRIZZLY GROAN: When Orlando and Memphis last met on Nov. 1, the Magic exited that game a promising 6-2, while the Grizzlies were 5-3. At that time, both teams were near the top of their respective divisions but have since taken quite a tumble since because of devastating injuries.
Orlando snapped a seven-game losing streak on Friday by beating Detroit. It has been without Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross and Isaac for long stretches this season and totaled 162 player games lost to injuries.
The Grizzlies lost at home to Denver on Friday and limped into Orlando on Saturday riding an unsightly 12-game skid. Mike Conley (left heel), Marc Gasol (rest), Tyreke Evans (right rib injury), Andrew Harrison (right wrist) and Deyonta Davis (left ankle) were out, while Chandler Parsons (illness), JaMychal Green (illness) and Wayne Selden (sore right knee) were limited. Conley has been limited to just 12 games all season, while Gasol sat out his third game of the season on Saturday.
``The approach is the same and every single day we approach the game the same way. We show up and we go to work,’’ interim Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ``You’ve got to give our guys a ton of credit because they haven’t given in and they won’t allow themselves to give in. That’s the character of the guys that we have.’’
UP NEXT: Orlando leaves on Sunday for its longest road trip of the season – a five-game trip that will be spread over 10 nights.
The Magic will face the Jazz (Monday), Lakers (Wednesday), Kings (Friday), Clippers (Saturday) and Spurs (March 13) on the lengthy trip.
Utah has been one of the NBA’s surprise teams this season despite losing Gordon Hayward in free agency in July. The Jazz won 11 straight prior to the break for the NBA All-Star Game and they went into Saturday’s game at Sacramento 2-2 since the midseason interruption. Utah handed the Magic their most lopsided defeat of the season on Nov. 18, winning 125-85.
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