By John Denton Nov. 25, 2017
PHILADELPHIA – Incredibly, Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac says the ankle sprain he suffered on Nov. 11 is the first of his basketball career. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect it to keep him out this long, but he’s holding out hope he will soon make a return.
Isaac, 20, sprained his ankle two weeks ago in Denver when he swatted the shot of Emmanuel Mudiay and landed on the point guard’s foot, causing his ankle to grotesquely roll over. The sixth overall pick from last June’s NBA Draft got back on the court for some conditioning/testing work on Saturday, but the injury still caused him to miss his seventh straight game.
``I really thought it was going to be like a week and then right back at it, but it’s all about getting the swelling back and figuring out how to (strengthen) it,’’ Isaac said after his pregame workout in Philadelphia. ``It’s definitely taken longer than I thought it would.’’
It’s no coincidence that the Magic’s struggles have come at a time when arguably their best defender has been absent. Despite his rail-thin frame and his rookie status, Isaac is the Magic’s leader in blocked shots (1.3 a game) and he played a big role in being a deterrent at the rim for the team. Isaac has also averaged 6.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 12 games.
Magic coach Frank Vogel has held out hope that Isaac will make his return on this road trip, but there’s just one game remaining – Monday in Indianapolis against the Indiana Pacers. The Magic most likely won’t practice on Sunday after playing two games in as many nights, so Isaac likely won’t have the opportunity to go through a full practice to test out his ankle and conditioning prior to Monday’s game. Wednesday’s home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder might be a more likely time for Isaac’s return.
``I still have to go through the conditioning drills to get that back back up, so I don’t know (about a possible return),’’ Isaac said. ``I don’t know what the criteria is about whether I can just come back or not (without practicing), but I hope I can come back on this trip. If not, we’ve got a home one coming up.’’
J.J.’s IMPACT: The Philadelphia 76ers are just finding out what many former Magic players knew long ago: J.J. Redick isn’t just a consummate professional and a maniacal worker, but his habits tend to be infectious on impressionable young players.
Redick, the No. 11 pick of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Magic, played in Orlando for the first 6 ½ years of his NBA career. He was a key piece of the Magic teams that reached the 2009 NBA Finals and the ’10 Eastern Conference Finals. After a short stint with the Milwaukee Bucks, Redick spent the past four seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers prior to signing a lucrative, one-year deal with the youthful Sixers back in July.
This season, Redick has averaged 15.2 points a game while shooting 43.9 percent from the floor and 38 percent from 3-point range. His contribution has extended far beyond the basketball court, Sixers coach Brett Brown stressed.
``I remember reading an article about some of the military strategy of how they would put a small group of people with a veteran and it expedites learning,’’ Brown said. ``I see (Redick) in that spirit because he has an ability to speak in a locker room where he’s got a history and a background. And then he backs it up with what we see him do pre-practice, post-practice, he’s maniacal with his body and he’s as professional as anybody I’ve ever been around. And when he talks, we all listen.’’
BIG MAN BALANCE: Upset about an uncharacteristically pedestrian 2016-17 season, Magic center Nikola Vucevic came into training camp two months ago promising to strike more of a balance between posting up and heaving more jump shots from the perimeter.
Vucevic knew full well that Orlando wanted him to extend his range and shoot more 3-pointers this season, but he probably never envisioned that emphasis would keep him out on the perimeter as much as it has thus far.
The 7-foot center came into Saturday night’s game in Philadelphia having taken 81 3-point shots and having made 32 (39.5 percent). The downside of his reliance on the 3-point shot is that it has caused his overall shooting percentage to fall to 49.3 percent. Other than last season’s 46.8 shooting percentage – when he was forced outside much more than he liked because of the construction of the roster – Vucevic hasn’t shot less than 50 percent from the floor since his rookie season in 2011-12.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Vucevic had made more mid-range shots (33) and 3-pointers (32) than he has baskets in the paint (26), according to NBA.com data. Most of those attempts have come on spinning hook shots (22 of 45).
``I think I can do a little better job of mixing it up, but with some of the stuff that we run it’s not always easy for me to find a balance,’’ Vucevic said. ``I think (his proclivity to post up) is better than it was early in the year. I’m still trying to figure out how to be effective outside and not just stand around on the outside. I think it’s been better than I’ve expected, but I still think I can go inside more, put more pressure on the defense and be more effective.’’
UP NEXT: After playing Friday in Boston and Saturday in Philadelphia, the Magic will most likely have the day off on Sunday.
The team was scheduled to depart right after Saturday’s game and fly to Indianapolis – the site of Monday’s game against the Pacers.
Orlando lost 105-97 to the Pacers at the Amway Center last Monday. Turnovers, many of them caused by the blinding speed of Victor Oladipo, hurt the Magic as they gave the ball away 22 times, resulting in 26 points for the Pacers. Oladipo, who spent his first three years in the NBA in Orlando, had 29 points and seven steals, while Bojan Bogdanovic scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half.
Vucevic had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Magic, which have lost five straight to the Pacers and 16 of the last 18 over the last six seasons.
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