Jonathan Isaac Could Be Ready to Play Wednesday vs. Grizzlies

by John Denton

MIAMI – The Orlando Magic collectively have their fingers crossed that promising forward Jonathan Isaac will continue inching closer good health and be back in action by the team’s next game on Wednesday.

Isaac, who saw his rookie season limited to just 27 games because of a series of ankle injuries, sprained his right ankle just nine minutes into last week’s exhibition opener. Isaac, who recently turned 21 years old, missed preseason games on Friday and Monday (partly out of precaution), but the feeling is that he is close to a return.

Magic coach Steve Clifford said that Isaac went through all the team’s drills and scrimmaging on Sunday and again on Monday morning. The hope now is that he will practice on Tuesday and be available to play on Wednesday night when the Magic host the Memphis Grizzlies.

``He did some of the contact (on Sunday) and he felt good (Monday) morning and he did a lot of the offensive part of this and said he feels good,’’ Clifford said. ``Hopefully by Wednesday he may be able to play.’’

Isaac, the No. 6 pick from 2017, projects as a potential starter at forward for the Magic because of his length, athleticism and basketball smarts.

Isaac stayed in Orlando much of this past offseason so that he could work on adding strength and bulk to his previously rail-thin frame and to work on better protecting his ankles from sprains. He said that the Magic purchased a special machine for the team’s weight room to help him with the strengthening of his ankles and he did plenty of other drills to try and avoid a repeat of last season. In fact, Isaac stressed that the mild ankle sprain he suffered in the opener after accidentally stepping on Philadelphia forward Robert Saric’s foot would have been much worse if his ankles weren’t as strong as they are now.

``We do band work pretty much every day on my ankles and it was super tough working on (strengthening the ankles) this summer,’’ said Isaac, who got in another pre-game workout in Miami on Monday. ``I’m glad about the progress that we’ve made. My ability to roll (his ankle), stepping on somebody’s foot, and be back in action (shows the progress).’’

IWUNDU’S OPPORTUNITY: One man’s misfortune is often another man’s opportunity, and Magic forward Wes Iwundu has taken advantage of the chances to play more while Isaac has been out injured.

Iwundu, a second-round pick in 2017, started Friday’s game versus Flamengo and was back in the starting lineup on Monday in Miami. He had six points, two rebounds and an assist in the opener and contributed three points, a steal, a block and a rebound in 19 minutes on Friday.

``The guy who is playing well – we play well when he’s on the floor – he’s very bright organizationally and in terms of basketball IQ and has made a strong argument as to why he’s ready to play a bigger role is Wes,’’ Clifford noted. ``Not just in the games, but practice, he’s the one (playing well). His numbers haven’t been great, but his play has been. You can always win in this league with guys who give you a chance to execute at both ends of the floor, and that’s what I see in him.’’

Iwundu played in 62 games (with 12 starts) as a rookie, averaging 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 16.5 minutes. The Magic’s defensive metrics were universally better when he was on the floor last season, but it’s his lack of a trustworthy 3-point shot that has prevented him from playing more. Iwundu shot just 42.7 percent from the floor and made only 19.6 of his 3-point shots (nine of 46) as a rookie, but he feels he brings plenty of other things to the floor.

``It’s just about being that smart player out there and a player who doesn’t make too many mistakes,’’ Iwundu said of his projected role. ``I have to be a player who can guard the hottest guy on offense at any time and make energy plays here and there. Do a lot of little things and fill in those corners for the threes.’’

CLOSE FRIENDS: Through the years, Orlando center Nikola Vucevic has regularly bedeviled the Miami Heat by posting some of the best numbers of his career against the Magic’s Sunshine State rivals. Similarly, Heat point guard Goran Dragic has a long history of playing well against Orlando.

Off the court, Vucevic and Dragic aren’t as competitive and they maintain a friendship as close as any in the NBA among rivals. When Orlando was in South Florida last February, Vucevic went to Dragic’s Miami home for a Super Bowl party. Both have also worked at one another’s kids camps back in their respective homelands and they once again dined together on Sunday night in Miami. Vucevic said the host player has to buy the dinners, which works out well for him since the restaurants are usually costlier in Miami than Orlando.

``It dates back to a year or two when I was in the NBA because we have the same agent,’’ Vucevic said of the friendship. ``We met through that and Goran is a great guy.

``Whenever we play against each other, we always try to catch up,’’ Vucevic added. ``Goran even came to my camp this past summer (in Montenegro) and he was the special guest at the camp. The kids really enjoyed it. He has had his own camp for years in Slovenia, but he was great (at Vucevic’s camp) talking to the kids and helping them. He’s a great player and I consider him a great friend.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.