By John Denton Feb. 14, 2018
ORLANDO – Up in weight some 11 pounds and his bothersome right ankle finally healthy, Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac pronounced himself as being ``back to where I was’’ and eager for his return to game action.
Isaac, the Magic’s No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, hasn’t played since Dec. 26 and only sparingly since severely spraining his right ankle on Nov. 11. After two ill-fated comebacks that were cut short by recurring pain in the ankle, the Magic shut Isaac down indefinitely so that he could focus on strengthening his ankle and adding weight to his rail-thin 6-foot-10 frame.
Magic coach Frank Vogel said on Wednesday that the 20-year-old rookie forward will be given a detailed workout program to maintain during the all-star break and his return to game action will depend on how he looks in the practices after the break for the NBA All-Star Game. Isaac’s return could even come in the G League for the Lakeland Magic before he rejoins the NBA’s Magic.
``I think that would be great,’’ Isaac said of potentially playing in the G League. ``They said I’d be on a minute/time restriction thing and in and out. I think it would be great to get back to who I am, be able to play and hoop again.’’
Isaac, a product of Florida State, played well as both a reserve and a starter early in the season as the Magic got off to a promising 8-5 start. In those first 13 games, Isaac averaged 6.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while helping the Magic to the NBA’s sixth-best defensive efficiency rating.
The Magic, and their defense, have since fallen off dramatically and the squad is eager to get their prized rookie back on the floor to further his development.
Isaac, who will be back at FSU this weekend to be honored by the Seminoles’ basketball program, said it’s important for him to get back into games with the Magic as soon as possible so that he can cull experience and comfort from his rookie season. Orlando will have 25 games remaining after the all-star break – starting with the Feb. 22 home game against the New York Knicks.
``I think (the remaining games) are very important in terms of going hard, trying to reinvent things and figure things out for myself,’’ said Isaac, who has raised his weight from 211 to 222 pounds through vigorous work in the weight room. ``My rookie year should be just learning, but I’ve kind of taken a step back from that because I haven’t been playing. But it’s just about getting back in there and keep learning and keep progressing so that I’ll be able to do stuff next year.’’
A DIFFERENT TEAM: While he’s certainly looking forward to getting some rest over the All-Star break, Vogel is also looking forward to getting some much-needed reinforcements back in terms of healthy bodies next week.
Orlando expects center Nikola Vucevic and power forward Aaron Gordon to return next week, and soon after Terrence Ross and Isaac should follow. Vucevic, Orlando’s leading rebounder a sixth straight season, has been out since fracturing a bone in his hand on Dec. 23, while Gordon, Orlando’s leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, missed the nine games before the break because of a strained left hip flexor.
Isaac is likely closer to a return than Ross, who sprained his knee on Nov. 29. Ross likely won’t play again until March, but he continues to make strides while sprinting and scrimmaging. Vucevic, Gordon and Ross played a game of full-court, three-on-three on Wednesday after practice, signifying that they are getting closer to a return.
``We’re going to be a different team, if not immediately after the break, then shortly after that when Terrence and Jonathan get back in there,’’ Vogel said. ``We’re definitely going to look very different.’’
HOWARD HOPING FOR LONGEVITY: Long-time Magic fans still remember Dwight Howard as the 18-year-old center whom the franchise took with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Now 32 years old and on his fourth team since demanding a trade and leaving the Magic in 2012, Howard said it dawned on him recently how long he’s played basketball and how many miles he has on a body that required back and knee surgeries to continue.
``I do think about it a lot and hopefully I can make it 20 years,’’ said Howard, who is in his 14th NBA season and his first with Charlotte. ``Twenty years has always been my goal. It’s crazy to think about it – I was on my phone the other day and I wrote down `14 years.’ When you’re playing that doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you put down the number `14’ and then you put `years’ after it, it does hit you.
``But as long as I’m willing to play, I want to do it,’’ said Howard, who has averaged 15.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 1.64 blocks a game this season for the Charlotte Hornets. ``I know I probably have four really good years left at a high level of basketball. Then, after that, I wouldn’t mind helping the younger guys and clapping at the end of the bench.’’
Howard, who is Orlando’s all-time leader in scoring (11,435), rebounding (8,072) and blocked shots (1,344), helped the Magic reach the 2009 NBA Finals and the ‘10 Eastern Conference Finals. He said as his career has progressed he’s given some thought to his legacy and he’s still very proud of what he accomplished in Orlando.
``Nobody can ever take away what we did during my time here,’’ Howard said. ``This (Amway Center) is living proof. Some of the things that we did and seeing the city grow the way that it has, that’s something we always wanted to see happen. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t been super successful, but I think Orlando has really grown since I left. So, on that note, that’s a positive.’’
CLIFFORD HEALING: Like Howard, Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford was in Orlando during the franchise’s heyday years of 2009 and ’10. Clifford worked as an assistant coach under head coach Stan Van Gundy and he still speaks fondly about his time in Orlando.
Clifford, who is in his fifth season as Charlotte’s head coach, was forced to step away from his job from Dec. 4 to Jan. 17 because of a series of severe headaches caused by fatigue and sleep deprivation. Clifford, 56, said the time off and the help of various doctors taught him the differences he needed to make both personally and professionally to better his health. A grinder much of his 35-year coaching career at the pro, collegiate and high school levels, Clifford has learned that working smarter beats working longer and harder.
``It’s impacted me a great deal and I told the doctors, `I know I have to do my job differently’ and the neurologists line was, `No, you have to live differently,’’’ Clifford said. ``As you get older your body can’t function without necessary sleep. I sleep now … and what I’m trying to train my body to do is to sleep more. I’m up to now where I can sleep to almost six hours straight, which is a long way from where I was a few weeks ago. I feel much, much better.
``The one thing I would say is that as you get older, you have to listen to your body and you have to use the doctors,’’ Clifford said. ``Modern medicine is a great thing if you use it. That’s what I’ve learned.’’
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