Jonathan Isaac Making Good Progress, Could Return Soon

By John Denton
Dec. 13, 2017

ORLANDO – Aaron Gordon’s hopes of making a speedy return from the concussion he suffered on Friday were dashed on Wednesday when he was ruled out of the Orlando Magic’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers and kept in the NBA’s protocol for recovery.

Gordon, the Magic’s leading scorer on the season, was concussed on Friday when he ran face-first into the shoulder of Denver guard Gary Harris. The 22-year-old Gordon seemed to make tremendous progress over the past three days, passing bicycle, sprinting and non-contact drill tests and not showing any concussion-related symptoms.

Gordon, who went through the Magic’s morning practice on Wednesday, still needed clearance from an independent physician to play in Wednesday’s game. However, word came down about seven hours prior to tipoff that Gordon would not play and would remain in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

``Well, he’s frustrated and he wants to play, but the protocols put in place here are smart with player safety in mind and you have to adhere to that,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``It’s very black and white, so there’s nothing really to get upset about.’’

Not having Gordon was a huge letdown for the Magic considering how he played against the Clippers last season. In a December meeting at the Amway Center, Gordon made 13 of 21 shots, including four of eight 3-pointers, in a 33-point, seven-rebound effort against the Clippers. Three weeks later, Gordon burned L.A. for 28 points by making 11 of 17 shots and four of eight 3-point shots.

This season, Gordon is averaging career highs in scoring (18.5 ppg.), rebounding (8.1 rpg.), assists (2.2 apg.), steals (1.0 spg.) and blocks (0.9 bpg.). He scored a career-best 41 points on Oct. 24 against Brooklyn and had another 40 points on Nov. 29 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s twice made game-winning 3-point shots: Oct. 24 against the Nets and Nov. 1 in Memphis.

INJURIES AND CALL UPS: Without Evan Fournier (ankle sprain), Terrence Ross (knee sprain), Jonathan Isaac (ankle sprain) and Gordon (concussion) and Arron Afflalo (back spasms) questionable, the Magic utilized some of the talent on their new G League team in Lakeland. Because of the close proximity between the Lakeland Magic and Orlando, the Magic were able to call up power forwards Khem Birch and Adreian Payne and guard Jamel Artis even though all three of them played for Lakeland on Tuesday night.

Artis and Payne practiced with the Magic on Tuesday and then played major roles in Lakeland’s 117-116 defeat of the Windy City Bulls later that night in Polk County. Birch, who has appeared in three games already this season for the Magic, was recalled to Orlando on Wednesday morning.

Payne played 30 minutes for Lakeland and had 26 points and eight rebounds while making 11 of 17 shots. Artis, who had the assist to Rodney Purvis for the game-winning jump shot, played 34 minutes and had 22 points and three 3-pointers. Birch had 17 points, nine rebounds, six assists and five blocks in 34 minutes on Tuesday.

Artis, a University of Pittsburgh product, was excited about being on a NBA bench for a first time on Wednesday.

``It’s definitely an exciting experience because I’ve wanted to be here my whole life and play with these guys I have been watching,’’ Artis said. ``Just watching them prepare for the game and (going through) shootaround, I’m taking the extra steps to try and continue my goal (of reaching the NBA full-time).’’

ISAAC’S RETURN: At long last, the Magic are finally starting to see some tangible progress as it relates to the return of Isaac, the prized No. 6 pick from last June’s NBA Draft.

Isaac sprained his right ankle on Nov. 11 when he swatted an Emmanuel Mudiay shot and landed on the Denver guard’s foot, causing his ankle to grotesquely buckle. Wednesday’s game was the 16th in a row that he’s missed, but Vogel said a return could be coming in the near future.

The 6-foot-10, 210-pound Isaac went through a host of one-on-one drills on Wednesday and the team is hopeful that he will practice with the entire squad on Thursday. Most likely, he’ll need several practices before he is cleared to return to game action.

The Magic were among the top defensive teams in the NBA early in the season with Isaac’s 7-foot wingspan on the floor. In 12 games, including two starts, Isaac swatted 1.25 shots a game and averaged 6.1 points and 4.4 rebounds a night.

Isaac said this is the first sprained ankle of his basketball career at any level and he never expected to miss this much time.

``The biggest thing is getting it right and making it 100 percent before I can get back out there,’’ Isaac said. ``No doubt, every day I’m able to do a little more and I’m just trying to get over that last hump. Everybody is saying, `make sure you get it right’ and `try not to rush back.’ I didn’t expect it to take this long at all. There’s just a little bit (of pain) and I’m trying to get over this last hump.’’

AFFLALO AILING: Adding to the Magic’s injury woes on Wednesday was the nagging case of back spasms to veteran guard/forward Arron Afflalo. The 32-year-old Afflalo started on Friday and Saturday in place of Fournier, but lingering pain and stiffness in his back caused him to miss practices on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday’s game.

With Afflalo out, Wes Iwundu – a second-round pick from the June NBA Draft – got the first start of his NBA career. Iwundu has been up and down all season between the Magic and the Lakeland Magic, but has impressed coaches and teammates with his defensive grit and his high basketball IQ.

Out of the rotation much of the season, Afflalo has put in hours of extra work before and after practice to keep his conditioning up and keep his skills sharp. He now believes that the extra work could be the reason to blame for his back woes.

``It’s about becoming more flexible; obviously, I’m strong enough at this stage of my career, but I’ve got to do some different things to stay healthy,’’ Afflalo said. ``I’ve just got to work a lot smarter. I remember a few years back I had some hamstring injuries and I really focused on them in the summer and I ended up having a great (next) year with my legs. So, it’s just a total body thing for me.’’

Afflalo has used his 11 years of NBA experience to help guide younger teammates and serve as a mentor. He said even if the back is an issue that keeps him out multiple games, he can have a positive impact on the team with his words and advice for his teammates.

``I’m still very optimistic about this team and myself within the flow of the team and we’ve still got some season left,’’ Afflalo said. ``It seems like we’ve lost a lot of games, but when you look at the standings we’re never out of the picture. If we could just put together three or four wins and put together a good stretch we’ll be right where we need to be. So, guys are still positive and I’m trying to make sure they keep the right energy.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic will be on the practice floor on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Orlando lost 99-94 in Portland on Nov. 15.

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