Jonathan Isaac Returns vs. Pistons

By John Denton
Dec. 17, 2017

DETROIT – Prized rookie Jonathan Isaac made his much-anticipated return to the Orlando Magic’s rotation on Sunday following a 16-game absence related to the ankle sprain he suffered on Nov. 11.

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, was allowed to return on a limited basis and the Magic planned to restrict his time on the floor to 15 minutes on Sunday against the Detroit Pistons.

The return was welcomed by a Magic team without their top two scorers – Aaron Gordon (calf strain) and Evan Fournier (ankle sprain) – and also missing Terrence Ross (knee sprain) and Arron Afflalo (back spasms). As for Isaac, the rookie was delighted to finally resume a rookie season that got off to such a promising start over the Magic’s first 12 games.

``It feels great to be back out there to try and help my team win,’’ Isaac said, who checked into the game with 2:20 to play in the first quarter. ``I’ve been trying to watch film and do stuff on my own to make sure that I’m still up on the plays. Being able to go through a shootaround (on Friday) and a practice (on Thursday) helped me feel like I’m all caught up.’’

Isaac jammed his ankle on Nov. 11 when he swatted the shot of Emmanuel Mudiay, but landed on the Denver guard’s foot, causing him immediate pain. He had hoped to return quickly from the injury, but lingering pain along the way delayed his return. He admitted to being frustrated along the way and he has high hopes that coming back gradually with the minutes’ restriction will ease any concerns about his ankle or his conditioning.

``Hopefully I won’t be too rusty, but conditioning will be something (to watch) and that’s why they are only playing me 15 minutes,’’ said Isaac, who averaged 6.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.25 blocks in his 12 games prior to the injury. ``Hopefully I can build on it and get all the way back.’’

INJURED AARON: A native of Northern California and just 22 years old, Magic forward Aaron Gordon said on Sunday that he had never heard of the phrase, ``snake bitten’’ as it relates to a string of unfortunate incidents.

Regardless, Gordon has to be questioning his fate these days after suffering a concussion and straining his right calf muscle within a week’s time. Gordon missed games on Dec. 9 and 13th after suffering the first concussion of his NBA career on Dec. 8 when he ran face-first into the shoulder of Denver guard Gary Harris. He returned to game action on Friday and proceeded to strain his right calf muscle as he ran back on defense to prevent a fast break score.

Gordon, tied with Fournier as Orlando’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game, had never before strained his calf, but he knew right away something was wrong and grabbed at the back of his leg. Gordon had a MRI on Saturday and it revealed a strain.

``It felt like something had grabbed with my calf and my hamstring and it was making it hard for me to get up and down the floor,’’ Gordon said. ``It’s just a mild calf strain. I’ve never had one of these before so I’ve got to be really careful. With concussions, ankle sprains and other things that I’ve had before, I understand the rehab to get back efficiently. With this, I’ve got to learn and it’s a learning process. I’m going to do my best to get back. I’ve learned a lot about my body since I’ve been in the NBA, so it’s just another thing that I am learning.’’

Gordon tried his best to rush back from the concussion and was disappointed that he couldn’t play on Wednesday when the Magic lost to the Clippers. Getting injured a second time – especially with a balky muscle – Gordon said he will have to be more patient this time around.

``When you’re impatient, that’s when you’ve become snake-bitten,’’ said Gordon, whose activities on Sunday were reduced to lifting weights. ``Patience is the key to staying in a healthy place. To stay safe, you’ve got to be patient.’’

ANOTHER LINEUP CHANGE: All of the Magic’s injuries have forced head coach Frank Vogel to be creative in shuffling his team’s starting lineups.

Sunday’s starting five – Elfrid Payton, Shelvin Mack, Jonathan Simmons, Mario Hezonja and Nikola Vucevic – was the 12th different opening lineup for the Magic.

Mack was the newcomer to the starting lineup as Vogel sought to add more ball-handling and play-making to the mix. Mack, who is in his first season with the Magic, started twice in early November when Orlando was without point guards D.J. Augustin and Payton because of hamstring injuries. Mack didn’t shoot the ball well against the Clippers or the Blazers, but he had one of his best games in Atlanta (nine points and nine assists in 26 minutes).

Vogel also moved G League call-up Jamel Artis into his regular rotation so that he can see what the 6-foot-7, 215-pound guard has to offer. In 15 games with the Lakeland Magic this season, Artis has averaged 19.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

``His skill level (is impressive), he’s shooting it well in the G League and he’s a really good playmaker,’’ Vogel said. ``He can really handle the ball when we post him up, we can get him in some pick-and-rolls off pin downs and he has a good feel for the game. And he’s a lengthy defender who can bring some physicality to the game.’’

STAN THE MAN: When his Pistons avoided blowing a 16-points lead in Indiana on Friday and won, coach Stan Van Gundy captured the 500th regular-season victory of his coaching career. Van Gundy came into Sunday at 500-354 in 12 NBA seasons for a winning percentage of .585.

Of course, a big chunk of that success came during his five seasons in Orlando from 2007-12. With the Magic, Van Gundy was 259-135 meaning his winning percentage (.657) was the best in team history. He is second only to Brian Hill (267 victories) in wins in franchise history. Van Gundy is famously not sentimental, but he said seeing many of his former Magic players – such as Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson – scattered around the NBA reminds him of the success the group enjoyed in Orlando.

``It’s always good to see those guys and when I see them on tape I’ve have a great appreciation and respect for guys who have worked hard for you, helped you win a lot of games and put up with all of your (rants),’’ Van Gundy said. ``You have a great appreciation for players – the one’s still playing and the ones not playing.’’

Van Gundy also won six playoff series while in Orlando, leading the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. His Magic teams were 31-28 in the postseason.

UP NEXT: The injury-plagued Magic will get a couple of days of rest with which they will hopefully use to fortify their team. The Magic will be off on Monday, practice on Tuesday in Chicago and then face the Bulls on Wednesday night at the United Center.

The Magic will be at the Amway Center on Friday when they host the New Orleans Pelicans.

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.