Jonathan Isaac Will Return Tonight vs. Grizzlies

by John Denton

ORLANDO – If there was one lasting memory of the NBA Summer League for the Orlando Magic it was a sequence where forward Jonathan Isaac and center Mohamed Bamba formed something of a human wall in the lane and forced Memphis Grizzlies’ rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. to helplessly throw the ball into the air.

Now, three months later, the Magic are hoping that scene will be recreated tonight at the Amway Center when Isaac rejoins Bamba along the Magic’s frontline while facing Jackson Jr. and the Grizzlies.

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is set to return to action after missing the past two games with a slightly sprained right ankle. Isaac’s rookie season was limited to just 27 games because of a variety of ankle issues and he re-injured his right ankle nine minutes into the preseason opener last Monday when he accidentally stepped on the foot of Philadelphia forward Dario Saric.

Isaac practiced without pain the previous three days and he’s eager to get back on the floor with his teammates tonight.
``I feel great and I was able to go through everything with no issues, so I feel great,’’ Isaac said. ``Great signs (that there is no lingering pain) and my ankle is good.’’

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Amway Center and the game is being televised by Fox Sports Florida.

Magic coach Steve Clifford said he will keep roughly the same playing time tonight for starters Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon after that trio played 30-to-31 minutes on Monday in Miami. Clifford was happy that the team had 41 defensive deflections against the Heat, but said he was unhappy with the team’s transition defense. He expects the Magic (1-2) to improve that tonight against the Grizzlies (2-1).

Getting the long-armed and active Isaac back should help the Magic’s defense. At nearly 7 feet tall and possessing a wing span longer than 7 feet, Isaac can be smothering defensively for foes. Making him even more of a defensive threat for the Magic is the fact that he can play on the wings or in the post because of his length, lateral quickness and basketball smarts.

``He also helps so much off the ball and to me he just has an ability to read plays and sniff things out,’’ Clifford said. ``You don’t teach stuff like that. Some guys can do it and some guys can’t.’’

Memphis’ Jackson Jr. was the No. 4 overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft and he took the basketball world by storm last summer when he starred in the Summer League for the Grizzlies. But he had a nightmarish night against Isaac and Bamba in the summer league, going just one-of-nine from the floor while being smothered by the length of Isaac (12 points, seven rebounds and five blocks) and Bamba (11 points, five rebounds and one block).

``That was my matchup and I do remember that (game) vaguely,’’ Isaac said of guarding Jackson Jr. back in the Las Vegas Summer League. ``The only thing that stands out and the one thing that everybody talks about is that block that me and Mo had. It was really Mo’s, but they counted it as mine.’’

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