Postgame Report: Magic 102, Grizzlies 86

by John Denton

ORLANDO – The best moment of Wednesday for the Orlando Magic came not when forward Aaron Gordon rammed in a dunk off a 3-point miss, not when Evan Fournier converted a high-degree-of-difficulty layup in traffic nor when Jerian Grant drilled a jumper after wrapping a dribble behind his back.

Instead, the most significant moment came in the second quarter when Orlando forward Jonathan Isaac rose to his feet after Memphis’ JaMychal Green fell into his left leg and sent him sprawling to the Amway Center parquet floor. The hard hit, combined with Isaac’s frustrating history of ankle injuries, sent a sudden hush over the crowd at the Amway Center and many along the Magic bench didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until the 6-foot-11, 226-pound Isaac sprang back up to his feet.

Not long after that scary moment, Isaac proved that he was just fine by flying through the air for a spectacular alley-oop dunk. Other than a bit of foul trouble and the hard hit from Memphis’ Green, Isaac’s return to game action on Wednesday was a big success and he played a central role in the Magic whipping the Grizzlies 102-86 in preseason action.

``My teammates were joking with me, `Man, you’re about to be out again,’’ Isaac said after the nasty spill where he avoided another injury. ``But I’m OK, I’m good.’’

Isaac, the No. 6 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, played just 27 games as a rookie last season because of a series of ankle injuries. Despite working most of the summer to strengthen his ankles and grow his game, Issac rolled his right ankle just nine minutes into the preseason opener in Philadelphia last week and missed Orlando’s next two games. Wednesday’s game was just his second night of action in the preseason, but he didn’t disappoint, contributing 15 points, eight rebounds, two steals, two 3-pointers and a blocked shot in 17 minutes.

Also, Isaac showed why some Magic players consider him to be the team’s X-factor to the season. If he can, first stay healthy, and then evolve into an effective two-way player, he could be the person to lift the Magic out of their six-year playoff drought.

``Last year (Isaac) didn’t play that much because of his injury and it’s kind of like we have a new player who was already here,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who had seven points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes. ``We know him and he’s comfortable knowing us, but he hasn’t really played. Now that he’s healthy, he’ll be an addition to us with all of his qualities. He can be a really big boost for us. He’s young, but he does a lot of great stuff for us.’’

Gordon had 15 points and five rebounds and electrified the Amway Center crowd early in the night by rebounding and dunking a missed shot all in one motion. Fournier (eight points and four assists) got off to a strong start and showed signs of breaking out of his mini-slump shooting the ball but ended up making only three of 10 tries in the game. Augustin (seven points and six assists) and Grant (nine points, five rebounds and three assists) both played well from the point guard position.

Orlando (2-2) shot 45 percent from the floor and drilled 10 3-point shots, but curiously struggled all night from the free throw line. The Magic missed eight of their first 10 free throws and converted only 20 of 40 from the charity stripe in the game. Orlando held a 54-38 edge on the glass.

Jarell Martin, who the Magic acquired in July in a trade with Memphis, made two 3-pointers, scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds.

``I had a little chip on my shoulder going against the team that traded me,’’ Martin said. ``I wanted to go out there and compete. It’s just about playing hard and I was able to show them what I’m capable of. I felt really good and my teammates did a good job of penetrating and getting me some wide-open looks.’’

Memphis (2-2) got 24 points from veteran point guard Mike Conley. Marc Gasol had 10 points, nine rebounds and five assists and drew two of the five fouls called on Isaac, who was on a minutes restriction after missing the past week with the minor ankle sprain.

Orlando will wrap up the preseason on Friday when it hosts the San Antonio Spurs. The Magic will get a much-needed off day on Saturday before spending the next three days practicing for the Oct. 17 regular-season opener against the Miami Heat. It is the third consecutive year that the Magic and Heat will open the regular season at the Amway Center.

The Magic were without prized rookie Mohamed Bamba on Wednesday night after he suffered a bruise to his right wrist on Monday in Miami. Bamba, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, was hit hard by Miami center Bam Adebayo and landed awkwardly on his wrist. An MRI showed no damage in the wrist and Bamba continued with his shooting and weight-lifting routine on Wednesday despite having to wear a soft brace on his wrist.

``That’s what practice is for, that’s what lifts are for,’’ Bamba said of getting in work on a night when he didn’t play. ``My motto is `gain an inch every day’ and I felt like I still gained an inch today.’’

Magic coach Steve Clifford, who called Wednesday’s game ``by far our best (preseason) game,’’ has been excited to work with Isaac since seeing him make tremendous strides during the NBA Summer League. Because Isaac possesses the kind of height, wingspan, lateral quickness and instincts of a great defender, Clifford feels that Isaac will be able to guard as many as four positions. Already, Clifford thinks the forward compares to an all-time great defensive player and he feels Isaac could someday be among the top defenders in the NBA.

``To me, he’s like – he’s bigger and more athletic, of course – but he’s like a (Shane) Battier,’’ Clifford said. ``We had Shane in Houston (when Clifford was an assistant coach) and back then people considered him and Bruce Bowen to be the best perimeter defenders in the NBA because they were good individual defenders and good team defenders. I watch Jonathan play and he reminds me a lot – in terms of decision-making and anticipation off the ball – and he plays a lot like Shane played.’’

Isaac’s stellar defensive instincts set up what looked like would be a thunderous dunk in the second quarter when a nearly disastrous moment struck. After poking the ball away from Green near the midcourt stripe, Isaac fought off the Memphis forward for the ball and readied himself for takeoff. It was then that Green fell into Isaac’s left leg and sent Orlando’s prized 21-year-old forward crashing to the floor.

Fortunately for the Magic, Isaac didn’t stay down long and calmly sank the two free throws rewarded to him for Green’s foul.

From there, Isaac made a series of dazzling plays to make everyone forget about his hard spill and his early foul trouble and lift Orlando to a 54-41 halftime lead. He swatted a Shelvin Mack runner in the lane earlier in the second quarter and followed up a missed layup by D.J. Augustin for a dunk. Seconds later, Isaac showed off his tremendous speed and athleticism by catching an alley-oop pass from Augustin for another dunk.

Isaac expanded his game even more in the third quarter by drilling two 3-point shots and helping the Magic lead by as much as 24 points. The first three came from the left corner after his defender lost him on a delayed fast break. Later in the third period, Isaac impressively drilled a long three when Augustin drove hard to collapse the defense before kicking the ball back to the lanky forward.

That shot, one that Isaac often passed up when he was a somewhat skittish rookie, showed even more of the progress that he has made on the offensive end. It also lent plenty of promise that if Isaac can stay healthy he can be a major contributor to the Magic this season.

When asked afterward if he would have taken the 3-point shot that he confidently stroked off the feed from Augustin last season when he was a rookie, Isaac flashed a wide, toothy grin. He’s put up thousands of threes in the time since his injury-marred rookie season ended and clearly he’s a much more confident player now, he stressed.

``I think I would have taken it (last season), but I don’t think I would have taken it as quickly,’’ Isaac said of his third-quarter 3-pointer. ``I just let it go and knew it was in. I would have taken that shot (last season), but it would have taken me a second to gather and I would have had to kind of, like, pray it in.’’

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.