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Jonathan Isaac’s return impacts the Magic in more ways than one

Even with just seven minutes of playing time, Isaac’s presence was felt on and off the court

NBA: Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Having just scored 13 points in seven minutes, Jonathan Isaac was asked what kind of impact he could make in the Magic’s upcoming seeding games.

“I don’t want to read super into it tonight,” he told reporters after lifting the Magic to a 114-110 win over the Nuggets in their final scrimmage on Monday. “I want to continue to work day-by-day with the training staff and everybody and figure out what does it look like moving forward in terms of minutes. I guess with seven minutes I can make a pretty good impact.”

That seven minutes included 13 points, only one missed shot, a pair of threes – including a four-point play, seven rebounds, two steals, 19 unanswered Magic points, and a lot of excitement.

And that was only his tangible impact.

For a player like Isaac, his reach goes well beyond his lengthy, Weltman-adored wingspan.

“He was great,” Steve Clifford said. “I think that, not just the way he played, his energy level, his purpose of play and obviously his shot-making, but the best thing is what a lift he gives the team. You saw when he came out. How happy guys were in the locker room after the game. It just was good to have him back and have him on the floor.”

We’re aware that seven minutes in a scrimmage game isn’t exactly Willis Reed emerging from the Madison Square Garden tunnel in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But Isaac’s presence alone made his teammates better.

Markelle Fultz, making a return of his own, was inspired by the energy and hustle that Isaac brought to the court.

“It’s hard not to play hard when he’s on the floor because on both ends he’s running the floor, he’s playing defense,” Fultz said. “So, he kind of helped me a lot just being out there with him and just seeing his energy. It pushes me to go harder.”

Fultz and Clifford both praised Isaac for how hard he worked during rehab to get back on the court, saying he was the first guy to show up in the morning and he would then return in the afternoon for two-a-days.

“He’s an exceptional worker,” Clifford said. “The performance team has had a great plan for him, and he’s diligent. Whatever he’s asked to do he does, he does extra. I don’t think that there’s gonna be anything in terms of movement or stopping or starting that he hasn’t done with the team. They’re incredibly thorough, very knowledge, I think which gives him confidence that he’s prepared to go out and play.”

Added Fultz: “Hard work always pays off, you gotta stick with it. I think everybody is just really excited. You can hear it as soon as he checked in everybody was super excited. And then to see him play like that is just even bigger. I’m pretty sure that took a big load off everybody’s back.”

Isaac said after the game that while playing he had no reservations about what he could and couldn’t do on the court.

“I wasn’t thinking so much about what I was going to do,” he said. “I think my mindset was just come out there and feel the game and do whatever I can. So, I was looking for my shot early, I’m sure you guys could see that, and just tried to go with the game and try my best.”

Isaac said he was gassed after those seven first-half minutes but felt he could have played in the second half. The Magic, understandably, will take things slow. Clifford after the game wouldn’t commit to Isaac or Fultz playing in the Magic’s first seeding game on Friday against the Nets, saying he has to sit down with the performance staff and see how the two players are feeling in the days following their return. We should have an update later this afternoon.

Isaac and Fultz both are taking a day-by-day approach.

“I think I’m going in the right direction,” Fultz said. “I feel pretty good today. I think I could push myself, but we’re being smart about it. So, these next couple [practices] until Friday, I’m just going to work as hard as I can to get as well prepared as I can for Friday. And then we’ll see then.”