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Jonathan Isaac shines with Lakeland Magic during first game in two-plus years

The Magic forward made his long-awaited return to the court after not playing in an NBA game since 2020

Westchester Knicks v Lakeland Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Jonathan Isaac comeback tour is officially underway.

First stop was on Wednesday night in Lakeland, where the Magic forward played in a competitive basketball game for the first time in 892 days.

It was Isaac’s first time on the court since he tore his ACL during the NBA bubble in August of 2020. The long and often frustrating rehab process that followed now appears to be nearing its end, with Isaac showing that his return to the Orlando Magic is imminent.

When he stepped onto the court in Lakeland against the Westchester Knicks on Wednesday night, he very much resembled the Isaac of late 2019, outside of his No. 4 black Lakeland jersey. He displayed aggressiveness, speed, agility and no hesitance to attack the rim on offensive or challenge a shot on defense.

Isaac checked in with 4:30 remaining in the first quarter and quickly poked the ball away from former former Magic player Melvin Frazier Jr. on his first defensive possession to help force a 24-second violation. Isaac tried to return in style with his first shot attempt as he drove the lane and was fouled while attempting to throw down a two-handed dunk, with his first points coming from the free throw line.

Isaac then grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball down court and delivered a pretty feed to R.J. Hampton for the layup.

Isaac’s first field goal came after he caught a lob under the basket, pivoted and concerted a reverse lay-in plus the foul for a three-point play.

A cutting Isaac then received a bounce pass and threw down a two-handed dunk for a 34-27 lead late in the first.

Isaac finished the quarter with seven points and two rebounds in four minutes.

He returned with 3:54 left in the second. On his first offensive possession, Isaac drove the lane, spun into the paint and hit a turnaround fade.

On the next possession, he connected on a turnaround out of the post. His first miss of the game came on his first three-point attempt.

Isaac didn’t register a block in the half but did alter a shot on a fast break to force a miss late in the second. He closed the half by following up his own miss in the post with a put-back slam for a 65-63 Lakeland lead. In eight first-half minutes, Isaac shot 5 of 7 from the field for 13 points.

Isaac was quiet in the second half as some fatigue appeared to set in. He checked back in with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter and quickly recorded his first block of the game when challenged at the rim, leading to a Magic fast break...

His final stint of the night came with 7:50 remaining in the game. He showed a quick first step when driving the lane and converted a layup plus the foul for his final points of his return.

Isaac finished with 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting with five rebounds, one assist and one block in 14 minutes. He missed all three of his attempts from deep and went 2-for-4 from the free throw line.

“It was great, Isaac said after the game. “I’m grateful to the Magic, to Lakeland and to God for me just being back out here. This is a great milestone for me and I’m just glad I was able to do it.”

“I definitely can still hoop, “Isaac told Bally Sports Sun. “But it’s going to take me a little bit to get my legs back under me. Going through thise three to four minute bouts got me tired. I just want to keep pushing my conditioning and get to the place I feel really comfortable.”

Isaac’s next opportunity to play could be on Friday when Lakeland hosts the Greensboro Swarm.

The 25-year-old is in the second year of a four-year, $70 million deal. Drafted sixth overall in the the 2017 NBA Draft, Isaac has played in just 136 games over the first five seasons of his career.

He was in the midst of a potential breakout season when he first suffered a knee sprain on Jan. 1, 2020. He missed the next 31 games, but the NBA’s four-month hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic enabled Isaac to return that season. That return lasted just two games before Isaac suffered a torn ACL. He finished the season averaging 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds 2.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game.

Isaac began practicing with Lakeland in early December. It’s unclear how many games Isaac will play with Lakeland before joining the Magic, but Wednesday night provided tangible evidence that his long-awaited NBA return is expected very soon.