Jonathan Isaac gives Magic reason to smile: 'He was great'

Jonathan Isaac's presence provided joy for the Orlando Magic on and off the floor during and after a 114-110 scrimmage win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.

Isaac, who hadn't played since suffering a left knee injury on Jan. 1, scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds in just seven minutes in his Florida bubble debut -- smiling wide after seeing the reward for months of rehab work pay off.

"It felt really good," Isaac said during a video call with reporters. "It's really fun to be back out there. I think one of the biggest parts about just getting back out there was being with my teammates and being able to put my jersey on and kind of just have it come full circle with all the work that's been put in and just the day in and day out [grind]. So to be back on the floor feels good; I'm glad I played well. My teammates were rooting me on."

Isaac wore the smile of a man who knew how much work had been put in to get to this moment, but the happiness that his performance gave his teammates and coaches was palpable throughout separate video calls with reporters.

"He was great," Magic coach Steve Clifford said. "Not just the way he played, his energy level, his purpose of playing and obviously his shot-making. I think the nicest thing or 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."

Both Clifford and point guard Markelle Fultz noted how much of a jolt Isaac's performance gave the young group. Fultz, who also made his debut in the bubble Monday night after being excused from the first week of practices to take care of a personal matter (not COVID-19-related), was happy to see Isaac have such an immediate impact.

"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, so he kind of helped me a lot just being out there with him. Just seeing his energy, it pushed me to go harder."

Isaac's return is even more impressive given that team officials weren't sure if he would be able to participate in the bubble because he had been injured and rehabbing for so long.

"We've had some guys who were able to be in Orlando the whole time, as soon as we were able to open up Amway [Center] again," Clifford said. "Some guys were there the whole time. Other guys, because they were away and had to come back, they were there part of the time, and the guys that were there the whole time, and JI was one of them, they do have a big advantage -- they're definitely ahead of the other guys. And he was going twice a day a lot of times. The first guy in in the morning and then he would come back in the afternoon, so he has put in a tremendous amount of work, and again, he's super bright."

Isaac admitted he was "gassed" after playing just a handful of minutes, and Clifford noted that it remains to be seen just how much both Isaac and Fultz will play when the Magic start their seeding games on Friday against the Brooklyn Nets (the Magic enter play a half-game behind Brooklyn for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference). But Fultz affirmed what the pictures of the Magic bench already showed during the game -- Isaac's presence gives the Magic a huge lift as they start their most important stretch of the season.

"It's huge," Fultz said of Isaac's return. "I think a lot of us were just thinking about that, him being injured, you don't want to have him rush to be here because you know how much he loves the game. So just seeing how dedicated he was to work hard -- as you hear him talk about, he had to do two-a-days, just seeing it pay off, I think that's the biggest thing ... I think everybody's just really excited. You could hear it as soon as he checked in -- everybody was super excited. And then to see him play like that was even bigger. I'm pretty sure that took a big load off everybody's back."