Jonathan Isaac’s absence is present in Orlando Magic’s recent struggles

The Orlando Magic faced tons of adversity in Washington, D.C. as Jonathan Isaac went down with a knee injury early in the game. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic faced tons of adversity in Washington, D.C. as Jonathan Isaac went down with a knee injury early in the game. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The loss of Jonathan Isaac has taken its toll on the Orlando Magic. And the team will need to turn the tide if they plan on locking the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

This has been a horrendous month for the Orlando Magic.

Not only has the team lost their last four games, they have also lost their starting small forward Jonathan Isaac, a player the organization has high hopes of becoming one of the franchise leaders.

The team went 7-8 in January, but things appear to be slipping for the group. The team has lost its stranglehold on the seventh-seed in the Eastern Conference and even the Chicago Bulls are threatening to make the playoffs, 3.5 games behind the Orlando Magic.

The question now becomes why has this team struggled through these four games against Playoff contending teams? And how much of it has to do with the loss of Jonathan Isaac?

It has not been a happy new year in Central Florida. Isaac suffered an injury to his posterior lateral corner and a bone contusion when he hyperextended his left knee in the first quarter in the Orlando Magic’s 122-101 win over the Washington Wizards on the first day of the year. This loss is proving to be bigger than anyone expected.

Issac was averaging 12.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 1.4 assists per game. His presence on defense is huge as he can guard four positions on the court, he’s arguably the only player on the team who has that skill set.

And although the Magic got the win against the Wizards, losing Isaac is proving to be a contributing factor to the team’s recent downturn. Orlando has struggled to find its way to play, cobbling together lineups to try to stay afloat.

Fans will point to the mismatched lineups the team has been forced to use. Orlando has relied on Khem Birch to play power forward most nights as coach Steve Clifford tries to maintain his team’s rotation.

Even Steve Clifford would admit it is not a perfect fit and Khem Birch is not a power forward in any way. The only thing seemingly keeping this lineup alive is a desire to maintain a “normal” rotation and at least nominal statistical gains, even if it does not pass the eye test.

The defense which Isaac helped buoy so much has faltered this month too. In January, the Magic posted a 106.9 defensive rating. That still leaves them fourth in the league for the month. But things have slipped.

Orlando has lost six of its last seven games, ending a brutal and difficult stretch to the schedule. In those seven games, the Magic have given up 114.3 points per 100 possessions. That is far above their season average and a sure sign for their defeat.

The Magic have to turn it around quickly.

No NBA team feels bad for the Magic. The team will have to somehow turn the tide without one of its best players.

Isaac is out of a cast and wearing a brace, but still getting around on crutches. After Friday’s practice, the media could see him lounging on a chair off to the side as teammates finished up shooting drills. He is still in the building going through some rehab, but he is still far away from a return.

Under the original timeline for Isaac, the team is not due to evaluate him again until the end of February.

Orlando got some bad salary cap news too. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported the Magic were not granted a disabled player exception for Isaac, essentially meaning league doctors believe Isaac could return before the end of the NBA calendar year (June 30).

Orlando could still use some cap relief (about $4 million) on the disabled player exception they received for Al-Farouq Aminu (likely out for the year with a torn meniscus).

While the Magic have held steady for a month without Isaac, they will not expect him back for some time. Orlando is going to have to find a way to come out of these struggles.

To do so, multiple players on this roster will be forced to step up and play to their potential consistently. If not, this could end terribly for a team with postseason goals.

The losses are starting to pile up. Clifford has expressed his frustration with the team’s play of late. Isaac’s absence is not an excuse for the Magic’s second-year coach.

More than anything, it has been the inconsistency from the Magic’s key players that has hurt the team through this four-game losing streak.

Everyone is struggling to find the energy defensively, but offensively the Magic have not been able to pick up the slack. Or find anyone they could consistently rely on.

Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic poured in strong games in the Jan. 22 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Terrence Ross scored 26 points and Nikola Vucevic had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Vucevic has scored just 43 points on 16-for-47 shooting (34.0 percent) in the next three games. Ross has struggled more, scoring just 27 points on 10-for-43 shooting (23.3 percent) in that time.

Evan Fournier scored 30 points in the loss to the Boston Celtics. But in the three other games of this losing streak, Evan Fournier has scored a total of 32 points on 13-for-44 shooting (29.5 percent).

Aaron Gordon has really struggled throughout this four-game losing streak, averaging 12.3 points per game and 37.3-percent shooting.

All of Orlando’s best players have struggled to provide their scoring push during this skid consistently. Their struggles offensively are certainly draining the team defensively. It is easy to see the team getting frustrated and their focus wane defensively.

In this league no matter how good a defense is, if the offense is not flowing, energy will drop. It is human nature.

Isaac might not be able to help the offense much. But he would give the team its security blanket defensively again. He would be the backstop that could give the team the defensive boost to help the offense work easier for better shots.

The Magic are certainly missing his presence. And they are still searching for the right way to operate without him so they can use their defense to feed their offense.

Some rest and practice time should help the Magic reset some. They can refocus on the basics and fine-tune areas they have slipped.

Next. Orlando Magic facing an identity crisis at season's crossroads. dark

But the Magic have to find a way to right the ship before the All-Star Break in Chicago. They cannot afford to keep losing games or they will find themselves fighting the Bulls for the eighth seed and an early exit against the Milwaukee Bucks.