Orlando Magic could not have prepared for Jonathan Isaac’s devastating moment

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac left the game in a wheelchair as he suffered what looked like another injury to his left knee. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac left the game in a wheelchair as he suffered what looked like another injury to his left knee. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have relied on their medical staff to manage their return. There was nothing they could to stop another injury for Jonathan Isaac.

The great fear for every team inside the NBA campus as the season restarted after nearly four months of every player on the shelf during the coronavirus pandemic was of catastrophic injury.

It seemingly could strike at any time. And when it did, it would be to devastating effect.

There is no planning for it. Despite everyone’s best efforts, there may be no preparing for it. The body combusts randomly sometimes, sending the most graceful and trained athletes crumpling to the ground.

It does not make the sight of it any less easy to see. It doe snot make it any less easy to stomach or accept.

Jonathan Isaac had worked so hard to return from the posterior lateral corner injury to his left knee he suffered in Jan. 1 on a freak misstep that wrapped his leg around Bradley Beal’s leg in transition. The silver lining of the pandemic was that it gave Jonathan Isaac the extra time to heal and recover so he could get back on the court.

Then it all fell apart so randomly and tragically.

Late in the third quarter, with the Magic already cruising to a second straight victory inside the Disney campus, Isaac started driving through an open lane. As the defense closed in around him, he initiated a Euro step to avoid the defense.

As he planted that left knee once again, something went wrong. It buckled and he fell to the ground, crumpled over the knee once again in a scene eerily reminiscent of his injury in January.

Isaac would need to be carted off the court in a wheelchair. And what should have been a celebratory and happy finish to a blowout victory — perhaps the most complete win of the season — turned into something depressing and uncertain.

"“It was tough,” Aaron Gordon said after Sunday’s game. “That one brought me to tears instantly. Just because I know how good of a guy J.I. is and I know how hard he works and how hard he has worked to get back since hurting himself in D.C. That was tough. I hope it’s just a tweak. I hope it’s nothing serious. I know when you do come back from injury and you do feel a twinge, you always think the worst. I’m just hoping it’s not as bad as it seems.”"

Coach Steve Clifford said Jonathan Isaac would remain in the bubble to receive at least an initial evaluation. He reportedly will undergo an MRI. He is out at least for the foreseeable future.

As devastating as the injury looked, everyone was hoping for the best. But nobody will really know.


The Orlando Magic announced that a MRI revealed Isaac tore the ACL in his left knee. His return will depend on treatment and rehab. He is likely out for the next year and so will be unlikely to play in the 2021 season. He will become a restricted free agent heading into the 2022 season.

An impressive return cut short

Making it all the more terrible is that Jonathan Isaac had been so impressive in his return to the court. From the moment he stepped onto the floor in the final scrimmage against the Denver Nuggets he made an immediate impact. It continued in the opening seeding round game against the Brooklyn Nets when he scored 16 points in 16 minutes.

It hardly looked like he missed a beat or missed a step. The Magic remained cautious with him, but it looked like Isaac was getting ready to ramp up to more minutes. Or, at least, he was going to play a key role off the bench for the Magic.

The team felt complete with him on the floor. The team’s energy and the mood seemed to drop. Not to mention what Isaac would provide on the floor.

The loss is simply devastating.

"“It was very difficult to see him go down like that again, especially the same knee,” Nikola Vucevic said after Sunday’s game. “We’re all praying that it is nothing serious or nothing major. Hopefully, it is just a little setback for him. When you know what he went through since he has been here. . . He worked his way back. He worked really hard over the break and he was looking great. We were all really happy for him.”"

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Every player asked about Isaac’s injury spoke about how much they respected him, know what a hard worker and good person he is. Lest anyone think Isaac’s decision to stand for the national anthem would somehow divide the team.

It was hard to celebrate this huge win with so much uncertainty about one of their brothers hanging over them.

Injury and load management

All they can do is be hopeful that it was not as serious as it looked. Everyone is just sitting and waiting to hear what the MRI results will say.

Injury and managing players have been a concern throughout the preparation to restart the season. Everyone remembers how injury-filled the lockout-shortened seasons in 1999 and 2012 were. Those are the closest analogs to this restart to the season.

The players demanded there be a sizable run-up and training camp before any games were played to make sure they could get back some conditioning. They also did not want to start the playoffs immediately so they could at least somewhat ease back to intense play.

Clifford’s approach has been to discuss and sit with his medical staff — led by high performance director David Tenney, head athletic trainer Earnest Eugene, head strength and conditioning coach Luke Storey and physical therapist Lindsay Winninger — the status for every player as he devises minutes and rotations.

Clifford has deferred to their data and judgment in deciding how hard he can push certain players and just what they can do in practice and in games. The team understands that it is difficult to return from the four-month hiatus and manage the eight-games-in-15-days the team is currently going through.

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  • Clifford said before Sunday’s game in those conversations they review feedback from players and observations and data on how players are moving. They can see from tracking devices players wear if there are muscle imbalances in how they move that could suggest fatigue and open themselves up to injury.

    Their staff includes someone with a medical background and someone who has studied gait and so they can tell observationally when players are moving differently and might be nearing fatigued levels.

    They have a lot of different medical expertise and data to review to make the best decisions for their players.

    Clifford admitted this is not foolproof. He said you are playing the odds, but all this information is very helpful to him. The goal is to get to the end of the marathon, after all.

    This information has been critical for the team as it manages the return to play. It is a process they trust.

    But data is not completely predictive. And it cannot prevent everything.

    With Isaac so important to the Magic’s future — something Clifford said openly as Isaac was still preparing to return to practice and contact — they would not have started playing him if their data did not give them the confidence he could handle the workload.

    Unfortunately, it cannot cover or predict everything. Sometimes freak injuries happen. And they are tragic and heartbreaking.

    “It was tough seeing it just knowing what he has been through and the work he has put in to get back out here,” Markelle Fultz said after Sunday’s game. “Immediately when he went down, I just started to pray for him. I hope everything works out for the best for him. He’s such a good guy and he worked extremely hard to be out there. The whole gym went quiet and I’m just praying for the best.”


    Ironically, that was part of Isaac’s message after Friday’s game.

    dark. Next. Grades: Orlando Magic 132, Sacramento Kings 116

    All there is to do now is pray and hope for the best. And hope that Isaac can get back with his teammates and back on the court soon.