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Game-changer for Magic, Jonathan Isaac not worried about injury-riddled past

NEW YORK — There weren’t many bright spots for the Magic during Friday’s 24-point loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

New York held Orlando to the lowest points total (74) in the NBA this season, snapped the Magic’s five-game winning streak and leap-frogged Jamahl Mosley’s squad from fifth to fourth in the East.

Despite the lackluster performance in a game that could have allowed Orlando (37-27) to create some space in a clustered playoff race with less than 20 games remaining, Jonathan Isaac viewed the outcome in a positive light.

“This is the best thing that could have happened for us at this time,” the Magic forward told the Sentinel post-game in Orlando’s locker room.

Isaac (11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal) explained why he wasn’t concerned about the result entering Sunday’s meeting with the Pacers (35-29) at Kia Center (Bally Sports Florida, 6).

“Coach’s message after the game was that this was good for us to face this as a group,” Isaac said. “We didn’t get off to our best start, our best footing and that kind of set us behind for the rest of the game. Over the course of the game, we learned what playoff basketball is like.

“I’ve experienced it before and not everybody has. We know how to move going forward.”

And he’s right. Isaac is one of four players (joined by Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris and Joe Ingles) on Orlando’s roster to have played in the postseason.

“The atmosphere, obviously the crowd, the refs letting things go, the physicality — it was all of the makings of a playoff game, for sure,” Isaac said of Friday’s contest at New York (37-26) in which Orlando was without top backcourt defender Jalen Suggs (right thigh contusion).

Suggs and Fultz (left knee strain) both are listed as questionable vs. Indiana, which won’t have Doug McDermott (right calf strain) and Bennedict Mathurin (right shoulder labral tear) against the Magic.

While Friday’s matchup might have felt like a postseason game, there’s only one way for the Magic to actually experience a playoff series — earn a spot in April’s first round.

A defensive X-factor, Isaac will continue to serve as a key piece to Orlando’s push to not only avoid the NBA Play-In Tournament as a top-6 seed but also potentially earn homecourt advantage inside the top 4.

It’s not a coincidence that Isaac has been a part of the Magic’s top four defensive-rated five-man lineups that have played at least 50 minutes together this season.

He’s recorded at least one blocked shot 30 times and two-or-more blocks 13 times as well as at least one steal 23 times and two-or-more steals eight times.

Although Isaac has missed 19 games this season due to leg injuries, including seven games (Dec. 29-Jan. 9) due to a right hamstring strain, his 43 games played as the second-most he’s played in his seven-year career.

It’s also just the second time he’s participated in more than half a season (played in 75 games in 2018-19 but missed two full years due to a left knee injury).

“It means I’m healthy,” Isaac said. “I look forward to continuing to play meaningful minutes in big games and keep moving forward. I’m not worried about injuries or looking back, or anything.”

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has seen first-hand what Isaac has gone through since Orlando drafted him No. 6 overall in 2017.

“We always say we bet on the person. All I can tell you is we bet on the person and there’s no one you’d rather bet on than this guy,” Weltman recently told the Sentinel about Isaac. “He’s just a special person.

“It’s remarkable what he’s been through and it’s remarkable how he’s come through it.”

Even in limited minutes (averages 14.8), Isaac can change a game in more ways than one.

Defensively, Isaac is a plus-8.6 differential when he’s on the court for the Magic, which is in the 96th percentile in defensive on/off differential league-wide, according to CleaningTheGlass, an advanced NBA stats site that excludes “garbage time” of games from its calculations.

More specifically, Orlando’s overall 105.5 defensive rating with Issac on the court tops the league. When he’s not on the floor, the team’s defensive rating (114.1) drops to 12th.

“I don’t need to say one word about the impact Jonathan Isaac has on our team, [or] he would have on any team,” Weltman said.

Isaac is prepared to help the Magic return to the playoffs as the chase continues in the East, starting against the eighth-seeded Pacers.

“I’m just looking forward and I feel great,” he said.

Email Jason Beede at jbeede@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on X, known as Twitter, at @therealBeede.