Magic formula: Wendell Carter Jr.’s selflessness epitomizes Orlando’s approach as Jonathan Isaac steps up

Around the five-minute mark of the second quarter during Sunday’s regular-season finale between the Magic and the Bucks, Orlando big man Wendell Carter Jr. approached the scorer’s table ready to check into the game.

Carter, who usually starts at center for the Magic, was available off the bench after he only played four minutes two days prior at Philadelphia due to back spasms.

Standing next to Magic coach Jamahl Mosley, Carter waited for the next opportunity to enter the game. He watched patiently as Jonathan Isaac, who started at center for Orlando, defended Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton and seven-time All-NBA guard Damian Lillard on back-to-back possessions.

Middleton had no other option but to pass the ball away due to Isaac’s suffocating defense. The next trip down the floor, Lillard was forced into missing a fadeaway jump shot because of Isaac’s length.

Carter then turned to Mosley, briefly spoke with his coach and walked back to his seat on the bench.

“I was getting ready to put him in,” Mosley said about Carter. “He said, ‘Jonathan’s going. Let him go.'”

In a moment where some players might have acted selfishly, especially after not starting in their usual lineup spot, Carter instead realized Isaac’s presence on the floor at that point in the game was necessary to accomplishing the larger success of the Magic.

“That’s the power of this team,” Mosley said. “We can talk about it all day long and say, ‘By committee, by committee.’ It sounds great.

“But when a guy is willing to check in the game and then another guy is going, he’s helping things and our flow is going — as a coach, I just need to shut up and let them do what they’re supposed to do.”

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Carter eventually entered the game a few minutes later in relief of Isaac but only after the Magic forward had helped slow down the Bucks to boost a 19-3 run that gave Orlando the lead at halftime.

The Magic never trailed the rest of the afternoon on their way to a playoff-berth-clinching 113-88 victory at Kia Center over the Eastern Conference foe.

“Our guys did a great job of accepting the adjustments that we made,” Mosley said. “Wendell, understanding that situation, was great about it.”

Isaac, who had started only once this season before Sunday, learned the day prior that he was going to open alongside guards Jalen Suggs and Gary Harris plus forwards Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.

One of four players on the Magic roster with postseason experience, Isaac generally serves as an X-factor off the bench but Mosley felt the need to start him due to his defensive prowess.

Isaac didn’t find out about Carter’s selfless gesture until after Orlando’s 25-point victory over the Bucks that secured the No. 5 seed in the playoffs.

“That’s amazing,” Isaac said. “It speaks to who Wendell is and his commitment to this team. He came in and did his thing and gave us a huge boost.”

Carter (7 points, 2 rebounds) made an impact on both ends during his 14 minutes off the bench while Isaac (10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) played more than 26 minutes for the second game in a row.

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Although it’s unclear whether or not Mosley will keep Isaac in Orlando’s starting lineup for the team’s first-round playoff series against No. 4 Cleveland, which starts Saturday in Ohio, Isaac is ready for whatever is thrown his direction.

“I feel fantastic,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a really good place so [I will] just keep moving forward.”

It’s a positive sign for the Magic forward who, after playing just 11 games last season following 2-plus years off the court due to leg injuries, averaged 15.8 minutes during 58 regular-season games this year.

As for Carter, he and the rest of the Magic know they’ll be ready to make their impact on the court regardless of how many minutes they may play in the first-round series.

It’s that approach that’s helped get Orlando this far already and it won’t change in the franchise’s first trip to the postseason since 2020.

“That’s what this group is going to continue to be about for us to be successful,” Mosley said. “It’s going to be ‘by committee’ on any given night.”

Jason Beede can be reached at