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Now healthy, Magic's Jonathan Isaac has catching up to do

Jonathan Isaac discusses the Orlando Magic's 114-110 loss to the Detroit Pistons in this postgame video

DETROIT — For five frustrating weeks that tested his patience, Jonathan Isaac's primary objective was to recover from a right ankle sprain.

And now that he's finally returned to game action, the lean, baby-faced forward has a far more extensive developmental to-do list for the remainder of his rookie season.

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"All areas," coach Frank Vogel said.

Isaac has missed 18 of the Orlando Magic's 31 games this season, and his progress has stalled somewhat as a result. Coaches studied game tape with him during his absence, and Isaac also attended practices and team film sessions. But nothing can substitute for stepping onto the court and competing against teammates in practice and against veteran opponents in games.

Isaac looked and felt rusty Sunday against the Detroit Pistons as he played in his first game since he suffered his ankle sprain on Nov. 11.

With his playing time limited to 17 minutes as a precaution, he went 0 of 4 from the field, turned the ball over twice and lacked his usual sharpness on defensive rotations. But at the same time, he still harnessed his agility, height and long arms to alter shots.

Frank Vogel discusses the Orlando Magic's 114-110 loss to the Detroit Pistons in this postgame video

Magic officials rave about Isaac's potential, but they also acknowledge Isaac has plenty of work to do, especially with filling out his 6-foot-10 frame.

Isaac feels the same way.

Asked Sunday to identify his main developmental focus for the rest of the season, he quickly answered, "I think right now the biggest thing is my body: continue to focus on my body. I've been putting on weight [and I want to] continue to do that, continue to attack that."

Isaac said he weighed 210 pounds when the Magic drafted him sixth overall in June.

He now weighs 215 pounds.

"Honestly," Isaac said, "the best thing that happened to my weight was getting hurt. I was able to sit down and just eat and work out."

Isaac never expected his ankle sprain to keep him out for an extended period. On the day he suffered the injury, he said he hoped to play in the Magic's subsequent game two days later.

But he had never sprained an ankle before, and the injury proved to be more severe than he initially expected.

Nikola Vucevic discusses the Orlando Magic's 114-110 loss to the Detroit Pistons in this postgame video

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into a month, he received encouragement from teammates, coaches and Magic staff members to remain positive.

When he felt especially impatient, he told himself that feeling annoyed wouldn't help him return to the court any faster.

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He also prayed often.

The Magic's defense faltered during his 17-game absence, although there were more significant factors at work: a string of games against superb offensive teams (such as two games against the Golden State Warriors), a jam-packed schedule and limited practice opportunities.

Now that Isaac is back, Vogel expects him to fortify the defense, at least a little.

"He can miss two months and go out there and use his length defensively to contain and to block shots or contest shots," Vogel said. "We're not going to rely heavily on his offense, obviously, having been out for as long as he has. But he can certainly help us on the glass and on the defensive end."

There were moments against the Pistons when he altered shots and forced misses.

Mario Hezonja discusses the Orlando Magic's 114-110 loss to the Detroit Pistons in this postgame video

"It was his first game back, and you could tell that he wasn't really in a rhythm," Magic center Nikola Vucevic said.

"But defensively he helps us a lot because of his length, and he's also a very smart player. He knows how to position himself and use his length, so he's going to help us a lot. But it was his first game, and he didn't get a chance to play too much. I think as he gets back [in a rhythm] he's going to be a big boost for us on both ends."

That's the hope.

As much as the Magic need him to develop — he's one of the team's building blocks for the future — the franchise also needs him to contribute now.

He said he felt a bit hesitant on his ankle during the pregame warm-ups Sunday, but that trepidation faded once the game started.

"It definitely does feel good to know how it feels to get back after being out for a while," Isaac said.

jrobbins@orlandosentinel.com. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.

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