Donovan Mitchell knows the Denver Nuggets well, engaging in numerous battles with them in his five seasons with the Utah Jazz — most notably an epic seven-game series in the Orlando Bubble in 2020.
Now playing in the Eastern Conference with Cleveland, Mitchell won’t see the Nuggets nearly as often. But the two sides will renew acquaintances Friday night when the Cavaliers travel to Colorado.
Cleveland has won three in a row, and Mitchell made headlines with his 71-point performance in an overtime win against the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. Mitchell scored 13 points in overtime and set the franchise record for points in a game.
Mitchell had a relatively quiet night against Phoenix on Wednesday night, scoring just 20 points. More importantly, however, the Cavaliers got that third straight win. Unlike the shootout against Chicago, the Cavaliers clamped down on defense to squeak out a 90-88 win.
While offense gains most of the news, Cleveland more often wins games the way it did against the Suns — with its defense. The Cavaliers held Phoenix to 39.5 percent shooting and 45 points in the second half to overcome a 10-point deficit.
“The guys have embraced it,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of his team’s defense after the win. “Ups, downs, they know who they are. That’s why we gave ourselves a chance tonight. It was simply because of that, and their commitment to it, their scrap, their grit and mental toughness to persevere when things just weren’t going their way.”
Cleveland may have a small advantage despite playing at altitude in Denver. The Nuggets played Thursday night and in a late start — albeit at home. Denver was able to rest its regulars a good amount of the game, a 31-point rout of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The only Nuggets starter to play more than 25 minutes was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who logged 28:59, while Nikola Jokic (24:11), Michael Porter Jr. (22:11) Jamal Murray (21:21) and Aaron Gordon (21:09) conserved their energy.
None of the starters played in the fourth quarter as Denver improved to 15-3 at home.
Denver got another glimpse of what Murray can do when fully healthy. After being held scoreless in the first half at Minnesota before scoring 14 in the second half on Monday, he looked like his 2020 version against Los Angeles.
He scored 13 points in a row in the first quarter to help the Nuggets pull away from the Clippers early. He finished with a game-high 18 points.
Murray has been sitting one game when Denver plays on back-to-back nights, but the blowout win over the Clippers — and no travel — will allow him to play in both games.
“I’m going to play (Friday),” Murray said after Thursday’s win.
As encouraging as Murray’s flurry was Thursday night, it was Porter’s play on defense that made coach Michael Malone most happy. Malone picks a defensive player of the game each night, and he awarded it to Porter on Thursday.
Malone said Caldwell-Pope “fell out of his chair” when Porter got the honor, but that he was happy to give it to his young forward.
“Life and basketball,” he said. “You have to celebrate the moments.”
–Field Level Media