Donovan Mitchell is making the type of impact the Cleveland Cavaliers expected, and perhaps he is even exceeding projections.
The star guard has topped 40 points on five occasions this season and aims for another high-scoring effort when the Cavaliers visit the struggling Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.
Mitchell reminded his former club — the Utah Jazz — of his scoring prowess on Tuesday, but Cleveland lost 116-114 in Mitchell’s first return to Salt Lake City as a visiting player after an offseason trade sent him to the Cavaliers.
Mitchell scored 46 points in the setback after receiving a huge ovation from Utah fans before the game and receiving a video tribute from the club.
“I was really comfortable,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t weird. It was just like playing as I have here for the last five years. The reception was phenomenal and I’m appreciative of it.”
The outing wasn’t even Mitchell’s best of the month.
The three-time All-Star set a Cavaliers record with a personal-best 71 points in a 145-134 overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 2.
Mitchell ranks seventh in the NBA in scoring at 29.3 points per game entering Wednesday. His impact on the Cavaliers has been so large that he appears to be a shoo-in for another All-Star Game appearance.
The interesting part of the Donovan All-Star buzz is the location of the game. Yes, the Jazz are the All-Star Game hosts.
“God willing, I’m here in a few more weeks,” Mitchell said of the game being in Utah. “I think one of the things we forget to do is enjoy the moment. Enjoy where you are and not rush for it to be over.”
Cleveland is 1-2 on a five-game road trip and may have veteran point guard Ricky Rubio on the court for the first time this season.
Rubio tore the ACL in his left knee 12 1/2 months ago and an availability decision is set to come after the club sees how the knee responds to Wednesday’s practice.
Rubio, in his 12th season, was a teammate of Mitchell for two seasons with the Jazz.
Mitchell scored 34 points when the Cavaliers posted a 114-96 home victory over Portland on Nov. 23. It was Cleveland’s third straight win over the Trail Blazers.
Portland is playing shaky of late with four straight losses to match a season worst and nine of 12 defeats overall.
The Trail Blazers on Tuesday began a stretch in which 10 of 11 games are at home and they never once led during a 109-106 loss to the Orlando Magic.
Still, Portland had a chance to force overtime but missed three 3-point attempts in the final 14 seconds. Star guard Damian Lillard didn’t get one of the attempts as the misses were by Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons. he Trail Blazers finished 6 of 35 (17.1 percent) from long range.
“We’re in a little funk, man,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “I don’t know what it is; I can’t really pinpoint it.”
Lillard, who scored 30 points against Orlando, also is perplexed about the slump but feels a turnaround is coming.
“It’s our job to just continue to push and continue to believe. That’s how you get out of it,” Lillard said. “And then there’s going to come a time where we’re going to look back on it and be like, ‘We didn’t fold, we didn’t make excuses,’ and it’s going to be a brighter day. That’s the way this goes.
“The people that can handle it that way when it’s happening, those are the ones that come out on the other side. But the people that go up and down with how everything is going, those are the ones that usually break, and that’s not an option for us.”
Lillard missed the earlier game with the Cavaliers due to a calf strain. He is 10th in the NBA in scoring (27.4).
–Field Level Media