Donovan Mitchell on Cavaliers' rise, Kia MVP race and future

Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell says things are different in Cleveland as he focuses on a championship this year.

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If it's possible for Donovan Mitchell to top what he did for five strong seasons in Utah, it's currently in the making in Cleveland.

Now in his second season with the Cavs, the 27-year-old Mitchell is the centerpiece of a team that is semi-surprisingly making a serious run toward first place in the East. In the process, Mitchell put himself in the conversation for Kia MVP finalist.

The Cavs endured injury-interrupted stretches with two of their best players, Evan Mobley and Darius Garland, but that couldn't hold them back. That's largely due to Mitchell and his All-NBA skills.

He is currently averaging 28.4 points on an efficient 47.3% shooting, along with 5.4 rebounds and 6.3 assists. His defense is also solid. It's more like what he did with jazz.

There are two important issues facing the five-time All-Star: Can he carry the Cavs deep into the playoffs (they lost in the first round last season)? Also, does „Spida” have a long future in Cleveland?

Always warm, approachable and friendly, he touched on that and more in a recent Q-and-A with

The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited. The Cavs are one of the league's success stories, currently sitting in second place in the East and thriving despite losing Darius Garland and Evan Mobley through 47 games to injuries. How did that happen?

Mitchell: It's about us collectively stepping up and doing things as a team, especially guys that nobody knows much about outside of our team. Well, we know what they are about. And it was shown on a nightly basis. With those two important players we never adopted a regret mentality. We were next.

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You may underestimate your own performance at that time.

Well, whatever the circumstances, I always accept myself to be the best player I can be. Based on that mindset, I don't think I was any different as a player. I had some good moments and I think I'm one of the best players in the game.

An MVP contender?

Surely. Why not?

While we're on the topic of best players, who is the best in the game right now?

Maybe the Joker (Nikola Jokic). We are tired of the level of generosity. You've seen it in the past, you see it with LeBron (James), he's consistent. He (MVP) should have won more, but he didn't because we're all always trying to figure out who's next.

Joel (Embiit), what he was doing when he was injured, he's still there. So I think it's going to be between those two (Jokic and Embiid) and what they've been able to do this year.

You're not assigned as a point guard, but you play more like one with the ball in your hands than you typically see with 2-guards. Does it come naturally?

I can only be a storied general. We throw around the term 'point guard'… there are many different ways you can be a scoring point guard. I am there to do whatever the team needs. Being able to manage games, get my teammates involved and score when needed. As a kid coming out of Louisville, I honestly didn't know what I was.

That way, in the screen and roll, you developed a good relationship with teammates, especially Jared Allen.

Jared Allen is awesome. He and I have a connection and understanding. He worked to know when I was going to pass him the ball. That chemistry really helped them understand each other as basketball players and by extension helped the team. You see his improvement offensively since he left Brooklyn, and it's been great.

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You've been an All-Star and competed in the Skills Challenge, a 3-pointer this year in Indiana, and your first dunk contest title of 2018. How did it succeed?

It changed my life. I don't think people knew who 'Spida' really was until the dunk contest. It changed things from a marketing standpoint, from a branding standpoint. From the ground up, my life changed. It's a blessing to have it.

You are one of four players to reach 70 points in a game since the start of last year. It is unmatched in NBA history. And overall scoring is on the rise. Is there a high score in the game?

This is not a bad thing. There is so much talent. I think we're seeing the old days, when the scoring was less, but there were a lot of guys scoring with a lot of tricks and shots. This happens with the evolution of the game. We're going to find ways.

There is no such thing as too much crime. I think the defenders weren't allowed to do certain things and the offensive players took advantage of that. It's hard to defend one-on-one in this league.

Your father was in the New York Mets organization at the same time Pat Mahomes Sr. pitched for them. Have you ever met his son, Patrick, who is now a three-time Super Bowl champion?

Not when I was younger. It was crazy because we both grew up in that setting, that world. None of us went to baseball. It worked well for us.

Last summer you and Rick Pitino, your coach at Louisville, now the coach at St. John's, went to a Mets game. He threw A formal first pitch and you've got it. Did it go as planned?

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It was low and far away. He didn't even do the plate, which was interesting because when we practiced, he was perfect. The big lights hit him little by little.

Pitino coached in the NBA with the Celtics and Knicks. What advice did he give you once you left Louisville and went to the NBA?

Keep the main thing the main thing. Don't get distracted. Distractions and things like that can take you away from what's really important. I didn't get this far.

Speaking of distractions and focus, there's a lot of noise out there about your future and whether or not it will last in Cleveland. What is your answer?

I couldn't control my speech. My focus has always been on this season and helping bring a championship to Cleveland. Nothing has changed. Said from the beginning of the camp.

In that sense, this season has gone well for the Cavs, but another first-round exit like last year could leave a sour taste. That loss must be tough for the Knicks, right?

Painful. Same as last year. But here's what we learned from it. Now when you add that experience, we have guys that have been there, so when you have a tough loss, the biggest thing is how you respond to that.

I think we have responded well so far. Our ball movement, our body movement is different and our defense has really stepped up. I think you're looking at a different Cavs team.

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Shawn Powell has covered the NBA for over 25 years. You can email him here, find his archive here and Follow him on X.

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