Jalen Suggs vs. Donovan Mitchell highlights first-round matchup between Magic, Cavs

Jalen Suggs vs. Donovan Mitchell highlights first-round matchup between Magic, Cavs

ORLANDO, Fla. — If there’s anyone on the Magic who understands the lethality of Cleveland‘s Donovan Mitchell, it’s veteran forward Joe Ingles.

The 36-year-old Australian, who’s become a crucial piece to Orlando‘s young roster, played with Mitchell in Utah from 2017-22 before the duo departed the Jazz.

Now they’ll face each other for the first time in the NBA playoffs, when the Magic and Cavaliers open their first-round series Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

“I hate him,” Ingles quipped following Orlando’s second playoff practice at AdventHealth Center on Thursday.

The Jazz traded up and acquired Mitchell on draft night in 2017, but it wasn’t entirely clear what the organization was getting in the 6-3 guard who averaged 15.6 points as a sophomore at Louisville.

He offered quality shooting (36.1% from 3) and projected as an elite defender (2.1 steals) but lacked size as a tweener between the point and shooting guard positions.

Soon enough, however, it became crystal clear.

“We lost Gordon [Hayward] that year and it was kind of figuring out what we were doing,” Ingles recalled. “What he brought and how quickly he continues to get better was the reason we were the team we were.”

Mitchell, who was sent to Cleveland in a blockbuster trade ahead of the ’22 season, blossomed into one of the league’s top guards, earning second-team All-NBA last year and All-Star recognition five straight seasons.

This year, he’s one of just three players in the league who averaged at least 25 points, 5 rebounds and 1.5 steals, joining NBA MVP candidates Luka Doncic (Mavs) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Thunder).

Facing his former teammate, Ingles will put their friendship aside during the best-of-7 playoff series.

“[I] still have a great relationship with him that’ll be put on hold for a couple of weeks,” he said. “But I’ve loved seeing his growth. He can put points on the board [and] he can get teammates involved.

“It’ll be a hell of a task, but the group’s ready for it.”

Up for the task is guard Jalen Suggs, who’s described by Magic coach Jamahl Mosley as the “head of the snake” for a defense that rates third league-wide (110.8 defensive rating behind only No. 3 seed Minnesota and No. 1 Boston).

Mitchell is bound to score plenty, but it will likely be up to Suggs, as well as Magic veteran Gary Harris, to contain him from the perimeter. In the first meeting of the season, Mitchell shot 5 of 10 from 3 when he totaled 35 points in 37 minutes.

Overall, Mitchell averaged 27.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds in three games against the Magic. (He missed the fourth and final meeting Feb. 22 with an undisclosed illness.)

Suggs, however, only played nine minutes in the first contest that Orlando lost by 10 points (Dec. 6) because of a right ankle injury. In the fourth meeting, Suggs was accidentally elbowed in the head by teammate Wendell Carter Jr. and missed majority of the second half.

Refreshed and ready for the postseason, Suggs is looking forward to the challenge of guarding Mitchell and point guard Darius Garland (18 points, 6.5 assists).

“We talk so much about being a great defensive backcourt — being a great defensive team in general — and I don’t think there’s any better test to come out in the first round and get a squad like this.

“These are moments that, as a competitor, you absolutely want to be in. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”