Donovan Mitchell saw an open lane to the basket and took flight. Arm cocked back. Head near the rim. A guttural scream when the highlight-reel moment was over.
It was something Utah Jazz fans had seen many times before from the former Slam Dunk champ.
It was something they’ll see increasingly less in the future.
At the ripe age of 24, Mitchell jokes that he’s gotten old to dunk the basketball the way he once did. In reality, he’s just wise beyond his years.
“As you start to play the minutes I’ve been playing, and you start to play into the playoffs, you learn something that all vets will tell you which is to save your legs,” Mitchell said. “I see why. I understand now.”
Dunking the ball was Mitchell’s first love in basketball.
“If you knew me in high school, you knew me in middle school, I … used to study the dunk contest,” Mitchell said. “Whether it was Vince Carter, or Jason Richardson or Jeremy Evans, Dwight Howard, that’s just what I did. I’d go to the gym and lower the hoop and try and dunk.”
But that was the old … er … young Mitchell.
“Now I don’t even dunk in warmups,” he said, “which is crazy to me.”
Mitchell’s dunk attempts have gone down each season since he was drafted:
• 2017-18: 42
• 2018-19: 31
• 2019-20: 26
And the dunk on Friday night in L.A. was just the seventh of the season for the All-Star guard.
That’s OK by Mitchell, who has decided to save his legs for the moments that matter most.
“You’ve just got to save your legs for as much as you can for as long as you can,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s just been my mindset: Bring it out when needed.
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) February 20, 2021
MIKE ON THE MEND
A season ago, a hamstring injury sidelined Mike Conley for 19 games. So when the veteran point guard said the word “hamstring” earlier this month during a game against the Charlotte Hornets, that was all the team’s medical staff needed to hear.
“It just felt tight,” Conley said. “I think I got a steal and laid it up. I played the next 5-6 minutes and I came out and I just wanted to get it stretched. As soon as I said ‘hamstring’ they took me out of the game.”
Conley would go on to miss six games, but said this injury was nowhere near as severe as last year’s.
“It’s nowhere near last year’s injury,” Conley said. “We took more time on this one and it was way less. We tried to be as smart as possible. As much as I wanted to play, I have to listen to the experts and they know what they were doing.”
Conley returned to the court Friday and was back at practice with his team on Sunday.
“It was very mild,” he said of the injury. “It was not bad at all. I was sore here and there and just took some time, took a week or so to really work on strengthening it and other parts of my body to try to equal out the tension down there. We did a good job. Still working, but still feeling good.”
THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS
Over the holidays, Conley surprised his teammates with PlayStation 5 gaming consoles, the season’s hottest and hardest-to-find item.
But did the veteran get one-upped recently when big man Derrick Favors treated his teammates to designer Goyard wallets?
“It depends on the person,” Conley said, chuckling. “I give everyone PS5s and Joe [Ingles] might throw his in the trash can. It doesn’t mean anything to him. But a Goyard wallet? That’s going in everybody’s pocket. So I’ll give Fave the edge right now.”