Cavaliers' Donovan Mitchell set to be an All-Star starter

Jan. 21—In their history — since the start of 1970-71 season — the Cavaliers have had 43 All-Star selections.

Most notably, 10 of those came courtesy of the franchise's greatest player — LeBron James.

James is one of three players in Cavaliers history to start an All-Star Game. The other two were Shawn Kemp in 1998 and Kyrie Irving in 2014 and 2017.

It's looking good for another player to join that select Cavaliers' group.

Donovan Mitchell, acquired by Cleveland in an offseason trade, has been a huge success in the first half of the season. In 40 games, he's averaging 28.4 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds. His 71 points against the Bulls on Jan. 2 were an NBA season high for a player and the eighth-highest mark in league history.

All-Star rosters will be announced Jan. 26, and Mitchell is as good as a lock to get one of two starting spots at guard. The Nets' Kyrie Irving is the leading vote getter (as of Jan. 19) for Eastern Conference guards with 3,968,041 votes. Mitchell is No. 2 with 3,851,233.

The Celtics' Jaylen Brown is a distant third with a little more than 2,000,000 votes. So barring a big development, expect Mitchell to be a starter. The 2023 NBA All-Star Game is set for Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City, Utah — Mitchell's former stomping grounds with the Jazz.

Other Cleveland All-Star candidates include Darius Garland — who is averaging 21.5 points and 8.0 assists (fifth in the NBA) — and Jarrett Allen (13.9 points, 9.8 rebounds). Garland and Allen were All-Stars last season when the game was held at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Garland is 10th in the voting among Eastern Conference guards. Allen is not among the top 10 among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

Eastern Conference positioning

Unlike last season when the Heat, Celtics, Bucks and 76ers were separated by two games in the race for the No. 1 seed in the East, it appears Boston is in position to pull away for the top spot as the league approaches the 50-game mark.

The Cavs were in position among that group last season but injuries hurt their chances, and they faded down the stretch with a 44-38 mark, which was ninth in the East. Cleveland was eliminated by the Hawks in the play-in tournament.

After Jan. 20 games, the Cavs are still in the No. 5 spot in the East at 28-19. They are among a group of four teams within two games of each other. The Bucks and 76ers are 29-16 and the Nets 28-17. The Celtics are 4.5 games clear of the East at 34-12.

The next tier of teams at Nos. 6 through 10 included the Heat (25-22), Knicks (25-22), Hawks (24-22), Pacers (23-24) and Bulls (21-24).

Injuries will likely tell the story as teams position themselves for the playoffs while trying to stay as healthy as possible. That of course means one thing, much to the detriment of fans — load management.

It was on display Jan. 20 during Cleveland's 120-114 loss to the Warriors, who played without starters Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins, and still won the game. Warriors coach Steve Kerr's team played a tough road back-to-back with a Jan. 19 game in Boston and the next night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Before his team's win in Cleveland, Kerr pushed for the league to adopt a 72-game season in the interest of player health. The Cavaliers also played without Donovan Mitchell, who's nursing a groin injury.

"I know it's a big topic around the league," Kerr told reporters. "We have so much more data, so much more awareness of players' vulnerability. It's proven that guys banged up — back-to-backs — players are much more likely to get injured and miss more games. That's why you're seeing leaguewide everybody is being cautious when a guy is banged up.

"Let's take care of these guys and play fewer games. The overall quality of the game will be better, and if that's the case, revenue is going to go up anyway."

Cleveland are 19-5 at home, and 9-14 on the road. It has 35 games remaining — 17 at home and 18 on the road. Four of those road games are against teams ahead of the Cavaliers in the East — March 1 at Boston, March 15 at Philadelphia, March 21 and 23 at Brooklyn.

A top-six finish in the East would assure the Cavs of avoiding the play-in tournament.

Former Cavaliers making good

Two former Cavaliers are quietly making a run at two NBA awards this season.

Mike Brown — who coached the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals and guided the team for five straight seasons then returned three years later for a sixth — has the Sacramento Kings thinking playoffs.

Through Jan. 20, the Kings were 26-18 and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. The team also started the season 3-7, so Sacramento has really been playing well of late.

If Brown's team keeps up this pace, he's the slam-dunk choice for Coach of the Year. That's because the Kings and playoffs are not synonymous with each other. Sacramento has by far the longest current playoff drought in the NBA at 16 seasons in a row. The next closest is Charlotte at six straight seasons.

Domantas Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox have been the stars for the Kings but media reports say Brown is using the "Next Man Up" mentality as a building block for success.

When Brown, 52, was fired after the 2013-2014 season, he joined Steve Kerr's staff at Golden State and stayed there for six seasons, patiently waiting for his next opportunity.

So far, Brown's latest landing spot looks like the right one.

On the player front, former Cavalier Lauri Markkanen of the Utah Jazz has to be one of the favorites — if not the favorite — for the NBA's Most Improved Award.

Markkanen was part of the Mitchell trade, and played an important role for the Cavaliers in 2021-22, but this season he's taken his game to another level.

In five seasons before this for the Bulls and Cavaliers, Markkanen averaged 15.2, 18.7, 14.7, 13.6 and 14.8 points. This season in 43 games, he's at 24.8 points and 8.7 rebounds and shooting the lights out each night.

From the field, he's making 59.8 percent of this shots, including 42.2 percent from 3-point range.

Markkanen appears an obvious choice to be added to the West All-Star team as a reserve.