SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell will have a pretty large presence at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte this week. He’ll participate in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, he’ll be on the broadcast during Saturday's Slam Dunk Contest, and he had a promotional photo shoot for his soon-to-be-released signature shoe on Thursday.
But at least Mitchell won’t be as he could have been.
"When you’re young and in the NBA, you’re excited, you want to do everything, you gotta enjoy it. But at the same time, he’s not a superhero,” Rudy Gobert said. “I mean, he’s Spida-Man, but he’s not a superhero. So you gotta take care of yourself and recover.”
Mitchell won’t defend his dunk contest title in order to do just that. He wants the All-Star break to be, well, a break. He and the Jazz are hoping to use it to energized for the final stretch run of the season.
“We need this second half of the season,” Mitchell said last month. “For me and my teammates, I think it would be better if I were to rest and be mentally focused for the second half.”
The Jazz are in a good spot heading into the break. They have won 12 of their last 16 games and have the second easiest schedule in the league the rest of the way — which is especially good considering all four recent losses have come against West playoff teams.
"They’re the back-to-back champions, and it’s definitely a good thing to be able to play them as well as we have," Mitchell said after Utah lost to Golden State on Tuesday in the Jazz's final game before the break. "The biggest thing is just continuing to improve. We've got 10 days until we play again, and we can’t lose that edge at all."
That edge — not too mention a lighter schedule — has helped Utah climb up the standings after a slow start to the season.
Two months ago, as the Jazz were under. 500 and sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra was asked about the Jazz's struggles. His response? Just you wait.
“With Utah, I just think everybody's overlooking something that nobody wants to hear about: their schedule has been outrageous,” Spoelstra said in December. “They’ve basically lived in a hotel for the first six weeks of the season. Come talk to me in two months and we’ll see what their record is. I think they’ll be climbing up that Western Conference pretty quickly.”
The Jazz now have the sixth best record (32-25) in the conference entering the break. They’ve used a home-heavy four weeks as well as a softer schedule (Utah only beat three teams over .500 during the recent 12-4 stretch) to move up the standings.
But the schedule wasn’t the only reason the Jazz have been able to turn the season around.
“We were a team earlier in the year that I think, it sounds crazy, but we were a new team without realizing we were a new team,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “It was a new year. Our opponents are different. Guys were integrating themselves trying to figure out where their role is relative to the end of last year."
Snyder mentioned that Dante Exum was not playing until late last season and other players have taken lessor or more expanded roles this year. It might be mostly the same players, but it's not the same team.
“I won’t say we are a work in progress, but I think our guys are focused on the opportunity that we have right now to keep playing and keep getting better,” Snyder said.
That focus is why the Jazz will be taking a break during the break.