Jalen Suggs vs. Donovan Mitchell will decide Orlando Magic's first-round series

The matchup between the Orlando Magic's Jalen Suggs and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Donovan Mitchell will ultimately decide the series.
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic / Rich Storry/GettyImages

The NBA Playoffs are all about matchups.

The matchup between the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers is certainly an interesting one. This is a battle between two of the top-10 defenses in the league. Everyone is expecting a series with low scores and a grind-it-out battle.

If you enjoyed basketball from the 1990s, the Magic-Cavs matchup is for you.

If Cleveland is favored to win the series, it is because of their experience. It is also because of a more established star in Donovan Mitchell.

The Cavs' guard has a long history of playoff performances, averaging 27.8 points per game in 44 career playoff games. He averaged 23.2 points per game in the Cleveland Cavaliers' playoff series last year against the New York Knicks.

Mitchell averaged 27.3 points per game and 7.3 assists per game in three appearances against the Magic this season.

Much of Orlando's attention defensively will be put toward slowing down Mitchell. Limiting him and making his life hard will help gum up a Cavaliers offense that has struggled throughout the year.

Orlando fortunately does have a weapon in that fight. One who may not require a ton of help to get the job done.

It makes for one of the more intriguing matchups in this series.

Jalen Suggs is the best perimeter defender on the Magic's roster. He will probably be asked to guard Mitchell for the majority of his minutes.

Suggs is expected to make the All-Defensive team this year. He has built a reputation as a defender this season. The Playoffs though are where defenders really establish themselves. And this is a moment Suggs has clearly waited for and a challenge he will clearly relish.

This season, Mitchell scored 25 points in 15:29 against Suggs as the primary matchup, according to NBA.com's tracking stats. Mitchell though turned the ball over five times and shot only 8 for 19 from the floor. He was 4 for 8 from three, meaning he was 4 for 11 in the paint.

The star for the Cavs and the Magic's ace defender got their licks on each other when they were matched up (Donovan Mitchell shot just 4 for 11 against Gary Harris, for the record). That is what is going to make this battle so fascinating.

Suggs has provided great on-ball pressure on Mitchell when they have matched up this year. But Mitchell has shown an uncanny ability to get out of tough spots individually when Suggs tries to get into his shirt.

Most times, the coaching staff in Cleveland tried to create separation by using screens set by Jarrett Allen. By making Suggs navigate through screens, and with Mitchell's ability to change direction quickly, he can create some space to get to his jumper.

When Suggs brings this type of effort on the defensive side of the ball it makes it difficult for Donovan Mitchell because everything is contested.

It would be smart if the coaching staff in Orlando used Suggs as 'Mitchell Stopper' to. stop the flow of Cleveland's offense.

Where Mitchell was able to consistently burn Suggs throughout the season and in their matchups was from three.

The Magic have to find ways to limit transition threes from Mitchell.

He averaged 27.3 points per game against Orlando and is shooting 36.8 percent from downtown in 2024. He loves to pull up from deep and show his range.

In the first matchup, Mitchell hit a couple of transition threes against Suggs that gave his team confidence.

Suggs will have to have more balance in his stance and stay close to Mitchell around the three-point line, even if it means getting blown by and leaving his man for the Magic's interior defender to handle.

Orlando fans should look forward to Suggs being much improved defensively, having learned from the many mistakes he had guarding Mitchell throughout the year.

But so much of the troubles start with the pick and roll.

Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff and his staff love running Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell off of screens set by Jarrett Allen. And Mitchell does a good job creating space by bobbing and weaving around screens to find space and keep defenders off balance.

Allen has always been a threat coming off of the pick-and-roll and is great at screening and cutting to the basket for easy dunks. That allows Mitchell to roam around the perimeter off the ball and find his spots on the floor.

Suggs will be key in defending the Mitchell/Allen pick and roll because he is the type of defender who will choose to defend and not go under the pick. Suggs understands that Mitchell is a good three-point shooter and going under the pick gives him a free look at the basket. Look for the majority of Mitchell's shots to be contested by Suggs.

The next battle will be to make sure Suggs stays on the floor.

Suggs cannot afford to let Mitchell get him in foul trouble. The team needs him to play his regular 20.5 minutes he's averaged against the Cavaliers in all four of their games. The Magic really do not have a lot of reliable options who can effectively defend Mitchell outside of Suggs.

The Magic are at a significant disadvantage if Suggs gets into foul trouble and is not able to be on the court.

Mitchell will force his way to the line too. He averaged 5.8 free throw attempts per game this year and was 18 for 22 in three appearances against the Magic this year (7.3 free throw attempts per game).

During the season Jamahl Mosely tried to put the rookie Anthony Black and veteran guard Gary Harris on Donovan Mitchell when Jalen Suggs went down with an injury in the first matchup. Mitchell scored 35 points in the game and the Cavaliers won 121-111.

Orlando needs Suggs every game. And the team likely needs him every moment it can against Mitchell specifically.

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The matchup between Suggs and Mitchell will be a key component of this series. If the Suggs can consistently hold him under his average, the Magic should win this series in six games.