Timofey Mozgov played his first game for the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 9 against the Golden State Warriors. He logged 27 minutes during a 112-94 loss to Steph Curry and company, a game in which LeBron James didn’t play. As LeBron returned from injury later that month, a 12-game winning streak that extended into February soon morphed into a 24-9 mark for Mozgov as a Cav, specifically. Along the way, the Russian big man helped his new team get to an overall record of 43-26, good for second-best in the Eastern Conference behind only Atlanta.
Individually, Mozgov has filled a gaping need at the center position for the Cavaliers in the wake of Anderson Varejao being lost for the season. While playing 25 minutes per night for his Russian national team coach, David Blatt, Timo has upped his season averages to 10.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for Cleveland. The former Denver Nugget has also recorded seven double-doubles since joining the team, and helped improve the Cavs defensive efforts around the rim on a nightly basis.
We caught up with Mozgov just after a pre-game workout with teammate Brendan Haywood and Coach Vitaly Potapenko (11-year NBA veteran) before the Cavs tipped off with the Brooklyn Nets last night—a game that ended in a 117-92 Cleveland win. And no, he didn’t accidentally answer any questions in Russian.
SLAM: You’ve been in Cleveland for a couple months now. How has it been getting to know your new teammates, coaches and system?
Timofey Mozgov: I feel very good with our team and everything we’re doing. The guys are really nice, they were nice to me when I got here and they’re nice to everyone on the team. The first day I came in, they welcomed me. That carried over to the court. I was able to come in and kind of do what I do. It was a fit with what the guys and coach were looking for, so I try to do my best for the team. Overall it’s felt great being here.
SLAM: What is Coach Blatt asking you to do on a nightly basis to help this Cavs team? Has he said anything specific along those lines?
TM: He just wants me to do the same things every night. Just be yourself, do what you do. That’s it, pretty simple.
SLAM: How different is Russian national team Coach Blatt as compared to NBA or Cavs coach Blatt?
TM: He really coaches the same. The way we do shoot-arounds, practice, all that stuff, that part is different. It’s a different league, different players, and different level. But he’s the same person as far as how he coaches the team. He’s been the same person here that he’s always been.
SLAM: You played in seven Playoff games for the Nuggets in 2012 and averaged 15 minutes per night during that series. What did you learn from that experience that will help you prepare for the postseason this year in Cleveland?
TM: I learned that you gotta be ready for a physical game. You have to be ready. Before the Playoffs, when I was in Denver, I wasn’t getting in regularly toward the end of the season. I didn’t play a lot. Then, during the playoffs, coach put me in the starting lineup. I think I started six games, I didn’t start the first game for sure. We played against LA. But I learned that you gotta be physical, you have to be mentally tough, and you have to always be ready to play.
SLAM: Have you talked with Coach Blatt about playing more minutes than you have been during the 4th quarter? Is finishing games as we get closer to the Playoffs a goal of yours?
TM: We have some wins, so that’s all we need. Like every player in the NBA, I want to play 40 minutes, four quarters, or whatever. But as long as it works for the team, that’s what matters most. Even if you don’t play at all, you have to just be ready to help the team win.
SLAM: What do you expect the atmosphere to be like in Cleveland during the Playoffs based on what you’ve seen from Cavs fans so far?
TM: I think it’s going to be a lot of energy. I can’t even imagine it right now, but I think it’s going to be a loud crowd every night. Really loud.
SLAM: You were on the floor for Kyrie’s 57-point performance against the Spurs. What was it like playing with a teammate in that type of zone?
TM: It was definitely the first time I saw somebody score 57 points for my team. I think I played against Oklahoma City one time, Kevin Durant might have done that. But as far as my team, my teammate scoring 50-some points, it feels nice to be a part of that. We take pride in it as teammates and we just all tried to help him.
SLAM: You just finished a workout with Brendan Haywood and Coach [Vitaly] Potapenko. What is your relationship like with the former NBA big man?
TM: Our relationship is great. He [Potapenko] speaks Russian, so we speak Russian together and we have some things in common. We come from similar backgrounds. So we go out to dinner together sometimes, and I work out with him. He’s a big who knows the game, and he knows what we need to do to get better. We’re always getting better with coach.
SLAM: How does the Cleveland winter compare to the Russian winters you grew up in?
TM: Actually, the winters are kind of similar. Maybe in some ways it’s a little bit colder, but it’s similar weather here in Cleveland.
Brendan Bowers is an NBA writer who covers the Cavaliers and the NBA in Cleveland for SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @BowersCLE. Image via Getty.