Donovan Mitchell Returns To Practice For Jazz, Expects To Play Game One
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Donovan Mitchell returned to practice for the Utah Jazz for the first time in over a month on Thursday and said he expects to be available for the team’s game one playoff opener on Sunday.
The All-Star guard had been forced to sit out since injuring his ankle in the third quarter of an April 16 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
Mitchell missed the final 16 games of the regular season for the Jazz who despite his absence, earned the top seed in the Western Conference by finishing the season with a 10-6 record.
“Practice was good,” Mitchell said of his return to the floor. “I got out there and competed. You can tell it’s the first time in, what is it four or five weeks? But that’s to be expected.”
Mitchell was immediately diagnosed with a severe ankle sprain and was re-evaluated weekly over the final month of the regular season. However, the guard said he didn’t want to rush back from the reported ankle sprain.
“The injury wasn’t something to play with,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t as minor as it was made out to be, I’ll leave it at that. I definitely had some hurdles.”
The guard said he started to see positive progression on the injury in the last few weeks and plans to be available for the Jazz when they faceoff against either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
Despite being cleared to return to action, Mitchell said he and the team plan to continue to be cautious with the injury.
“I don’t want to go out there full bore and then hurt it again,” Mitchell said, “But at the end of the day it is the playoffs and you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to be ready.”
Snyder Welcomes Mitchell Back Before Game One
While Mitchell said he was happy to be back on the floor, Jazz coach Quin Snyder said it was good to have his All-Star guard back with the team.
Snyder has been asked frequently about Mitchell’s ankle over the last month but prefers not to speak on the injury due to a lack of expertise.
“This is something that you take day by day,” Snyder said after practice. “His desire obviously is to be out there and then, as he said, see how he feels later today, tomorrow morning and see how his body responds and how his ankle responds.”
Mitchell was in the midst of a career year when he went down with the injury. The guard finished the season averaging a personal best 26.4 points per game while adding 5.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds.
As for his availability this weekend, Snyder said that will be determined by what the injury allows.
“He’s listening to his body and that’ll determine where he is,” Snyder said. “He wants to be effective and he can be. But he’s also got to be able to function out there in a way where he feels he can be impactful and that’s the goal.”
Jazz Enjoying Extra Rest
While the Jazz have had a week to prepare for Sunday’s playoff opener, their opponent, whether it’s the Grizzlies or Warriors, has been busy fighting their way into the eighth seed.
The Grizzlies beat the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night to earn an opportunity to appear in the final play-in tournament game Friday, while the Warriors let a chance to earn the seventh seed and a matchup against the Phoenix Suns slip away against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Though those teams may enter Sunday’s game against the Jazz having two playoff-like matchups under their belt, Snyder said the Jazz have used the time off to their advantage.
“There are some teams that have played a couple of games and are getting deep into that competition, that could be helpful,” Snyder said of the Warriors and Grizzlies. “For us, having guys back, being healthy and rested can also be helpful.”
In addition to Mitchell’s return to the floor, the veteran guard Mike Conley has had an extra week to recuperate from a hamstring injury that has plagued him since February. The All-Star reaggravated the injury in April but returned for the final two games of the regular season to help the Jazz lock up the top seed.
In Mitchell and Conley’s absence, guards Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson have seen increased floortime ahead of the playoffs.
“Joe’s minutes went way up, Jordan’s minutes went way up, so everybody’s got a way to prepare and for us as coaches, it’s a balancing act.”
Mitchell and the Jazz will open their playoffs in game one Sunday at 7:30 pm MT.
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