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'I feel like I'm ready': Donovan Mitchell returns to practice, hopes to play Game 1

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) warms up before the game against the Orlando Magic at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 3, 2021.

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell is ready to go for Game 1 — at least that's his hope.

On Thursday, Utah's All-Star guard went through a full practice for the first time since suffering a severe ankle sprain that kept him out the last month of the regular season.

So, how did it go?

"You could tell it's been the first time for — what has it been? Four or five weeks? But that's to be expected," Mitchell said. "Just trying to find ways to get back in the groove and get back in full shape."

Yes, but what about the ankle?

"It's definitely sore. … Thankfully, no pain — so that's the good part," Mitchell said.

The best part: When Mitchell was asked if he plans on playing in Game 1 of the Jazz's first-round series on Sunday, he sounded optimistic.

"That's the goal, barring any setbacks — God forbid, knock on wood — but that's the goal," Mitchell said. "Just trying to go out there and just be there for my teammates, and try and help to go out there and win the championship."

Mitchell hasn't played since being helped off the court following an awkward landing during Utah's win over the Indiana Pacers on April 16. The initial diagnosis of a sprained ankle came as a relief to many in the organization and in the fan base, and teammates even said Mitchell was in high spirits in the immediate aftermath of the injury.

The relief Mitchell had escaped the worst after the scary ankle turn, though, appeared to have clouded what was more than just a tweak.

"The injury wasn't something to play with, wasn't as minor as it was made out to be. I'll leave it at that," Mitchell said. "I definitely had some hurdles to climb. Thankfully, we did a good job and just continuing to progress."

Mitchell said it was a tough process to get back — mentally and physically. The treatments and rehab kept him in Salt Lake City as the Jazz finished the regular season, and progress wasn't immediate.

"I feel like it's kind of been progressing well for like the past two weeks, I want to say," Mitchell said. "I mean, you're gonna quote me on that, but I could be wrong. But I feel like that's when things started to go in the right way and projecting well."

If there was one thing through the process that both Mitchell and the Jazz have had to have, it is patience. No one wanted to rush him back before he was ready — and even now, with the playoffs looming, the team is being cautious.

Thursday was a step toward Mitchell returning, but it wasn't the final one. He said the ankle felt mostly fine after practice, but what will it feel like Friday morning? Or after his second day of practice? Or how will it handle the intensity of a playoff game? The answers to those questions will likely determine his availability for Sunday.

Mitchell doesn't have any less meaningful games to ease into action, so he and the Jazz want to make sure he doesn't run a risk of reaggravating it.

"I feel like I'm ready to play 48 (minutes). But at the end of the day, you gotta be smart, as well, because you can go out there and reinjure it," Mitchell said.

With how spread out the first-round series is — the Jazz will have two days off after both Game 1 and Game 2 — Mitchell will have more time to heal and rest if that's what's needed. And while there are still some question marks about his return, Thursday's news was very good: Mitchell was back with the team. And if all goes as planned, he'll be suiting up when the playoffs start.

"He looked good," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "He looked fatigued, at various times; I think that that was something that he was aware of. But you adjust to that, get yourself out for a couple possessions, get back in. I think the overriding thing for Don is that he's listening to his body, and that'll determine where he is, obviously. 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."


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