Donovan Mitchell felt a little rusty and fatigued.
But the Utah Jazz All-Star was glad to be back at practice Thursday after missing more than a month of action with a sprained right ankle, and believes he is on track to be ready for Game 1 of the NBA playoffs.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “Barring any setbacks — god forbid, knock on wood. The goal is to be out there and helping my teammates to try and win a championship. That’s been the goal all year.”
Mitchell sprained his right ankle in a game against the Indiana Pacers on April 16. The injury “wasn’t as minor as it was made out to be” by some, Mitchell said, forcing him to be sidelined for the final 16 games of the regular season.
“It definitely was a tough process,” Mitchell said. “For me, I haven’t been out this long since my 10th-grade year in high school. Definitely it was as much a mental game as a physical one.”
Mitchell was cleared for a full practice Thursday, as the Jazz prepare to face either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Golden State Warriors in the opening round of the playoffs, beginning Sunday night.
“Practice was good,” Mitchell said. “I got out there and competed. You could tell it was my first time in four or five weeks, but that’s to be expected. Just trying to find ways to get back in a groove, get back in full shape. I feel like I’m getting there. Things are progressing well.”
Mitchell said he felt some soreness in his right ankle on Thursday “but thankfully no pain. So that’s the good part. For me, it’s just trying to stack these days on top of each other. These games are going to start coming quickly. The intensity is going to pick up.”
Mitchell said he felt he had been trending in the right direction for the past two weeks and felt ready to play 48 minutes if called upon Sunday, though he had not yet had conversations with his coaches or trainers about possible restrictions ahead.
“At the end of the day, you have to be smart,” he said.
For Mitchell, the last month has been filled with both difficulties and blessings. Mitchell watched from afar as forward Bojan Bogdanovic found his rhythm in the Jazz’s offense, as reserve Georges Niang stepped up his game, and as rookie Trent Forrest filled in admirably in his stead.
“I’m not frustrated. I think everything happens for a reason. I’m one of those guys,” he said. “Guys’ confidence levels rose with my absence.”
The Jazz’s confidence, though, is never higher than when Mitchell is available to play. The guard averaged a career-best 26.4 points per game this season for a Jazz squad that amassed the league’s best record.