Central Notes: Mitchell, Sanogo, Bulls, Sasser, Green

Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell is looking like he’s regained his All-Star form over the past two games after a rough combination of injuries and off-nights following Valentine’s Day, The Athletic’s Joe Vardon writes. Mitchell appeared in just nine games since the mid-point of February and averaged 16.9 points per contest on 37.8% shooting, well below his season averages of 26.6 PPG and 46.2%.

His return to form began on Wednesday against the Grizzlies when Mitchell shot 52.9% from the field (9-of-17), his highest mark since Feb. 27. According to Vardon, Mitchell’s knee injury sapped him of the ability to get by defenders and get to the rim since mid-February, but he moved around much better against Memphis and he was more vocal and animated than he had been in recent weeks. For what it’s worth, coach J.B. Bickerstaff expects Mitchell to fully get back into form before the postseason begins.

To me, there is no doubt that he’ll get there,” Bickerstaff said. “We’ve got three games in almost 14 days, so he has an opportunity to do some really good work on his body, on the court. We know who Donovan is and what he is capable of.

Mitchell followed his game against Memphis with a 33-point outing against the Pacers that saw him record five assists and four steals, the latter of which matched his season-best mark. As a result of the win, Cleveland clinched a playoff berth and a top-four seed. During the nine games Mitchell struggled, the Cavs went 4-5. In the two wins this week, Mitchell scored a combined 62 points, three m0re than he had in his previous four games combined.

The biggest thing for me is just to continue to build my confidence back up in my body,” Mitchell said after Wednesday’s game. “The biggest cure for this is rest. I don’t have time for that. … I consider myself a pretty mentally strong person, so just being able to find ways to adapt to the situation. I felt really good tonight, and just continue to build on that.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Bulls clinched home-court advantage in next week’s play-in game against the Hawks, and coach Billy Donovan said he’d consult with the players and medical staff for their final two regular-season games, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Much of the Bulls’ rotation went on to not play on Friday against the Wizards as they manage injuries. As a result, several of Chicago’s end-of-roster pieces got extended playing time. Two-way center Adama Sanogo became just the second rookie this season to post a 20-point, 20-rebound game, joining Victor Wembanyama. “I don’t think I got here by chance,” Sanogo said, per The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry (Twitter link). “I got here because these guys believe in me. These guys think I can have a chance. I’ve got to show that, too, that I can do this.” Other role players like Javonte Green (24 points), Jevon Carter (12 assists) and Henri Drell (23 minutes, career-nine points) also had big nights.
  • The Bulls started the season at 5-14 but have since gone 33-28 despite injuries to Zach LaVine and Patrick Williams, prompting Donovan to acknowledge how far the team has come, Johnson writes in the same NBC Sports Chicago story. “I’m happy for these guys,” Donovan said. “I think sometimes when you just look in the moment of where you’re at, sometimes you don’t get a chance to look at where you started. I’ve said before: It was a rough start for us. And I really appreciate the guys in that locker room sticking together, fighting, not quitting, not making excuses or pointing fingers and trying to rally and pull together and play better.
  • Rookie guard Marcus Sasser has been a bright spot in a nightmarish Pistons season that has resulted in the franchise’s worst win percentage of all time. Sasser has appeared in 70 games, starting 10, and averaged 8.1 points and 3.3 assists while making 37.3% of his three-point shots. The Houston product reflected on his rookie year, saying he wants to get mentally stronger for next season, per The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III (Twitter link). “It’s definitely a big jump, but that’s what makes this job fun,” Sasser said. “It’s not for everybody
  • Bucks guard A.J. Green departed Wednesday’s game against the Magic in the second quarter with a left ankle injury. The Bucks announced that he underwent an MRI on Thursday which revealed a left ankle sprain; he was ruled out for at least the team’s final two regular season games (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Eric Nehm). Green has averaged 4.5 points in 11.0 minutes per night while shooting 40.8% from three.
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