Zach LaVine hasn’t necessarily appreciated the Bulls’ patient approach to his rehab.
“I was pushing to play two months ago,” he said Tuesday at the Advocate Center. “It was a lot of hard work, lonely nights, and long days. This thing is taking forever.”
Bulls game day
Bulls vs. New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: The Knicks (19-21) are struggling to stay in the playoff chase, losing seven of their past nine games. PF Kristaps Porzingis is playing at an all-star level, averaging 23.7 points and 6.8 rebounds. SG Courtney Lee is at 13.5 ppg and C Enes Kanter 13.4. SF Tim Hardaway Jr. has been out since Nov. 29 with a stress injury in his leg, but he has returned to practice and should be ready to play soon. The Bulls beat the Knicks twice in Chicago last month, but have lost four in a row at MSG.
Next: Detroit Pistons at the United Center, 7 p.m. Saturday
— Mike McGraw
Now 11 months into his recovery from a torn ACL in his left knee, LaVine finally has a return date. He’ll make his Bulls debut on Saturday against Detroit at the United Center.
Coincidentally, LaVine tore his ACL against the Pistons last year on Feb. 3 when he was playing for Minnesota.
“Obviously, I’m going to be anxious,” LaVine said. “Adrenaline is going to be rushing, crowd is going to be into it. The team is going to be loving it. It’s going to be a good feeling. You’ve just got to learn how to calm that and get back to playing the game you love.”
Bulls executive vice president John Paxson made the official announcement before Tuesday’s practice. The decision was made after gathering all the important parties on Monday to discuss the best date for LaVine to return.
The plan calls for LaVine to play 20 minutes per game before slowly increasing his minutes. No decision has been made as to whether LaVine will start or come off the bench, but it is clear the Bulls expect LaVine and Kris Dunn, once teammates in Minnesota, to be their backcourt of the future.
“We’re still going to take this conservatively,” Paxson said. “We’re going to look at this in kind of weekly installments. In talking with the coaches, we’re not going to put him in a situation where we’re saving minutes for end of games, anything like that.
“We will re-evaluate when we get to the all-star break (Feb. 16-18). The idea will be, considering no setbacks and he’s doing well, we’ll marginally ramp up his minutes as each week goes by and see how he’s doing. Our mindset is this is still part of the rehab for Zach. He needs to play.”
The 6-foot-5 LaVine, a two-time NBA slam dunk contest champion, is regarded as one of the league’s most dynamic athletes. It will be interesting to see how he fits into the Bulls’ new fast-paced, higher-scoring offense.
Since the Bulls turnaround began on Dec. 8, they are averaging 109.6 points per game, though the defense has slipped in the last week or so.
“It’s going to be great. You can see how much fun this team has,” LaVine said. “We get on these rolls where we’ve been doing well.”
One question still to be answered is what LaVine’s return will do for the bottom line. The Bulls were expected to be one of the league’s worst teams and lived up to that billing during a 3-20 start. But when Nikola Mirotic returned from an injury on Dec. 8, the Bulls began a seven-game win streak and have gone 11-7 since that date.
The dream of a top-three draft pick in June is fading, and LaVine, when asked how many victories he’ll add, has set his goals high.
“Shoot, hopefully 40,” LaVine said. “Anybody gone on a 40-game winning streak? I don’t think so. I’m going to go out there and do the best I can do. I’m a team player, I’m a winner. At the end of the day, I want to go out there and help the best I can.”
Paxson was asked about whether management might try to put the brakes on all this winning, since a high draft pick in 2018 was thought to be an important piece to the team’s rebuilding process.
“I said this when the season started — I never met a coach or a player who goes out there and tries to lose games,” Paxson said. “I’m very happy that our young guys are playing well. That was part of the deal, and we aren’t going to put the brakes on that.
“The big part of the trade obviously was Zach, getting the pick for Lauri (Markkanen) and Kris Dunn. I’m very happy with where the two guys who have been playing are at, and I’m happy to see Zach get back.”
The timing is fortunate for the Bulls’ promotions department. Saturday has long been scheduled as LaVine’s bobblehead night at the UC.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls