After Zach LaVine missed the first two games of the Chicago Bulls regular season, coach Billy Donovan said the All-Star guard “should” be available for Saturday’s home opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center.
LaVine missed the season opener against the Miami Heat on Wednesday and sat out Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards as he continues to recover from offseason surgery on his left knee.
After LaVine felt “discomfort and soreness” in the knee ahead of the opener, the Bulls placed him into a day-to-day evaluation period and could continue to hold him out of games to manage the injury. Donovan described the ramp-up process as an “expected” plan for LaVine’s recovery. However, the guard entered the season saying he expected to be fully available on opening night.
Donovan said LaVine practiced fully with the Bulls on Thursday in Washington, logging 45 minutes of skill work that included running, shooting, cutting and ballhandling.
LaVine will not play under a minutes restriction Saturday or in any other game when he is available, although Donovan noted playing the guard for 38 minutes or more wouldn’t be ideal.
“He feels fine,” Donovan said Friday. “He was able to get work in and told me he felt good. Obviously yesterday (Thursday) was a very, very light day. He had player development guys out there guarding him, he was coming off screens, working on his ballhandling, using pick-and-rolls. He was doing his normal things. He needed a crisp workout and he was able to do that.”
LaVine’s path toward a full workload of games remains unclear, but Donovan said LaVine will not play both games of a back-to-back for at least the next month.
The medical team will not set a standard plan — for instance, always sitting LaVine for the first game of a back-to-back — to allow the team flexibility to approach each pair of games based on the opponent and schedule.
“A lot of that is going to depend on what the front end looks like and what the back end looks like,” Donovan said. “We know with this workload he’s going to have a setback.”
The Bulls also will need to evaluate when to sit LaVine during cramped parts of the schedule such as the first week of November, when the Bulls play six games in four cities in eight days.
That could mean sitting the guard even when he isn’t experiencing discomfort to prevent wear and tear.
“For Zach, going through the ACL surgery and having some scopes, he knows he’s at a place (where) for him to be at his best this is going to have to be managed,” Donovan said. “There may be some nights where he feels like maybe he can (play), but the medical team and doctors will say ‘Listen, Zach, this is one where you should rest because the residual effect of this game is going to you’re going to have to maybe miss a game later on.’ ”