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Professional

Guard back to work in practice, eager for debut

LaVine ‘antsy’ to come back

The Bulls have been very careful in Zach LaVine’s rehab from a torn left ACL, but the offseason acquisition is nearing his return. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)
The Bulls have been very careful in Zach LaVine’s rehab from a torn left ACL, but the offseason acquisition is nearing his return. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

It seems surprising because of the recent improved offensive play, but the numbers don’t lie.

Even after the Bulls’ recent 10-3 stretch in which they averaged the fourth-most points in the NBA entering Monday night’s game with the Trail Blazers at United Center, they ranked 27th in points per game, 29th in shooting percentage, 26th in free-throw percentage, 24th in 3-point percentage, and 29th in offensive rating.

A 3-20 start can be offensive to offensive statistics.

The return of Nikola Mirotic and the ascension of Kris Dunn have played big parts in the recent improved offensive numbers. The imminent addition of Zach LaVine, who practiced for a third straight day without incident on Monday, should help as well.

LaVine started a run of six straight scheduled contact practices on Saturday, a personal training camp that, barring an unexpected setback, is projected to clear the way for his season debut after left ACL surgery.

“We’ll see. There’s a lot of unknown right now with Zach,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I think the one thing we do know for sure is he’s a very talented offensive player. He’s a guy who can create his own shot. He can play in transition. You can run different actions for him because of his athleticism and his ability to shoot deep from anywhere on the floor. I’m confident if we continue to stress getting out and playing fast, Zach will fit with that.

“It will affect our rotation some. Still don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, but we’re all excited to get Zach back.”

Hoiberg has been dreaming of utilizing LaVine in his pace-and-space philosophy since June. Now that Lauri Markkanen has flourished early, placing those two cornerstones in pick-and-roll situations drips with potential.

There’s no doubt the Bulls have impressed of late. Over their last 12 games heading into New Year’s weekend, they ranked second in pace, third in defensive rating, fourth in scoring, fifth in assists, sixth in 3-point percentage, and eighth in shooting, according to www.nba.com/stats.

Adding LaVine to the mix should only help.

“I’ve actually picked things up pretty quickly,” LaVine said of the offense. “The main thing is just doing a lot of conditioning. I like being one of the best in-shape dudes out there. I’m getting that down. The touch and feel comes back the more you play.”

LaVine joked that his patience level has “almost ran out,” but he has appreciated his new franchise’s conservative approach.

“I’m still listening to everybody, but I feel ready,” he said. “I’m antsy. I feel that’s a good thing.”

Asked if he’s in slam-dunk-contest shape, the two-time winner of the premier event at All-Star weekend flashed the confidence that’s to come.

“I’m close,” LaVine said. “I don’t know if I have 100 percent my legs back, but I can definitely go out there and get buckets. That’s all I know.”

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