LaVine steps up practice regime priming for return

Zach LaVine of the Bulls is ramping up his practice sessions en route to making his return from a torn ACL.

A long, arduous process is coming to a crossroads for Zach LaVine.

The 22-year-old Chicago Bulls guard is in the middle of a practice regime which could lead to his return to the court after undergoing surgery last Thursday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

The 6-foot-5, 189-poud combination guard practiced with the Bulls on Saturday, then went through two of what is expected to be four consecutive practices with the Bulls G-League franchise, the Windy City Bulls, on Sunday and Monday.

“This is the start of a training-camp-type workload for Zach with consecutive days of contact,’’ Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’ll get another good one [Monday]. The good thing is Windy City has a good little stretch here where they don’t play. They’ll be able to go hard, and Zach will play a big part in those practices.’’

After practicing with the Bulls on Thursday, the team will make a decision whether LaVine is ready to play in a regular-season game. Chicago, which started the season in awful fashion, posting a 3-20 record in its first 23 games, took a 13-23 mark into Monday night’s game against visiting Portland at the United Center.

Even if LaVine is not deemed ready to go in NBA games, he could play one, or several, games with the Windy City to top off his rehabilitation program.

“Full on, full blast,’’ LaVine said when asked what he expected of the six-day stretch of practice sessions. “I expect to be sore. If I’m not sore, I wasn’t going hard enough. They’re calling it my training camp, so I should be pretty damn sore.

“I’m starting to understand my body a lot more, understanding pain, soreness, different feelings you’re not supposed to feel and then things that are normal for your body. So I’ll judge that, but I think I’ll be all right.’’

Hoiberg said LaVine getting close to returning action is a good sign, regardless of when he makes his debut with the Bulls. Chicago acquired the high-flying LaVine from the Minnesota Timberwolves on June 22, along with Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen in exchange for All-Star Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton.

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points and 3.4 rebounds, along with 3.0 assists in a career-high 37.2 minutes through 47 games last season for the Timberwolves before sustaining the torn ACL. The first-round pick in the 2013 NBA draft (13th overall selection) by the Timberwolves will begin his fourth NBA season when he makes his debut for Chicago. He is a career 13.7 points-per-game scorer.

“Now that he’s able to string together consecutive days of contact, it’s a really important stretch,’’ Hoiberg said. “You don’t want to get too far ahead of it, but if he responds well to this stretch where he’s going through long practices, this is his training camp.

‘‘If he does well through this stretch, we’ll all get in a room and put a plan together as far as when we want to see him back on the floor and how many minutes he’ll play initially when he’s ready to come back.

“These six days will tell us a lot, if he’s ready or if he needs a little more time.’’