Coach Fred Hoiberg cools down the Zach LaVine return hype

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It was just another reminder that the hype surrounding Zach LaVine’s return needs to be toned down just a bit.

One day after having his toughest practice since being cleared by doctors for full contact, LaVine was feeling the aftereffects before the game against the Suns.

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Sore hamstrings and sore quads brought a dose of reality, and the hope that he could return earlier than anticipated had to be tempered.

“We just have to be really careful about not overloading him too early in this process as he returns to the floor,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “But he’s itching to get back. He’s a competitor, he’s a worker, he’s a kid that always wants to be out on the floor doing extra stuff, but, yeah, we’re going to have to hold him back a little bit as we go along and just continue to progress.’’

LaVine tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last February, and the initial timetable pointed to a late-December return.

But he was healing so well and was so driven in his rehab that an early-December return seemed possible at the start of the season.

The Bulls, however, entered Tuesday with the worst record in the NBA, so there’s no reason to rush LaVine back. They should be as cautious as possible.

“I think it all depends on how he continues to respond as we increase his workload, so you kind of have that [late-December] date in your mind as far as when we can get him back, but obviously we’ll adjust depending on how he comes out of these workouts,’’ Hoiberg said.

The workouts Hoiberg was referring to were the one-on-ones with Antonio Blakeney and Quincy Pondexter as well as practicing with the Windy City Bulls while his teammates head off to Denver.

LaVine needs to get his rhythm and, more important, his conditioning back.

“He told me he’s the best-conditioned player on the team after practice [Monday],’’ Hoiberg said. “I said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re the worst-conditioned player on the team.’ So he’s got a long way to go, as would anybody that’s in this stage of the rehab process.’’

One and done

Hoiberg said that LaVine has dominated in his one-on-one showdowns with teammates, but Blakeney had a slightly different take.

“Oh, yeah, we’re going to talk trash when we’re competing,’’ Blakeney said. “He’s going to win some, I’m going to win some, so you need some trash-talking going around.’’

Blakeney admitted, though, that LaVine’s pure athleticism is beyond debate.

“Oh, yeah, for sure,’’ said Blakeney, who was quite impressed with LaVine’s prowess above the rim.

“Just watching him do crazy dunks and stuff like that, definitely, definitely.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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