Bulls guard Zach LaVine is finding out that minutes restrictions have no give

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PHILADELPHIA — Bulls guard Zach LaVine finds himself in a non-negotiable situation.

That’s why begging coach Fred Hoiberg for even a sniff of playing time in either overtime Monday would have fallen on deaf ears.

Not that LaVine didn’t think about it, especially as he sat on the bench and watched his teammates lose their grip on a game they owned most of the evening.

‘‘It should have never gotten to that point,’’ LaVine said, referring to the Bulls’ double-overtime loss to the Pelicans.

LaVine resides in the land of minutes restrictions these days. In his first three games after returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, it was a firm 20. In his last two, it was bumped up to 24. More is not an option.

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‘‘I don’t think I’m going to play any more minutes [than they allow],’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I think it’s a set schedule right now, regardless of how I do or how I’m feeling.’’

That means what he makes of those minutes is what matters in his road back from the injury.

‘‘It sucked that I had to sit out the remainder of the game, but that’s just the way it is right now,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘So I’ve got to deal with it.’’

The good news for all involved is that LaVine has looked good so far. The knee has looked sturdy, and the explosiveness is definitely there. Now it’s about conditioning, timing and continuing to learn how to play with his teammates.

The Bulls are 3-2 since LaVine returned. And while they are a minus-12 in plus/minus overall when he’s on the floor, he is a combined plus-14 in the three victories.

LaVine is averaging 12.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists and is shooting 35 percent from three-point range. Not bad for a guy who missed almost 11 months.

‘‘Legs are still a little bit [tired],’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I’ve gotta get better at going through the game with my jump shot. I was going to the hoop more [against the Pelicans]. Just gotta get more consistent with it, get back into the rhythm of things.

‘‘There are still spots where [I tell teammates], ‘I want this,’ or I’m looking for someone else and they’re in a different position. But that just comes with time. You can’t simulate with practice an actual game or actual timing, what the defenders are going to do. I just think the more time we play together, it will be even more smooth.’’

It’s a process his teammates are excited to go through with LaVine.

‘‘I think he’s fine,’’ forward Justin Holiday said. ‘‘He continues to be more and more comfortable. He seems comfortable. It’s just a matter of him continuing to play and just trying to be as consistent as possible, really.

‘‘There’s not too much going on with, ‘Zach’s not doing this or Zach’s not doing that.’ He’s doing his job coming in, and he seems to be enjoying himself. That’s one thing I want from him is enjoying this game again, and he seems happy.’’

LaVine’s mood will get even better next week, when he might see his minutes jump to 28 or 30.

‘‘I hope so,’’ he said of the pending increase in playing time.

Until then, however, it’s 24 minutes. It’s non-negotiable.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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