Bulls guard Zach LaVine’s return could be delayed even longer

When LaVine first went into the NBA’s health and safety protocol, the hope was he would miss eight games at the most. That sounds like a best-case scenario now.

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When guard Zach LaVine went into the NBA health and safety protocol April 15, the hope was he would miss — at the most — the next eight games.

That hope dwindled Saturday.

As expected, LaVine, who tested positive for the coronavirus, did not make the Bulls’ three-game trip. Coach Billy Donovan said he still can’t even go to the Advocate facility to at least get shots up and work on his conditioning.

“He’s basically by himself,’’ Donovan said. “He’s not doing anything like that right now.’’

So LaVine still has to pass consecutive tests, then he has to get into the part of the protocol in which he has to pass the cardiac testing. The idea of him getting through all those steps by Thursday, then being ready to return to the court Friday, when the Bulls host the Bucks, seems to be a stretch.

It’s not impossible, but when checking the timelines of other players who were at LaVine’s current stage, a return definitely seems implausible.

“[The league is] working with [Bulls] medical [staff],’’ Donovan said. “There’s probably some things he’s going to have to continually go through.

“But outside of that, I really don’t have a lot of information. Zach will probably have to go through some checkpoints in dealing with all this, but in terms of a timeline, I just don’t have one.’’

If the game against the Bucks seems far-fetched for LaVine, then the back-to-back in Atlanta the next day also is in jeopardy.

The Bulls will have a day off May 2 before hosting the 76ers the next night, so that might be a more realistic window. LaVine will have missed four more crucial games by then and would be jumping into the fire with only eight games left in the regular season.

The good news for the Bulls is that LaVine is a workout nut throughout the year and prides himself on staying in shape.

Donovan, who has spoken with LaVine throughout the ordeal, said it’s the mental aspect of being isolated that is his biggest battle.

“He’s holding tight,’’ Donovan said. “The isolation part of it is really challenging for anybody.

‘‘He’s by himself, and you’re away from the team, and I think the camaraderie of teammates and being around guys you’re playing with on a nightly basis and traveling with, and then you’re separated, it’s a lot. It’s kind of like it all of a sudden comes to a stop.

“I know he misses the games. It’s unfortunate that he can’t be playing, but different players had to go through the protocol, and some guys are out longer than others. Some guys it hasn’t been that long, so I think with him we’re just waiting to get more understanding from the league in terms of the next steps that he’ll have to take.’’

Med center

Forward Troy Brown Jr. missed his third consecutive game with a sore left ankle.

The Bulls could have more clarity on his return Sunday, when they’re finally able to practice.

Rookie forward Patrick Williams (sore left heel) was in the starting lineup against the Heat.

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