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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Tristan Thompson's role may have changed. Not his drive.
Sidelined since Nov. 1 with a calf injury he said was much more serious than a strain, Thompson could play Tuesday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Atlanta Hawks. Thompson practiced Monday, and as long as he recovers as expected, the Cavs will have their most tenacious rebounder and one of their best defenders back on the floor — but not as a starter.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said Thompson will come off the bench, and Kevin Love will remain the starting center . The Cavs have won 14 of 15 and Lue doesn't want to disrupt the chemistry.
That's cool with Thompson.
"If I don't play, that's fine as long as we're winning I'm going to cheer my teammates on," he said following Monday's workout at Cleveland Clinic Courts. "If I play two minutes, three minutes, 20 minutes, it don't matter to me. As long as we win."
Since he's been out, the Cavs went 16-3 and have moved past some early-season growing pains with a dramatic improvement on defense. Lue has tinkered with his rotation, and Cleveland now has a second unit featuring Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye that helped the Cavs reel off 13 straight wins.
Lue indicated Frye will continue to play, so it remains unclear how he will use Thompson, who has been one of Cleveland's most dependable players the past few years.
"Tristan is a big part of what we do, so we gotta figure out how we got to use him," said Lue, who wouldn't divulge Thompson's new role. "We gotta do that so I have a plan in place and we'll see how it works."
When Thompson was injured last month, the Cavs said they expected him to be out for a month with a strained left calf. Thompson quickly pointed out that not only was the team's public timetable inaccurate, but so was their medical diagnosis.
"They told you guys three to four weeks," Thompson said to reporters. "That was never the case. The first week I was on crutches for a week so there was no chance. I don't know who told you three to four weeks. I feel bad. I'm sorry. You all should have just asked me or DM'd me. I would have told y'all the truth."
Thompson said his injury was "worse" than a strain, but he didn't want to elaborate.
Thompson's straightforward approach has endeared him to Cleveland fans for seven seasons. A tireless worker at both ends of the court, Thompson played in 447 consecutive regular-season games before sitting out last April with a sprained thumb. He's averaged 9.8 points and 8.6 rebounds, but it's also been the little things that have made him invaluable for the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions.
Being injured was tough on Thompson, who had never been out as long at any level. He missed the little things. Now that he's back, Thompson promised he'll do what he always has.
"Just play my game," he said. "Nothing special. Just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me I think."
While Thompson has returned, the Cavs still don't have a clear date for point guard Isaiah Thomas to play after being sidelined all season with a hip injury. He took part in 3-on-3 drills Monday.
The Cavs have roughly targeted his debut by the end of the month, but Lue said nothing is certain.
"I don't know when he's coming back," Lue said. "I wish I did so you could quit asking me. I really do. I really wish I knew so I could share it. I'm not hiding it."
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