CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers are set to get back one of their key pieces from the last three NBA Finals if Tristan Thompson returns Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks as intended.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Ohio
But how the Cavs will use this piece is a bit of a mystery.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said that if Thompson does play against the Hawks — his injured left calf needs to be feeling OK in the morning after a three-on-three scrimmage Monday — he would not rejoin the starting lineup.
Lue also said that Channing Frye, a center (like Thompson) who shoots threes (unlike Thompson), would remain playing with Kyle Korver on the Cavs’ second unit.
So where that leaves Thompson, who’s been out since sustaining the injury Nov. 1 and is averaging 4.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, is unclear.
Cleveland has won 14 of 15 without Thompson, including a 121-114 victory over Atlanta on Nov. 30.
“Everyone goes through it and Tristan is a big part of what we do, so we gotta figure out how we got to use him,” Lue said. “We gotta do that so I have a plan in place and we’ll see how it works.”
Thompson has missed a career-high 19 games. Last season, his franchise-record streak of 447 consecutive games played was snapped in April.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” Thompson said. “I don’t care if I don’t play, that’s fine, as long as we’re winning. I’m going to cheer my teammates on. If I play two minutes, three minutes, 20 minutes, it don’t matter to me. As long as we win.”
Thompson began the year on the bench, but was returned to the starting lineup after about a week when Lue shuffled in J.R. Smith for Dwyane Wade and decided to move Kevin Love from center back to power forward.
With Thompson out, Love has caught on at the five, and is averaging 24.2 points over his last six games (he missed Saturday’s contest with a minor hip injury).
The Hawks, meanwhile, benched their best player in the fourth quarter of their last game — a 111-107 loss to the New York Knicks. Dennis Schroder, the team’s leading scorer (20.4 ppg) who scored 27 points in Atlanta’s last game against Cleveland, sat out the final 8:14 of the Knicks game.
“You’ve got to ask Coach and then let me know,” Schroder said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m supposed to be out there but it didn’t happen. So, that’s it.”
Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said Schroder’s absence was merely the result of a “coach’s decision.”
The Hawks have beaten Cleveland three of the last four games dating to last season, and Lue said Schroder is a major reason why.
“I think Schroder, he’s improved his jump shot, he’s shooting the three a lot better, the pull-up jumper a lot better so you can’t really go under as much because he can make that shot,” Lue said. “His speed and quickness, you try to switch one through four and it’s a mismatch. With the fives you try to blitz and they’ve got guys rolling to the basket that will finish at the rim.
“Then they’ve got shooters all around him, (Kent) Bazemore and (Luke) Babbit, those guys can make shots but also put the ball on the floor. When you have four or five guys on the floor that can shoot but also put the ball on the floor, it makes it tough.”