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Cavs' Tristan Thompson expected back Tuesday, in bench role

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The Cavaliers plan to reintroduce big man Tristan Thompson into their lineup in a bench role when Cleveland hosts the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, coach Tyronn Lue said after practice Monday.

Thompson, who has been out since Nov. 1 with a strained left calf, will play against the Hawks barring any setback from how his body responds from Monday's training.

Thompson began the season on the bench and stated his goal of winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. Lue quickly shifted gears, bringing Thompson back to the starting center position for five of the eight games he's played because of Kevin Love's struggles at the 5.

However, with Cleveland now clearly in a groove and Love looking more comfortable in the middle, it's back to the bench for Thompson.

"We're playing good basketball right now, having a good flow and a good rhythm, and Tristan understands that," Lue said. "We're just going to keep it the same way for right now."

The Cavs went 16-3 in Thompson's absence -- including wins in 13 of their past 14 games.

Thompson, who was originally estimated to miss three to four weeks with the injury, will end up missing nearly six weeks. He took issue with that timeline Monday.

"Who said there was a real timetable? [The team] told you guys three to four weeks. That was never the case," Thompson said. "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 [direct messaged] me. I would have told y'all the truth.

"It was worse [than a strain], but I'm not going to get into detail about that. At the end of the day, we've got the Hawks, they play us good and see how I feel [on Tuesday] and if I pass all the tests that [Cavs trainers] Geo [George Sibel] and Steve [Spiro] want me to go through in order to be good to play, then I will play, and if I don't pass, then I have to do more studying."

Thompson felt a pop in his calf at the time of the injury, sources told ESPN.

While he may be annoyed by how long things took for him to improve, he is open to the bench role and said he was "never" concerned about losing his fit on the team while the Cavs went on their recent winning streak without him.

"I'm actually happy for Channing [Frye] since I've been out, I'm actually happy for him, he's able to play and show everyone what he can do," Thompson said. "Channing has gotten better over this year. He's always been labeled a pick-and-pop big, but during this time he's been posting up and finishing around the rim with some layups. He says he's not dunking no more, so he's finishing with some layups. So I'm happy for him. I'm happy for him that he's playing well. We've got to figure it out. 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."

Lue said he would still find minutes for Frye to play alongside Kyle Korver, as the tandem has been effective together coming off the bench.

"I mean, it's part of the game," Lue said. "Everyone goes through it, and Tristan is a big part of what we do, so we got to figure out how we got to use him, we got to do that so I have a plan in place and we'll see how it works."

Thompson said that playing in three straight NBA Finals has affected the way everyone views the regular season; whatever time he missed pales in comparison to missing a playoff game.

"All you guys care about is what happens in June," Thompson said. "God willing hope we play in June. No one cares about this right now."

Injured guard Isaiah Thomas, out all season with a torn labrum in his right hip, participated in 3-on-3 drills on Monday.

Lue did not provide an update on Thomas' expected timeline. The Cavs say Thomas will be playing in games by the end of the month, barring any setbacks.

"The biggest thing is just to make sure he's 100 percent," Lue said. "We're not trying to rush him back, and that's the biggest key, so he doesn't have any setbacks."

Lue didn't commit to a specific game Thomas could make his debut in.

"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. You ask every day, but I really don't know. I'm not hiding it. I really, truly, I don't know. I know it's your job and I understand. I'm really not hiding it from you."