James, Cavs hold off Bulls

Thomas participates in G League scrimmage, dresses as he nears return from hip injury

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Once Isaiah Thomas slipped on his jersey and headband, those familiar, warm feelings washed over him.

His agonizing wait is almost over.

After seven months away, countless days of rehab and wonder if he would play again, Thomas was again on an NBA court Thursday. And although he only took part in the pregame layup lane, it was more than enough.

“It was everything,” he said. “I felt like a basketball player again.”

Thomas dressed for the first time since coming to Cleveland in a trade and cheered on from the bench as LeBron James scored 34 points to lead the Cavaliers to their 12th straight home win, 115-112 over the Chicago Bulls.

Kevin Love added 27 to help the Cavaliers improve to 19-2 since Nov. 11.

But the biggest development for Cleveland was Thomas, who moved even closer to making his debut with the Cavs after injuring his right hip in the playoffs last May while with Boston. Earlier in the day, Thomas scrimmaged with the Canton Charge, the Cavs’ G League affiliate, before coming to Quicken Loans Arena. Thomas then put on his uniform, joined his teammates in their pregame prayer and took the floor for a warmup he won’t forget.

“It just felt like I was a rookie again, like my first game,” Thomas said. “I haven’t been in an arena like that where you’re warming up, you’re with teammates, that’s so new right now. I’ve been down since May so just being out there put a smile on my face.”

Thomas won’t play in Cleveland’s next game — a Christmas Day marquee matchup with Golden State — but the Cavs won’t be without the All-Star point guard much longer. Thomas said his workout with Canton went well, and he’ll wait for Cleveland’s medical staff to clear him to play in a game.

Thomas said facing the Warriors was never his goal.

“No, that was a target for my kids,” he said. “So they mad, but I’m fine with it. I have no rhythm, so there is no way I can play in an actual game right now and be very effective like I’m used to being. Slowly that will come back and I’ll get a feel for it. I also gotta get in some shape. That was probably the toughest part today, the going up and down constantly, being a little winded.”

Dwyane Wade had three steals and two blocks in the fourth quarter for Cleveland, which improved to 3-0 against the Bulls this season.

With Cavs forward Jae Crowder guarding him closely, Denzel Valentine was short with a tying 3-pointer in the final second.

Rookie Lauri Markkanen scored 25 points, Valentine had 18 and Nikola Mirotic 15 for the Bulls, who lost for the first time since Dec. 6. Chicago’s win streak followed a 10-game losing skid.

“The last time we played in their gym, Cleveland absolutely drilled us,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “This shows the growth we’ve had as a team. We gave ourselves a chance to win and our effort was tremendous, especially after sitting on a plane when we got here for 40 minutes with no stairs (due to mix up at airport gate).”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue missed the game with an undisclosed illness. Assistant coach Larry Drew filled in for Lue.