INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP)- Isaiah Thomas played Santa Claus on Wednesday. Soon, he'll be playing point guard for the Cavaliers.
Thomas said he could be on the floor in games as early as next week for Cleveland after being sidelined with a hip injury that knocked him out of last season's playoffs. Thomas has progressed to the point where he will be scrimmaging 5 on 5 in the next few days with the possibility of playing in games with the Cavs before the year ends.
"When that time comes to where I'll be out there, I'm sure everybody is going to know and I'll be out there playing the way I've always played," said Thomas, who hosted a holiday party for some area kids at the team's training facility. "I'm just trying to get as close as 100 percent as possible and to be out there to be special. Not just to be out there and be another body. However long that takes - it might be next week, it might be a week after that. We don't know and we're really not trying to put a date on it because it just depends on how my recovery is.
"I'm ramping up my workouts, but at the same time it's how I feel the next day, and it's getting lighter and lighter, which is a good sign."
Thomas is as close as ever to making his debut with Cleveland, which acquired him last summer in the blockbuster trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston. Since training camp opened, the Cavs' timeline for Thomas was for him to be playing games by the end of December.
That now seems possible. The Cavs, who have won 18 of 20, host Chicago on Thursday and are expected to practice twice before their Christmas Day matchup against the Golden State Warriors, whom they've met in three straight Finals.
Cleveland has games in Sacramento and Utah next week before returning home on Jan. 2 against Portland. The next day, the Cavs will play in Boston, where Thomas spent more than two seasons and where he hoped to play longer before being traded.
Since the deal, Thomas has talked about being motivated to show the Celtics they were wrong to let him go.
Although he has not suited up for the Cavs, Thomas has been embraced by the city's fans. As a way of giving thanks for their support, he teamed with World Vision - a humanitarian aid organization he has partnered with for seven years - to host children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland at the party.
"The biggest thing is just putting smiles on these kids' faces," said Thomas, who played basketball and video games. "You really don't know what they're going through or what they don't have. It's about having fun today."
Thomas said he has been touched by the warm welcome he's gotten in Cleveland.
"It's genuine," he said. "I just like giving back no matter where I am. That's just who I am and that's what I've always been about, so I just try to reach kids and touch kids and show kids I'm just like them. I've come from a similar background and especially in the holiday season, it's about making others happy and putting smiles on other people's faces."
The 5-foot-9 Thomas blended in easily with the kids, some of whom weren't much smaller than him. At one point, he joined a game of "knockout" and was quickly eliminated.
"I expected that," he said. "Every time I play knockout with kids they try their hardest to beat me and I always seem to lose. That wasn't my first loss."
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