AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — J.R. Smith will play Thursday night against the Detroit Pistons for the first time since fracturing his thumb on his right shooting hand in December, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said before the game.
“It’s going to take him some time, we know that,” Lue said. “But he brings defense. Can guard 1s, 2s and 3s and also the ability to knock down shots — timely shots at that. So, having him on the floor will be a big momentum boost for us.”
Smith will come off the bench and be under an undisclosed minute restriction, according to Lue.
“He hasn’t played in two months, two-and-a-half months,” Lue explained. “Then also with the minute restriction, it would be tough to try to start him.”
Smith suffered his injury Dec. 20 and missed 35 games following surgery. His initial timeline for return was set at 12-14 weeks. He beat the estimate by about a week.
This will be Smith’s 145th game with the Cavs after being acquired from the New York Knicks in the 2014-15 season, but just the second time he has come off the bench. Lue said it is possible Smith will resume his starting place at some point.
“I think so,” Lue said. “But we’ll see. We’ll see how the team is functioning and how we’re playing.”
Smith signed a four-year, $57 million extension with Cleveland in the offseason and is averaging 8.6 points on 33.7 percent shooting, 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 21 games played this season.
“Toughness,” said LeBron James when asked what Smith’s return will mean for the team. “He brings a lot of toughness on the perimeter. He’s a smart player with championship DNA. That helps.”
James said he has already prepped Smith to be patient as he reacclimatizes himself to a team that now features three rotation players — Derrick Williams, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver — who were not in Cleveland the last time he played.
“You can’t fast-track it when you’ve been out so long,” James said. “You can’t get frustrated with the process. That’s what it’s all about. And as great as J.R. has been for us, he can’t automatically think that he’s going to be exactly where he was when he went out. It will take some time and as a team we have to understand that as well. So that’s the main thing.”
While the Cavs welcome the returns of Smith and Lue, who missed the past three days with a bout of vertigo, they will miss the presence of Korver, who is ruled out with a strained tendon in his left foot.
“You get one back and you lose one but thankfully Korver’s is not as serious,” Lue said. “He should be back in due time.”