Isaiah Thomas returns to Sacramento Kings lineup following thigh injury

Isaiah Thomas dribbles up the court against Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

It’s not natural for Isaiah Thomas to not be on the basketball court at this time of year. But prior to last night’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Kings starting point guard had been sidelined due to injury for the previous 10 games.

Thomas made his return to the Kings’ lineup last night against the Wolves after missing the last two weeks of action due to a deep bruise in his right thigh.

“Nah, I knew I was ready,” Thomas responded when asked if there was any doubt that he would play last night. “I wanted (coach Michael Malone) to be able to let me play and he did.”

Thomas needed to convince his head coach that he was capable of playing despite having no practice time under his belt before yesterday’s win. He got the okay from Malone after showing he could hold his own in pregame warmups against teammates Ray McCallum, Ben McLemore and Jared Cunningham.

“I watched him workout and he showed no signs of favoring his leg,” the Kings head coach said of Thomas. “He looked like he could move out there—he could explode and he could slide. He’s been dying to get back onto the floor. I told him in L.A. that before he could get back out, (director of sports medicine) Pete Youngman and I needed to watch him work out and play live one-on-one. When we did that, I thought that he was terrific. I gave him an opportunity to play and you could see that he was effective in the minutes that he played.”

In 30 minutes of action, Thomas showed just a few signs of rust and finished with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field. Following the game, Thomas talked about his health, saying that he’s not yet able to fully bend his right leg and that he doesn’t have the lift he’d normally have on his jump shot. Despite his limitations, Thomas believes that he’s at about 85-90 percent full strength.

Thomas’ return to the lineup meant a decrease in playing time for McCallum. His rookie teammate had played more than 40 minutes a night on average during his 10-game run as the Kings’ starting point guard. In last night’s game, McCallum came off the bench to play under 30 minutes, but finished with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting and six assists in the victory.

“It was all good,” McCallum said of returning to his role as a reserve. “I just enjoy any minutes I can and the opportunity on the floor. I came off the bench, just tried to bring some energy to the team and tried to make some big plays down the stretch to keep us in the game.”

During Thomas’ absence, the Kings were mum on the idea of shutting him down for the season. Following Sunday’s game, Thomas, dispelled any rumors that he was considering sitting out the rest of the year due to his big offseason that’s coming up this summer.

“If I could run, I’ll go out there and play,” Thomas said. “And I hate it when people would think I’m not trying to play (because) maybe I’m a free agent or whatever it may be. But I wanted to play. From the day I got hurt, I told coach I would be ready that weekend and it didn’t just happen to go that way. I’m just happy to be out there.”

Thomas will be a restricted free agent in July, meaning that the Kings will have the right to match any offer made by opposing teams. Originally selected with the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas is due a hefty raise after making under $1 million in each of his three seasons in the league.

In 71 games, Thomas has averaged 20.6 points, 6.3 assists and three turnovers a contest this year.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.