lbAUBURN HILLS, Mich. — LeBron James said the Golden State Warriors are hungrier than his Cavaliers, and that’s a problem.

“We haven’t done anything,” James said, following the Cavaliers’ 104-99 loss to the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland’s second-consecutive loss and third this season. “We didn’t win anything. We lost. We lost in the Finals. So, that’s enough motivation for myself. I think we need to understand that.

“Like, we lost in the Finals. We didn’t win. And the team that beat us looks more hungry than we are. So it shouldn’t be that way.”

James scored 30 points and passed Jerry West (25,192 points) for 19th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, but once again found himself challenging his teammates’ work ethic and mindset following a loss.

The defending-champion Warriors, meanwhile, are 12-0 after beating the Raptors Tuesday.

Coach David Blatt piled on Tuesday night, saying that the Cavs “need to toughen up.” The Cavs blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter with poor defense, shooting, and turnovers down the stretch.

“I didn’t think we displayed the kind of toughness that made us a team last year,” Blatt said. “I didn’t see that the last two games and we need to toughen up. Every aspect.”

James agreed, adding: “We’re too relaxed and too nice.”

“It’s not always about being Iron Man,” James said. “It’s a mental toughness as well. Going out and doing your job, doing it at a high level and preparing that way before the tip even happens. So, we got some guys who’ll do it and some guys that don’t do it consistently enough.”

On Saturday, James questioned the Cavs’ effort level, calling it “half ass” at times.

Somewhere between James’ various criticisms of his teammates’ effort, execution (the Cavs shot 12-of-20 from the foul line) and toughness — a broader theme is growing.

Without naming names, James is accusing some teammates of a sense of entitlement, held over from reaching the Finals last season and returning the entire nucleus from that team.

“We shouldn’t feel entitled,” he said. “That’s what I continue to say. We’re not entitled to a win. We’re not entitled to being the Eastern Conference Champions. That’s last year. It’s a totally different year and until we figure that out, we’re going to continue to put ourselves in positions to lose basketball games.”

Perhaps disguised by all of this gnashing of teeth over a two-game slide is, James chose to play Tuesday in a way that his teammates would either win or lose this one.

James entered the game averaging 13.3 points in the fourth quarter of Cleveland’s last three contests. Against the Pistons, he scored five points on just five shots in the final frame, and went nearly five minutes during the period without shooting at all.

nbCompare that with how James opened the game — 10 first quarter points, pushing him past West on the all-time list, and a dash of 11 consecutive points for the Cavs in the second, shooting 8-of-13 for 23 points in the half — and it’s easy to wonder where James disappeared to with the game on the line.

James scored 30 or more points for the fourth-consecutive game and fifth out of six, but most of the damage was done through two quarters. Why?

He was out there (played a season-high 40 minutes), and actually had the ball in his hands quite a bit, but he was passing up shots to get his teammates more involved while trying pull out a game in the fourth quarter.

We’ve seen something before from James, although the first time it was drastic. In an early season game in Portland last November, James stood in the corner while Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters jacked up shot after shot in a 19-point loss.

Then, the lesson to Cleveland’s younger players was — if you want to play your way, you’ll lose. This time, it was more subtle. James was engaged, for instance, rifling a pass to Kevin Love in the lane that Love fumbled away.

“We’re not at that point now,” James told, comparing this season to last. “It’s different, but …”

His voice trailed off. Then he said: “We just need to get better.”

A year ago, James chose to let his team lose to prove a point. Tuesday night, he wanted his teammates to win it, to prove something else.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here