AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — After dropping the last three games of the NBA Finals to the Warriors in June, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James admits that months later, his team is still lagging behind Golden State.
“We haven’t done anything,” an exasperated James said after the Cavs lost their second straight game, 104-99 to the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. “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.”
The defeat brought Cleveland’s record to 8-3 — good enough for the top spot in the East but not on the same level as the 12-0 Warriors.
Cavs coach David Blatt criticized his team’s approach after it failed to hold a 13-point second-half lead on the Pistons and floundered down the stretch. The Cavs shot 7-for-19 (36.8 percent) in the fourth quarter, with five turnovers.
“We need to toughen up,” Blatt said. “I didn’t think we displayed the kind of toughness that made us a team last year. I didn’t see that the last two games, and we need to toughen up — every aspect.”
“We’re too relaxed and too nice,” James said. “We’re just too nice.”
Detroit, led by Andre Drummond‘s 25 points and 18 boards, outrebounded Cleveland 48-40, with 11 of those caroms coming on the offensive glass.
“We’re playing soft,” Tristan Thompson said. “Guys are coming in — either on the road or [in our building] — and teams think they can beat up on us, and that’s not acceptable. We got to play tougher and meaner, and that’s on the bigs, first and foremost. Our job is to do the dirty work and do the little things. So definitely myself and the rest of the bigs, we got to challenge ourselves, and Thursday especially against Milwaukee, we got to come out with a little bit more attitude and a little bit more … um, the right word, I could find a different word, but more of a little oomph, more nasty.”
James said the toughness the Cavs lack isn’t necessarily physical.
“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.”
James did not offer specific names as to which teammates are or are not bringing the requisite focus. The loss dropped Cleveland to 1-3 in the Central Division on the season.
“You can’t play down to the competition at this point because we’re not better than no one in the league,” James said when asked whether Cleveland is basing its energy level on its opponents. “We got so much work to do at this point. We shouldn’t feel entitled. 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.”
“Guys are coming in — either on the road or [in our building] — and teams think they can beat up on us, and that’s not acceptable. We got to play tougher and meaner, and that’s on the bigs, first and foremost. Our job is to do the dirty work and do the little things. So definitely myself and the rest of the bigs, we got to challenge ourselves.”
After James scored 30 points or more for the fifth time in the past six games — only to see it go to waste in the loss — he was asked what it will take for the Cavs to turn it around.
“It’s got to come from within sometimes,” James said. “Words can only go so far. At some point, they need to become actions. Like I said before, this whole week, we’re not a very good team. It’s just that simple. … We have the ability to be a great team, but right now, we’re not a very good team. We don’t pay attention to details as much. We don’t go out and battle when we’re supposed to. And it’s going to come to a point where every game, you’re going to be in a late-game situation or a game where you should’ve won by 10 instead of being a one- or two-possession game going down the stretch.”
Thompson was asked what could be expected of the Cavs in their next game Thursday at home against Milwaukee, the team that started Cleveland’s two-game slide.
“Better come out with some fight,” Thompson said. “Anything short of that, we’re wasting our time.”