PORTLAND, Ore. -- Following a 113-105 loss to the Trail Blazers on Thursday in which his 35 points, 14 rebounds and six assists weren't enough to avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers' third defeat in their last four games, LeBron James admitted how much the absence of Kevin Love is affecting the Cavs.
"It's been a long time since I haven't played with another All-Star on my team," James said. "So, having Kev out has been very challenging for all of us. Kev has a big usage rate on our team. He'll get the ball when things get tight, chaotic; we can throw it to him in the low post and get some things going."
Technically, James didn't play with an All-Star in Cleveland's 2015-16 championship season -- but that was because Kyrie Irving missed the first several months of the season as he recovered from knee surgery and Love was overlooked because his role was being compared to the monster numbers he put up as a solo act with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Really, one has to go back all the way to the 2009-10 Cavs to find a team that James played on that didn't have an active All-Star alongside him. That team featured a couple of former All-Stars in Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, as well as Mo Williams, who made his lone appearance in the All-Star game the previous season as an injury replacement after the Cavs publicly lobbied for him.
Thursday's loss dropped the Cavs' record to 10-10 since Love fractured his left hand against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 30.
Yet, Love's absence isn't the only reason James is shouldering so much of the load for the Cavs. Larry Nance Jr. sat out Thursday with a pulled right hamstring. Rodney Hood returned from a lower back injury only to aggravate it again and be limited to 19 minutes. Tristan Thompson continues to miss time with a right ankle sprain. Rookie Cedi Osman is out with a hip flexor injury.
"It's not just Kev," James said. "We're missing Double T as well. Rodney went back out again. So, obviously, you want to win every game, but my approach doesn't change."
It's an approach that has led James to average 26.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists in this, his 15th season.
"[It] has always stayed the same: Just continue to attack, attack defenses, and if I attract two to the ball, give my guys opportunities," James said. "Rebound the ball. Defend. There's a lot of energy that's used with that, but that's fine as well."
Portland's All-Star guard Damian Lillard did his part in Thursday's win with 24 points and nine assists, but Lillard had more help than James did, seeing 29 points from CJ McCollum and 17 points and two steals from Maurice Harkless.
James, perhaps showing just how much he was missing playing alongside an All-Star-caliber player, praised Lillard at a shootaround Thursday morning.
"I think we all know how Damian Lillard is playing as of late," James said. "I mean, he's playing at the All-Star level that he showed, obviously, when he was at the All-Star game. But, listen man, the guy is a superstar in our league and he's showing it right now. Getting his team where obviously I don't think a lot of people thought they would be at the beginning of the season. But him as a leader of his team, he's got those guys in position to fight in the West."
Lillard and James patched up their relationship, sources told ESPN, after tweets that Lillard made in college that were critical of James and used derogatory language surfaced in 2014. James and Lillard had a "man-to-man talk" years ago, sources told ESPN, and James accepted Lillard's apology.
Now? There's nothing but admiration when James is asked about Lillard.
"If you're a true basketball [mind], which there's not a lot of true basketball minds and people who understand, but for me, I understand it and I know," James said. "Give me Damian Lillard, I'll show you how appreciated he will be."