AUBURN HILLS — LeBron James was not a happy man.
Standing outside the tiny visitor’s locker room at the Palace of Auburn Hills Tuesday night, he didn’t mince words.
“This is not a very good basketball team,” he said after his Cleveland Cavaliers blew a 13-point lead to lose 104-99 to the Detroit Pistons. “Sure, we’ve got the potential to be a great team, but we’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work to do before we get there.”
The Cavaliers started the season with a loss to the Chicago Bulls, then reeled off eight straight wins. Saturday, they lost 108-105 to Milwaukee in double-overtime before Tuesday’s defeat in Detroit.
“The last couple games, we haven’t shown the kind of toughness that made us such a good team last season,” said Cavaliers coach David Blatt. “We’ve got to get that back.”
James’s relationship with Blatt has often been questioned, but he couldn’t wait to agree with him on Tuesday.
“This team is just too nice,” he said. “We need to be tough, but we’re just nice.”
James quickly clarified that he wasn’t talking about the ability to play though pain.
“When I say ‘tough,’ I’m not talking about being some kind of iron man,” he said. “I’m talking about mental toughness, which is being able to go out there every game, stay focused and play to the best of your ability. We have some guys on this team who do that every night, and we’ve got some guys who do that some nights and don’t do it on others.
“And that’s not something that Coach can fix or I can fix or any of our other leaders can fix. The only way you can fix that is by looking in the mirror.”
James didn’t really get disgusted until he was asked if he thought the Cavaliers were playing down to the level of the competition against the Bucks and Pistons.
“How have we earned the right to play down to anyone’s level?” he asked. “We haven’t won anything. We lost in last year’s Finals. Winning the Eastern Conference Finals doesn’t entitle you to anything. Winning however many games we won last year doesn’t entitle you to anything. That’s all stuff that happened last season. It doesn’t apply to anything this year.
“And if we think an eight-game winning streak means we can start taking teams lightly in November, we’re not going to get very far this year.”
The Cavaliers only managed three offensive rebounds in the game, and after doing a pretty good job keeping Andre Drummond off the glass at the other end, let him get loose in the fourth.
“I’m not sure if that was effort or just running out of gas,” Blatt said. “The Pistons just keep coming and coming on the offensive glass and they just wear you out. That’s one of the things they do.”
“Drummond is just a huge giant with incredible athletic ability,” he said. “Every time they miss a shot, you’ve got to stop him, or the next thing you know, he’s slamming it back down on you. He can go up and get anything and throw it down.”
What did bother Blatt and James was the mental mistakes. With a double-digit lead in the third, the Cavaliers missed five straight free throws.
“That’s a spot when you can put a team away, and we couldn’t just step up and knock down our free throws,” James said. “Those are the things you need to be able to do in this league. You’ve got to have the focus to make free throws and stay alert and execute. We’re not doing that right now, and there’s no excuse for that.
“Our guys all have to look in the mirror and figure out what they need to do.”