LeBron James: Cavs' road to title defense stalling as physical woes mount

— -- CLEVELAND -- The Cavaliers came into Wednesday's game against the Chicago Bulls with their best record through 33 games (26-7) since 2008-09 (27-6). However, after a 106-94 loss, LeBron James admitted that progress has stalled on the defending champions' quest for another title. Injuries certainly haven't helped.

Kyrie Irving missed his third straight game (hamstring tightness), Kevin Love?was out (food poisoning) and J.R. Smith?has been lost for the majority of the regular season with a broken right thumb. James could not keep the Cavs' 13-game winning streak with him in the lineup intact despite 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

"It can [wear on you]," James said after playing through an illness that caused him to miss shootaround Wednesday morning. "It's just tough. It's slowing up our process because of what we're trying to build.

"Obviously we're trying to build it with a lot of our guys out just on the injured reserve list right now. We'll get better, guys will get healthy, but obviously we know Bird ( Chris Andersen) is out for the remainder of the season, we know Swish (J.R. Smith) is out for a great period of time. Hopefully Ky and Kev can get back soon. Duns ( Mike Dunleavy) was out a couple games. We really don't have that many bodies anyway. Guys just got to continue to get better. Step in.

"It's always next man up for us, we can't make any excuses. But it slows our process down just a little bit. We're not able to practice the way we would like to. We're already a team that don't practice much, and now we only have eight [healthy] bodies. It's even harder for us to get better every day on off days. That's the part for me that kind of eats me alive. I'm all about putting in the work when no one is around and things of that nature, and we can't do that right now."

Despite James' frustrations, the Cavs have the third-best record overall, only trailing the Golden State Warriors?and San Antonio Spurs. The Cavs are in first place in the East and lead the No. 2 Toronto Raptors?by three games. Love lost 10 pounds from the food poisoning and required "multiple IVs," as a team source told ESPN, but Cavs coach Tyronn Lue did not rule out the possibility of playing both Irving and Love in the Cavs' next game.

In the third quarter against Chicago on Wednesday, the undermanned Cavs fell down by 17 before a hodgepodge unit led by rookie point guard Kay Felder mounted a furious comeback. They drew to within one point with 6:48 remaining on a James layup after he checked back in the game following an ankle injury late in the third, but Chicago was able to seal the victory.

The four-time MVP appeared to be perturbed during the game, often shaking his head or voicing his displeasure when a play went awry.

While James complimented Felder for his effort, saying he was "encouraged" by the 5-foot-9 guard's steady improvement, James again lamented the lack of a go-to backup point guard on the roster, a hole that was far more noticeable with Irving sidelined.

"That was obvious from Day 1," James said. "First day of training camp. We don't have a reliable, veteran backup point guard. Kay's in the process of learning on the fly. He's a rookie and is going to have his mistakes and things of that nature. It's tough on him because we're a franchise trying to win a championship. He has to have a fast-track mind. But we don't have a backup point guard. Us having 13 assists tonight is not who we are. I had half the team's assists, and that's not good for our team because we've got guys who need the ball in their hands and put the ball in the right position and the right spots for them to be successful. It's tough for us."

Cleveland begins its longest road trip of the season Friday -- a six-game jaunt through Brooklyn, Phoenix, Utah, Portland, Sacramento and finally Golden State in another Finals rematch with the Warriors.

Does the trip come at a good time for the Cavs?

"I don't know 'til we know who's active," James said, referencing the undetermined playing statuses of Irving and Love. "I don't know if it's going to be a good time or not until we know who's active and who's playing. [We will] see what happens."