— -- INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- With his team mired in a four-game losing streak that has extended the Cleveland Cavaliers' rut to a 3-9 record since Dec. 19, LeBron James acknowledged his 15th season in the NBA has been harder than the ones that preceded it.
"It's been very challenging," James said after practice Wednesday. "Just from the simple fact of how many guys have been in and out. This is a difficult year for our team. Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging.
"With everybody who has been out and coming back in, and the rotations, and things of that nature, it's been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out. At the end of the day, we have a game every other day or every two days just like everybody else in the NBA. We have to go out and play."
The Cavaliers have missed 124 games to injury this season, tied for 7th-most in the NBA, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
James was reminded that he characterized last season as the "strangest" of his career and was asked to pick which was worse.
"I don't like to use the word 'worse' too much," James replied. "It's another challenging year."
The Cavs' harshest exposure point has been point guard, with Isaiah Thomas missing 38 games because of a hip injury and Derrick Rose missing 36 games with an ankle injury. There is some relief around the corner on that front, with Thomas' minutes restriction being loosened (he played a season-high 32 against Golden State on Monday) and Rose practicing Wednesday and saying he expects to be ready to play Thursday when the Cavs host the Orlando Magic.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he is focusing on the good stretches Cleveland showed in its last two losses to Indiana and Golden State while waiting for his team to get whole for the first time all season before he judges its ceiling. Following the Warriors game, ESPN published a story citing multiple prominent Cavs players who expressed doubt about Cleveland's championship capability without executing a roster upgrade before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
"I know how good we can be," Lue said. "Once we get healthy, minutes restrictions are off, guys are back, we're going to be fine. And, you know, with the point guard, the head of the snake, I.T., right now just trying to find his rhythm, get his legs, and we're going to be fine. I've seen where people said 'sources say,' and I look down the roster and I don't see no guy named 'sources,' so we got to talk to [general manager] Koby [Altman] about getting another position or something. I don't know, but we're going to be fine. The guys are putting in the work. The last couple of games have been very positive even though we lost, so things are going to be fine."
Lue was asked if his players believe they can win a championship this season.
"I don't know which guys, but I believe so. I think a lot of the guys think that we can win," Lue said. "We've been playing well as of late, the last couple games, and we've got to continue to build off of that. So I feel confident."
When James was asked a similar question, if the Cavs have "enough" to win a championship, he was less direct in his answer.
"That's our goal and that's what we got to work towards," James said. "That's what we're here for."
The Cavs held a rare practice Wednesday, including a live scrimmage portion. Lue said it lightened the atmosphere.
"Good mood today, everyone was in high spirits, good spirits," said Lue.
Following the Magic game, the Cavs host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday and then go on the road to play the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.
"Just come out and compete," James said when asked what the Cavs need to do in order to build belief again. "Come out and compete. Get better every day. You show up to work every day like it's your last opportunity to play, and then you live with the results."