Stating the obvious is to say the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t the same without LeBron James. Less clear is exactly where they will be with him back but a couple other key pieces still on the mend.
James will return from his brief absence Tuesday night as the Cavaliers look to snap their losing streak against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers.
Cleveland (13-7) has lost three straight games, the last Saturday’s 99-84 defeat at Miami after coach David Blatt decided to rest James for the first time this season.
The Cavaliers shot just 36.5 percent from the floor as James watched from the bench a little more than a month after stating he would like to play all 82 games.
Blatt’s decision followed Friday’s 114-108 overtime loss at New Orleans. James played 45 minutes and the Cavaliers didn’t settle into their Miami hotel room until about 5 a.m.
"It’s totally different," J.R. Smith said of playing without James. "He’s like a coach on the floor on top of being the best player."
Cleveland is shooting 38.1 percent during its losing streak and 27.5 percent from 3-point range. The Cavaliers have posted their two lowest point totals of the season within the last three games.
"It’s not about talk, it’s about going out and doing it," James said. "There’s going to be games where you just don’t make shots, but you’ve got to be able to defend and make timely shots when it has to be there. And you live with the results."
Offensive help would come with the impending return of Kyrie Irving after offseason knee surgery. Irving practiced on Monday but was ruled out for Tuesday, as was defensive specialist Iman Shumpert, who hasn’t played due to a wrist injury. They’re both on track to return this month.
Portland (9-13) seemed to find a rhythm with Thursday’s 123-111 win over Indiana followed by Saturday’s 109-103 victory over Minnesota to open a four-game road trip.
But the Trail Blazers were denied their sixth win in nine games Monday when Milwaukee stole a 90-88 victory in the final minute.
Portland led 88-87 with possession and 16.3 seconds left, but a jump ball was called off the inbounds pass. The Bucks won it, followed with a go-ahead layup and the Trail Blazers’ final shot was blocked.
Portland, which shot 38.4 percent and fell to 0-7 when failing to score 100 points, trailed by as many as 14 in the first half.
"It was a good comeback and a good effort on the road," coach Terry Stotts told the team’s official website. "It hurts to lose a game like this, but at the same time on the road and when you’re struggling offensively to stay in the game, that’s a positive. But it still stings to lose one."
Damian Lillard finished with 23 points and C.J. McCollum added 17. Ed Davis had 10 points and 13 boards off the bench.
Despite not having James for the last matchup with Portland, the Cavaliers won 99-94 on Jan. 28 in Cleveland behind Irving’s 55 points.