LeBron James dreams of playing with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. He dreams of camaraderie and dominance, and of spending the twilight of his career in his own version of a basketball Utopia.
He doesn’t dream about games like Thursday night, when the Cavaliers lost to the Nets, 104-95, earning the indignity of being only their 20th win of the season.
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The Cavs’ fourth-quarter lead evaporated with James on the bench. The sellout Barclays Center crowd, most of whom had come to see James, ended the game on their feet, cheering for a group of mostly anonymous players currently populating the home team.
“What bothers me is our effort sometimes and making sure our guys understand the moment that we have,” James said. “That’s the only time I can get a little frustrated because I can understand the moment that we have, and it’s not given that every year you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”
James’ comments are notable in that they come with plenty of other signs of displeasure. On Wednesday, Bleacher Report published quotes from a January interview in which James openly dreamed of playing with his old friends. With the Cavaliers trailing the Heat on Saturday, James spent halftime by Wade instead of warming up. He also unfollowed the Cavs on Twitter.
He scored 30 points Thursday night, but none in the fourth quarter, and his supporting cast did little around him. “Any time I get an opportunity to get on the floor, I love the game,” he said. “I love leading these guys.”
He almost pulled it off again, as the Cavaliers took their first lead since the first quarter on James’ shot clock-beating three- pointer with 1:01 left in the third quarter. They eventually led by four before Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored six straight points. He also was able to guard a driving James late in the third quarter, with James committing an offensive foul.
Markel Brown tied it at 92 with a putback dunk with 4:42 left, added a corner three- pointer seconds later and sparked a 14-3 run to end the game. Brook Lopez scored 22 points, moving ahead of Vince Carter for second place on the Nets’ all-time scoring list. Shane Larkin added 16.
“Yeah, it is tough, but that’s what a team is for,” James said of watching from the bench as the lead vanished. “Guys have got to be able to pick it up no matter who’s in the lineup, no matter who’s on the floor, and I just try to help our team get back into the game and go from there.”
But the way things stand, he’s “just trying to put this team on my back,” he said. “Hopefully, they follow me.”
If not, there’s every chance James might decide to follow his dreams.