LeBron James questions toughness of Cavaliers as playoffs near

Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Lakers

With 12 games left in the regular season, it's probably not the ideal time for a toughness gut check.

But that's the challenge being issued to his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates by LeBron James as the Cavs crawl to the playoffs to defend the franchise's first NBA title.

The Cavaliers got smacked 126-113 by Denver on Wednesday, playing at full strength for one of the first times in a while.

Afterward, LeBron wasn't ready to dismiss the loss and move on, chalking it up to the tough altitude of Denver, or to running into a desperate team playing for their playoff lives.

James was asked by reporters about upping the ante on toughness for the Cavaliers as a group.

"It ain't about a group, it's about individuals," he said. "Everybody gotta just be more, just do more. It ain't about no group. You can't preach toughness, you gotta have it."

The Cavaliers didn't have it on Wednesday, getting out-muscled by the Nuggets, like how Nikola Jokic backed down LeBron on this play.

Jokic had 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Nuggets, who did not miss a free throw. LeBron, who went 2 of 4 from the line, was the only player in the game to miss a free throw as everyone else combined to go 23 for 23.

But that wasn't what LeBron wanted to talk about after the game.

"We've just gotta be better," said James, who was a minus-30 in 34 minutes. "We've gotta be more physical. We have to take the one-on-one challenge more seriously. We're relying on help too much instead of taking the one-on-one challenge first and then knowing that your teammate's going to cover for you. We've gotta be better in all facets of the game.

"I had opportunities where I could've been better. One thing about it, I'm always bringing toughness to the game, I know that, that's for sure."

Still, Jokic claimed after the game that seeing James there on him in the post was a mismatch for Denver.

"That's a mismatch for us," Jokic said. "I just tried to score. I didn't think that it was him or whatever, I just tried to score."

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue seemed fed up with his team's effort in the blowout loss.

"A team's up 40 points and they're just playing physical and hard," Lue said. "We're down 40 and we got guys just walking away and doing whatever."

The Cavs should be able to ease into its rhythm with the playoffs coming soon and a likely easy first-round matchup.

But the going could get tough for LeBron's bunch starting in the second round.

Will the Cavs get going?

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