LOS ANGELES • LeBron James has had to plough a lonely furrow for the Cleveland Cavaliers since Kevin Love broke his hand against the Detroit Pistons on Jan 30.
And the star admitted it had been "very challenging" without his fellow All-Star forward on the court.
"It's been a long time since I haven't played with another All-Star on my team," James said.
"Having Kev out has been very challenging for all of us. Kev has a big usage rate on our team. He'll get the ball when things get tight, chaotic, we can throw it to him in the low post and get things going."
In contrast, the Portland Trail Blazers (42-26) had their star duo of C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard working in tandem brilliantly, combining for 53 points as the home team swept to their 11th straight National Basketball Association (NBA) victory - 113-105 over the Cavaliers (39-29) on Thursday.
McCollum scored 29 points and Lillard added 24 for the Trail Blazers, who have won 17 of their past 18 outings at the Moda Centre.
James totalled 35 points, 14 rebounds and six assists for Cleveland, who have lost five of their past eight games. Kyle Korver added 19 points.
LOVE MAKES THE CAVS GO ROUND
It's been a long time since I haven't played with another All-Star on my team. Kev has a big usage rate. He'll get the ball when things get tight, chaotic, we can throw it to him in the low post and get things going.
LEBRON JAMES, Cleveland Cavaliers forward, explaining why Kevin Love is a core player for the team.
McCollum scored 15 points to help take Portland to a 59-54 half-time lead while James had 22 first-half points for the Cavaliers, who were still in the game despite being out-rebounded 25-17.
Cleveland whittled the margin down to 65-62, but Portland used a 16-4 spurt to push ahead 81-66.
The Cavaliers responded by scoring seven in a row to close the margin to 81-73 but the Trail Blazers carried an 88-77 advantage into the final period.
Lillard then sank three consecutive free throws with 28.8sec left in the fourth quarter for an insurmountable eight-point lead, and James was full of praise for the three-time All-Star guard, who also had a game-high nine assists.
"That guy's a superstar in our league and he's showing it right now," James said of Lillard.
"He's leading the team obviously where I don't think a lot of people thought they'd be at the beginning of the season.
"But him as the leader of the team, he has them in (third) position to fight in the West."
Cleveland, who have now lost five in a row in Portland, are just half a game ahead of the Washington Wizards in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and half a game behind the third-placed Pacers. Indiana fell 99-106 to the East-leading Toronto Raptors, who have won 17 of their last 18 games and eight straight on the road.
According to Cleveland.com, Love, who has averaged 17.9 points, is expected to return to the Cavaliers' line-up next week. That would be a welcome relief for last season's NBA Finals runners-up.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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