CLEVELAND — LeBron James spent the morning and afternoon at his Summit County mansion, battling the flu that is bouncing around the Cavaliers.
No illness, however, was going to keep him from competing against his closest friend in the sport.
James collected a game-high 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists Wednesday, but Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls handed short-handed Cleveland a 106-94 loss at Quicken Loans Arena.
“If I can walk, I can go — unless Coach decides to sit me out,” said James, who played a team-high 37 minutes. “My wind isn’t there and my chest, my breathing pattern is a little sore. I’ve got some aches and pains here and there, too, but I’ll be fine. No excuses, we’ve got a job to do.”
Wade, who lured James to Miami for four years — and two world titles — with the Heat, had 10 points and four assists. The Chicago native is hampered by chronic left knee pain, but also refused to miss the marquee matchup on ESPN.
Bulls small forward Jimmy Butler scored 14 of his team-best 20 points in the fourth quarter and made the defensive play of the night by drawing a charging foul on James with 6:25 left.
Chicago led 89-88 when James appeared to score the go-ahead hoop on a drive, only to have it waved off on a questionable call. Butler followed with seven points in a row to put the game out of reach.
“The guy who wears No. 3 on this team came to me and was like, ‘Win the game,’” Butler said, referring to Wade. “With him telling me that, you can’t let D-Wade down. He’s been doing it for years, so it was my time to step up.
“With LeBron coming at you full speed, it could go either way. You’ve got to brace yourself, but we’ve got all these pads on for a reason.”
The NBA champion Cavaliers had their season-long home winning streak snapped at nine, but own the best record in the Eastern Conference by three games over Toronto at 26-8. They begin a six-game road trip Friday against the Nets.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue declined to speculate if point guard Kyrie Irving (right hamstring) or power forward Kevin Love (food poisoning) will be available in Brooklyn, but said neither ailment is “serious.”
The Cavaliers only had 10 players in uniform against the Bulls, who built a 17-point lead after falling behind 15-2 after five minutes.
“Hopefully, Ky and Kev can get back soon, but our other guys just have to continue to get better,” a visibly frustrated James said.
“This slows the process down a little bit, and that’s the part that eats me alive. Not being able to practice and put in extra time every day to get better as a group is something I love to do, but we can’t because we don’t have enough guys.”
Shooting guard Jordan McRae scored a season-high 21 points and power forward Channing Frye added 15 points and five rebounds for Cleveland.
Starting point guard DeAndre Liggins had two points, two turnovers on wild heaves into the backcourt, and flung one pass into the third row of the stands. Backup Kay Felder shot 3-of-11 from the field, re-inforcing the Cavaliers’ desperate need for help.
“That’s been obvious since day one of training camp, we don’t have a reliable veteran point guard,” James said. “Us having 13 assists as a team — and me having more than half of them - is not who we are. It’s tough for us.”
The Bulls, who rank last in the NBA in 3-point percentage and threes made, made a season-high 13 shots beyond the arc. Small forward Doug McDermott buried three of them in a 17-point performance, while power forward Taj Gibson had 18 points and seven rebounds.
James appeared in his 724th game with Cleveland, moving past Danny Ferry into second place in franchise history. It was the Cavaliers’ first loss in their last 14 games with him in uniform.
The Cavaliers wore their vintage, light orange uniforms as part of the NBA’s Hardwood Classics series. R&B singer Ray Parker Jr. performed his No. 1 single “Ghostbusters” at halftime.
MLB slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who will formally sign a multi-year contract with the Indians this morning, was seated courtside in a Cavaliers jersey. The free-agent first baseman received a nice ovation as he waved to the crowd.