Cleveland — This season was supposed to be a yearlong celebration for the Cleveland Cavaliers as the franchise welcomed back favored son LeBron James after a four-year, title-soaked sabbatical in South Beach.
But with a new environment, new, young teammates and a coach inexperienced in the ways of NBA basketball, James' look of frustration — one permanently etched during the Pistons' surprising 23-point beatdown of James' Cavaliers — seemingly has become familiar through the first third of the season.
Coming in winners of four of five, it didn't appear likely Sunday would be the day the Cavaliers would give up a franchise performance from the woeful Pistons, a team trying to find itself after a major personnel move, releasing Josh Smith a week ago.
The Pistons hit 17 3-pointers, a franchise record, as the Cavaliers' defense appeared disinterested for most of the afternoon.
"A few of them — a lot of them — were contested," James said. "Some of them, they were shooting in transition, one-on-fours. We have to do a little better. We have to have more sense of urgency. Don't discredit what they did to us, they beat us pretty good."
The Pistons outscored the Cavaliers by nearly 40 for a stretch, after the Cavaliers took a 15-point lead early in the second quarter, leading many to believe both teams would play to their records.
But the Cavaliers played to their inconsistent tendencies and the Pistons pounced.
"Other than the first quarter, it seems we have a great first quarter, then we get lax and teams start putting it on us," James said. "So it was another case of that tonight."
James filled the stat sheet, but didn't have his usual signature on the game, scoring 17 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists but turning the ball over seven times and getting his shot blocked by Pistons center Andre Drummond multiple times.
"I think turnovers and I was very careless tonight with the ball," said James, when asked what caused the lopsided loss. "Them boys, they shot the heck out of the ball, especially from deep."
James didn't seem too concerned with the state of affairs, perhaps recognizing the path to true contention isn't found overnight, especially with the aforementioned factors working against them in Year 1 of building something that he feels will be sustainable over time.
"Right now we're not very good," James said, "in every aspect of the game we need to compete at every night.
"Every game is a learning experience. We're not a very good team on the court. We're trying to find our way as well (as the Pistons)."
James, who's averaging 25.5 points, 7.6 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 37.7 minutes per game, knows what it's like to have the bull's-eye on his back. Having cameras film your every move from your adolescent years tend to do that.
But it doesn't mean the same goes for his talented co-stars, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Love played in virtual anonymity in Minnesota for six years while Irving was burdened with trying to carry the franchise James left in ruins four years ago.
Love is learning what it's like to be Chris Bosh, going from an abundance of opportunities to getting them sparingly as a third wheel, while Irving, a virtuoso solo talent, has to adapt to playing next to a superior talent in James.
Even though Mike Miller and Shawn Marion are playoff-tested, the same can't be said for Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, young players who are just realizing what it's like to be targeted every night.
"A loss is a loss, man," James said. "No matter who you're gonna play against, everyone wants to play us and everyone will get up to play us. Once we start understanding that, we'll have a better understanding once we go on the floor."
He spoke in measured tones, referring to the NBA schedule giving his team a chance to redeem itself in "24 or 48 (hours)," his way of not trying to get too down about the transition not being as easy as many expected when he announced his return to Ohio five months ago.
"You gotta watch film, see the things you didn't do so well, see the things you did do well, to help you out the next time," James said.
When James was asked about his coach, David Blatt, going through a lot of learning experiences as this is his first season coaching in the NBA, only then did James' fangs show.
"That's not an answer for me. Don't try that," he said with a weary smile.