CLEVELAND - LeBron James didn`t practice Friday and will miss his fifth straight game with a sprained left index finger when the Cavaliers play tonight at Charlotte.
In speaking to reporters for the first time since he sprained the finger at Detroit on Nov. 28, when Nazr Mohammed slapped at the ball as he attempted to shoot, James had a message for the Cavaliers` opponents.
"Teams better get their wins now," he said. "They try to kill us and talk trash about us now ... When we get our guys back, it`s going to be a different story."
The defending Eastern Conference champions have also been without Larry Hughes (bone bruise), Donyell Marshall (sprained right wrist) and Anderson Varejao (contract holdout). The Cavaliers (9-11) have been beaten by an average margin of nearly 19 points in their losing streak.
"It`s definitely tough because we`re struggling right now with me not being out there," James said. "I want to go out and help the guys."
James` finger is stiff and he is being cautious with the sprain, which is on top of his knuckle.
"You don`t want to make it long term. I`m trying to take care of it, so if I get hit again, I don`t have to sit again," he said.
It`s the longest stretch of games that James has missed and the most in a season. But if it were late April, he`d be playing.
"If it was a time we needed these games more than anything, I`d be out there," he said.
Hughes practiced Friday for the first time in weeks and is listed as questionable for tonight. The oft-injured guard hurt his left leg Nov. 4 at Phoenix when he collided with Leandro Barbosa.
"If there`s no problem (today), there`s a good chance I could get out there and play," he said.
Varejao rejoined the team Friday, two days after Cleveland matched Charlotte`s $17 million, three-year offer sheet for the restricted free agent. Varejao didn`t practice Friday and has to work out visa issues before he can play.
He could return Tuesday at home against Indiana. He acknowledged he`s not in basketball shape.
"I`m here. I`m going to try to help the team as much as I can," he said.
He should be able to improve a defense that`s allowed an average of 101.4 points in 20 games compared with 92.9 points per game last season.
James is the only remedy for everything else that`s ailing the Cavaliers - no offense and a lack of focus.
"It`s just whenever I feel I`m comfortable to go back out there and my hand feels a little bit better, I`m going to give it a go," he said. "It`s not like I`m just taking my time."
WHO: Cleveland at Charlotte
TIME: 7 o`clock
WHERE: Bobcats Arena, Charlotte, N.C.
TV/RADIO: FSN Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM