Twelve seasons, four NBA Finals appearances and back-to-back NBA titles in, LeBron James pronounces this Cleveland Cavaliers season “the biggest challenge of his career.”

As the Cavs readied themselves to host the defending champion San Antonio Spurs Wednesday might, James, who returned to his home state Cavaliers after a four-year run in Miami, told ESPN “this is more challenging than me trying to win my first championship.”

With the Heat, James was teamed with such veteran mainstays as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In Cleveland, he will have no such luxury, given primary sidekicks Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have never even reached the playoffs.

“I’ve taken on the burden of leading young guys,” James said, “getting them to understand what it takes to win. And it takes more than just basketball. It’s about being a professional, not having a sense of entitlement, being grateful that you’re a part of this league. Those things have a lot to do with winning.”

Seemingly growing more pensive with each of the 5-4 Cavs’ losses, James’ added “it’s going to take a while. When you’re losing, you pick up a lot of bad habits. When you walk into the building every night and don’t even expect to win, that wears on you, and it takes a while to break it.”

Most of this year’s Cavs’ team struggles can be found on the defensive end. Currently, Cleveland ranks No. 28 (.484) in the league in opponents; field goal percentage. That’s a far cry from the way James’ teams did things in South Beach, or even during his first run in Cleveland. When both teams ranked among the best in the league.

“We have to work at it every single day,” he said. “We have to do the stuff, the drills, we don’t want to do. But at this point, I’m not too worried about it. It’s too early right now to be too worried about it.”

[Photo Credit: Keith Allison]

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