His teammates responded emphatically Friday night and the result was a 112-105 victory over the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center.
James narrowly missed a triple-double with 32 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, and the others in the Big Three also had big nights as Kyrie Irving scored 26 points and Kevin Love finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
But the thing that pleased James the most was the intensity and the defensive effort. The Cavs held the Hornets to 42.2 percent shooting from the field.
"I liked our disposition tonight," James said. "We came in with a physical mindset and basically that helped us win the game because it was physical from the start right down to the finish."
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said it was a big improvement over the 126-113 loss at Denver on Wednesday.
"The effort was definitely there," Lue said. "The guys took the challenge. We helped, got back out. That team shot 42 percent from the field. So the effort was great. That's how we've got to play. That's who we are."
The Cavs (47-24) wound up clinching the Central Division with the victory, coupled with Indiana's loss. The Cavs retained a one-game lead over Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
They led by as many as 12 in the first half, then never trailed in the second half. The Hornets got as close as 100-99, but the Cavs responded with a 7-0 run as J.R. Smith hit a 3-pointer, Love made a 20-footer and James hit a layup on a feed from Love. That made it 107-99 and the Hornets never got closer than five again.
James said he liked the combination that was on the court in crunch time, with the Big Three joined by Smith and Kyle Korver.
"I think coach did a great job of pushing the right buttons tonight," James said. "Every lineup that he had out there did a good job of trying to play the way we want to play. The lineup at the end is going to be a very good lineup if we can continue to get stops and be physical defensively and rebound the ball. If we can do that, we'll be pretty good."
James was 9 of 14 from the field and 14 of 16 from the free-throw line on a night when the Cavs finished at 55.4 percent from the field and 21 of 24 from the line.
The Hornets (32-40) had a three-game winning streak snapped and lost vital ground as they try to keep their playoff hopes alive. They remain 11th in the Eastern Conference and are now three full games behind No. 8 Miami.
"We didn't really shoot the ball that well, but offensively we did some good things," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "Defensively, we just made too many mistakes. That's it. Period.
"Rotations, mistakes and things that you have to be able to do to beat a team like that. The effort was there, obviously. We had plays we had to make there at the end and we didn't make them. They did. At the end of the day, to win these games, we've got to be better defensively. We've got to be smarter."
Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 28 points and five 3-pointers. Marco Belinelli came off the bench for 22 points. Nicolas Batum scored 19, Cody Zeller had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Marvin Williams had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
"They're an explosive team and they make you pay for any mistakes you make," Zeller said. "Like coach said, there was too many mistakes."
-- The win gave the Cavs a four-game season sweep of the Hornets. They have now won six straight in the series during the last two seasons.
-- The Hornets were without F Johnny O'Bryant (ankle) and G Ramon Sessions (knee), but C Miles Plumlee (calf) was active after missing the previous 16 games.
-- The Hornets announced their 13th sellout of the season at the Spectrum Center.
-- The Cavs were closing out a four-game road trip that started with two games in Los Angeles.
-- The Cavs hit nine 3-pointers, giving them 929 for the season. They have already set a franchise record for most 3-pointers in a season and are fourth on the NBA's all-time list, four 3-pointers out of third.
-- The Hornets are 12-37 this season when giving up 100 or more points.
-- The Cavs will return home to face Washington on Saturday. The Hornets were opening a three-game homestand that continues Sunday against Phoenix.