CLEVELAND: LeBron James has shot four or fewer free throws in 22 of the Cavaliers’ 59 games this season.

But after the San Antonio Spurs outscored the Cavs by 15 points from the line in a 110-94 victory Sunday in Quicken Loans Arena and he got only four attempts, the four-time league MVP couldn’t keep his long-held frustration in check.

“We protect the shooter. That’s what it’s turned into,” James said. “Chicks dig the long ball and that’s what it’s about.”

As the Spurs snapped a four-game losing streak, there were other issues the Cavs could point to as costly, such as shooting just 8-of-34 (24 percent) from 3-point range and committing 16 turnovers (six by James) that the Spurs converted into 29 points.

But the Spurs made 25-of-32 from the free-throw line, as compared to the Cavs’ 10-of-14, 3-of-4 by James. The Cavs were called for 24 fouls, the Spurs 12. In three instances, the Spurs were fouled on 3-point attempts.

Listed as 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, James has believed throughout his 15-year career that the pounding he takes gets overlooked. Players’ frustration over officiating was addressed at a meeting before the Feb. 18 All-Star Game, but James wasn’t there.

After leading the Cavs with 33 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in 40 minutes, James spoke out, although not angrily. The free-throw disparity seemed even more puzzling as the Cavs outscored the Spurs 50-34 in the paint.

“We’re at a point now where we protect the shooter more than the driver,” he said. “There’s no reason I should be going to the line four times in a game when I drive 100 times to the paint and I’m getting hit and slapped and grabbed and whatever and whatnot.”

Playing with James for four seasons, Tristan Thompson has seen the pounding James takes. He tried to be supportive without getting fined.

“Him only shooting four free throws? I mean, he attacks the rim a lot, so it’s up to the ref. It’s on them to make the calls,” Thompson said. “I think with him being so strong and athletic, just because he’s bigger and stronger than everyone, it doesn’t mean a foul.

“I think he gets fouled more than anyone in this league, but people kind of take advantage of the fact that he’s 280 and he’s a freight train. But if a guy gets hit, you got to call the foul. But that’s just my personal opinion. In practice you see it; hopefully it translates to the game. But it is what it is.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was more concerned about another bad shooting performance. After going 8-for-35 from deep at the Q on Thursday in a loss to the Washington Wizards, the Cavs are a combined 16-of-69 (.232) from long range in their past two at home. In their past three games, which includes Friday’s victory at Memphis, they have shot 27-of-98 (.276) behind the arc.

Sunday was the start of their longest homestand of the season with five games in nine days.

“We made the right plays, took our shots, they just didn’t go in,” Lue said as the Cavs shot 42 percent overall. “Give the Spurs credit, holding us to [41] points in the second half.

“We run our offense to get the best shot, if it’s a 3, a midrange shot, a lay­up or a dunk. It’s not that we’re looking for 3s. We’re a very good 3-point shooting team, but we’re looking for a good basket.” The Cavs entered the day ranked ninth in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (.367).

The Cavs got 17 points from Jordan Clarkson, who made 7-of-14 (3-of-7 from long range) while playing with a shiner and eight or nine stitches under his right eye after being elbowed Friday. Jeff Green contributed 14 points and Thompson had six points and a season-high 13 rebounds.

Larry Nance Jr., wearing his father’s retired No. 22 for the first time, had four assists in the second quarter and finished with four points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots in 15 minutes.

But the rest of the Cavs contributed little.

The starting backcourt of J.R. Smith and George Hill combined to shoot 2-for-15 from the field, 0-for-8 from deep, and totaled just one assist. Rookie forward Cedi Osman made just 1-for-6, 0-for-2 from long range. Kyle Korver went 2-for-7, all 3-point attempts.

Despite the Cavs’ shooting issues, Clarkson believes there will soon be progress.

“Just with everybody, don’t get down, we’re fighting. We just want to keep swinging, that’s it,” he said. “We’ve got the ability to do some special things. Once it all comes together, we’ll be good.”

LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs (35-24) with 27 points and six rebounds, and ex-Cav Danny Green contributed 22. The Spurs shot 44 percent from the field, improving from 35 percent at halftime, 47 percent from long range.

The Cavs (35-24) fell to 4-2 since the Feb. 8 trade deadline and 3-2 with their four new players on the court.

“Did I not tell you guys this, we’re going to have some games where we look great, we’re going to have games where we don’t look as great,” James said. “I think we played well tonight, we just didn’t make shots. Same with the Washington game. Defensively we were in tune. They started making shots, we couldn’t make no shots.

“It’s not a surprise, not to me. I know. I’ve been through this. There’s going to be a transition period. But one thing about it, I don’t fault our effort. Not tonight or in the Washington game. Our effort is there.”

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com.