LeBron, Cavs clinch top seed in East with win over Hawks

Tom Withers
Associated Press


LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks over Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks during the second half.

Cleveland — LeBron James did all he could to downplay getting the No. 1 seed.

And then did everything he could to get it.

James scored 34 points with six rebounds and six assists in just three quarters, Kyrie Irving scored 35 and the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs — and home-court advantage until the Finals — with a 109-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.

James, who tried to dismiss the importance of finishing atop the East before the game, scored 19 in the third quarter and sat for just four of the first 36 minutes as he helped the Cavs finish atop the conference for the third time in team history.

A few weeks back, James announced he had shifted into postseason mode. He’s been unstoppable since.

“It’s just a feeling,” James said of a change in his focus and energy. “It’s not a game. It’s not a time of the month. It’s just a feeling and I know it, and I know when the switch needs to be turned for me and I was able to do that for my team.”

James finished 13 of 16 from the field, made all five free throws and delivered the kind of performance that has made him the world’s best all-around player.

“I hope he can keep it up,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “If he plays like this, man, we’re going to be tough to beat. He’s just taken it to a whole other level the last three or four weeks, playing at a very high level, shooting the ball very well, shooting it with confidence and also getting it to the basket.

“I like the LeBron I see right now.”

When James finally sat down late in the third, Irving made sure he didn’t have to come back in by scoring nine points in the first four minutes. Kevin Love added 14 rebounds for Cleveland, which will wrap up the regular season on Wednesday against Detroit — a possible first-round opponent.

Kent Bazemore scored 23 points and Jeff Teague had 21 for the Hawks, who came in holding the East’s No. 3 seed. Atlanta has lost seven in a row to Cleveland, which swept the Hawks in last year’s conference finals.

With Boston losing to Charlotte, the Hawks can finish no worse than fourth, meaning they’ll have home court in at least the first round.

“Credit to Cleveland,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They played well. Obviously a big night from Irving and James. It was a heck of a performance by those two guys.”

James has been saying his body feels as good as it has in years, and that he’s primed to make another run at ending Cleveland’s 52-year pro sports championship drought. In his past 10 games, James is averaging 28.4 points and shooting 63 percent from the field — nearly 52 percent on 3-pointers.

“It’s a mind switch,” he said of the rise in his shooting percentage. “I’ve been going to the gym even more, dialed in more on what needs to be done and what needs to be better.

“I’ve been in this league a long time and I know what I need to do for my game to be even more sharp, so I’m glad I was able to deliver and not just talk about it.”