Cavaliers clinch top seed in East
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."
ROCKETS 129, TIMBERWOLVES 105: At Minneapolis, James Harden scored 34 points and Dwight Howard had 19 points and eight rebounds to keep Houston's playoff hopes alive. Harden made 12 of 21 shots in three quarters, Trevor Ariza scored 21 points and the Rockets made 15 of 30 3-pointers.
THUNDER 112, LAKERS 79: At Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant scored 34 points and Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime to help Oklahoma beat Los Angeles in the final road game of Kobe Bryant's 20-year career. Bryant looked vintage in the first quarter with 13 points, but he went scoreless the rest of the way.
MAVERICKS 101, JAZZ 92: At Salt Lake City, Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 and Dallas clinched the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference playoffs with a win over Utah, leaving one remaining postseason slot. Utah (40-41) lost control of its own destiny and needs to beat the Lakers on Wednesday and for the Rockets (40-41) to lose to the Kings.
HORNETS 114, CELTICS 100: At Boston, Jeremy Lin scored 19 of his 25 points in Charlotte's big second quarter, carrying the Hornets to a win over Boston. Kemba Walker scored 18 points, and Al Jefferson and Marvin Williams each had 16 for the Hornets, who are in a tight race with Boston and Miami in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
KINGS 105, SUNS 101: At Phoenix, Seth Curry had 20 points and tripled his previous career best with 15 assists and depleted Sacramento beat Phoenix. Curry played 39 minutes — the most of his NBA career — while the Kings left three of their top players home for rest — DeMarcus Cousins, Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo.
BULLS 121, PELICANS 116: At New Orleans, Jimmy Butler scored 12 of his 23 points in the last six minutes and short-handed Chicago beat injury-riddled New Orleans. Nikola Mirotic added 20 points and Cristiano Felicio matched his career high with 16 for the Bulls. Butler was the only regular in the starting lineup.
WIZARDS 120, NETS 111: At New York, Ramon Sessions had 21 points and 12 assists, and Washington recovered after blowing all of its 20-0 lead to beat Brooklyn. Marcus Thornton scored 19 points as he and Sessions did just fine in replacing injured starting guards John Wall and Bradley Beal.
MAGIC 107, BUCKS 98: At Orlando, Fla., Ersan Ilyasova scored 22 points and Mario Hezonja added 19 to help Orlando Magic defeat Milwaukee in its home finale. The victory allowed the Magic to close out the regular season strong at home, where they won five of their final six games, including two straight to finish the year 23-18 at the Amway Center.