LeBron James scored 34 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers assured themselves home-court advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 109-94 defeat of the Atlanta Hawks on Monday.
James produced a dominant performance in the first three quarters before sitting out the final quarter as Cleveland laid down a marker for the postseason with an impressive win that guarantees them top spot.
James scored 19 of his 34 points in the third quarter to help Cleveland take a 90-75 lead before team-mate Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers home with 35 points.
Irving reeled off 11 of Cleveland’s first 12 points in the final period, leaving James safely with his feet up and already contemplating the playoffs.
Kevin Love chipped in with 10 points and 14 rebounds while Matthew Dellavedova also scored 10 points off the bench.
Kent Bazemore topscored for the Hawks with 23 points but was restricted to just two points in the second half as Cleveland took control.
The defeat left Atlanta at 48-33, firmly entrenched in a tight battle for the third, fourth and fifth seedings in the East with the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
The form of James left Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue purring as the Cavs prepare for the playoff challenges ahead.
James has averaged 28.4 points per game in his past 10 games while shooting at 63 percent. He is also averaging 52 percent from three-point range over the same stretch, a sharp improvement on a poor season average.
“I think when he’s taking shots in rhythm, catching and shooting it with confidence … percentages go up,” Lue said.
“The best thing for him is just the shot selection, taking the great shots, the open shots, and then just live with the results.
“I hope he can keep it up. If he plays like this, man, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
‘IN THAT MODE’
James’ close friend and team-mate James Jones said he could see the Cleveland talisman clicking into top gear as the playoffs loomed.
“There’s a clock that goes off in his body,” said Jones. “It starts to wake up and round into form. He’s just feeling good.”
“I’m in that mode right now,” James said.
“As far as that personal kind of vendetta versus my opponents that I have during the postseason, it will ratchet up a little bit more. But as far as me personally, I’m where I want to be.”
Elsewhere Monday, the penultimate stop on Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour ended with the NBA icon’s Los Angeles Lakers taking a pounding from the Oklahoma City Thunder who ran out 112-79 winners.
Bryant will say goodbye to basketball in the Lakers final regular season game at home on Wednesday.
However, his final game on the road was one to forget as Kevin Durant scored 34 points and Russell Westbrook bagged his 18th triple-double of the season in a blowout victory for the Thunder.
Westbrook’s triple-double was constructed in only 18 minutes, the quickest triple he has ever scored and the second-fastest in NBA history.
Bryant meanwhile played only 19 minutes, scoring 13 points on four of 12 shooting, as he prepares for what is set to be an emotional final curtain call at the Staples Center later this week.
Oklahoma City’s win saw them improve their home record to 32-9, the fourth best in the league behind Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland.
The Lakers meanwhile dropped to 16-65 for the season, deepening the gloom surrounding the franchise.
(home team in CAPS)
CLEVELAND 109 Atlanta 94
ORLANDO 107 Milwaukee 98
Charlotte 114 BOSTON 100
Washington 120 BROOKLYN 111
Houston 129 MINNESOTA 105
Chicago 121 NEW ORLEANS 116
OKLAHOMA CITY 112 LA Lakers 79
Dallas 101 UTAH 92 Sacramento 105 PHOENIX 101