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Cleveland Cavaliers wrap up East's No. 1 seed

By The Sports Xchange

CLEVELAND -- James Jones saw this happen before.

He watched LeBron James evolve into an efficiency machine in Miami three years ago, and he is watching James do it again on the eve of the playoffs.

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James carried that Heat team to a title. He is trying to do the same with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he just made the road to get there a little easier.

James scored 34 points, including 19 in the third quarter, and the Cavs beat the Atlanta Hawks 109-94 Monday to clinch home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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James dominated the game, playing 32 of the first 36 minutes before sitting out the fourth quarter. He shot 13-for-16 and staked the Cavs (57-24) to a 90-75 lead before Kyrie Irving took over in the fourth.

Over his last 10 games, James is averaging 28.4 points, 8 rebounds and 8.5 assists while shooting 63 percent. He is shooting nearly 52 percent from 3-point range during that time, a dramatic improvement on what has been one of the worst 3-point shooting seasons of his career.

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"There's a clock that goes off in his body," said Jones, James' close friend and teammate both in Cleveland and Miami. "It starts to wake up and round into form. He's just feeling good."

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Irving finished with 35 points, including a 3-pointer early in the fourth that extended the lead to 98-81. He scored 11 of the Cavs' first 12 points in the final period and 13 in the quarter overall -- a big reason why James didn't have to return.

James was named the East's player of the month the last two months, and he won three of the four weekly awards in March. He is playing his best basketball of the season at just the right time.

"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."

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Kevin Love had 10 points and 14 rebounds, and Matthew Dellavedova scored 10 points off the Cleveland bench. It is the third time in franchise history the Cavs will end the season with the conference's best record. Neither of the first two resulted in championships.

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Kent Bazemore scored 23 points for the Hawks, including the game's first eight points to give Atlanta an early lead. He was held to just two points in the second half. Al Horford had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Jeff Teague added 21 points and nine assists.

"They're tough at home," said Atlanta guard Kyle Korver, whose only basket came in the second quarter. "They've got some really good players. Obviously, LeBron had an amazing shooting night. Kyrie did, too. They're both capable of doing that."

Even with the loss, the Hawks (48-33) clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs thanks to the Boston Celtics' loss Monday. Atlanta holds a half-game lead on Miami (47-33) in the battle for the No. 3 seed, a position the Hawks would clinch with a win at Washington on Wednesday.

"We just want to be playing well and healthy," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "You're going to have to beat good teams in the East."

The Cavs turned the game's momentum in the third quarter. They held the Hawks to 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting, increasing a 51-45 halftime lead to 90-75 entering the fourth.

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Irving took over from there, atoning for his miserable fourth quarter performance in a Saturday loss to the Bulls with a terrific effort Monday. Irving texted James after that defeat, when he committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter, and said he knew he needed to be better. James told him everyone needs to be better. It is unclear at this point, however, how much better James can get.

"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."

NOTES: Hawks F Paul Millsap was selected the Eastern Conference player of the week after averaging 21.5 points, 14.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.5 blocks and two steals in four games last week. He had double-doubles in all four games. ... Cavs G Iman Shumpert sat out Monday and will miss Wednesday's final regular-season game after getting his left knee drained over the weekend. He is expected to be ready for the postseason. ... Cleveland G Mo Williams returned to Florida on Monday for what is believed to be his third visit with Dr. James Andrews because of his ailing left knee. ... Cavs coach Tyronn Lue named Tristan Thompson his starting center for the postseason. Thompson had been alternating with Timofey Mozgov.

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