LeBron hangs 37 on Pacers to help Cavs lock up top record, home-court edge

INDIANAPOLIS -- LeBron James expects to rest during Cleveland's regular-season finale, a well-earned reward for leading the Cavaliers to home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

James scored 37 points as the Cleveland beat the Indiana Pacers 117-109 on Monday night to clinch the league's best record.

"It's one step, however, it's a big step," James said. "When you consider all the great teams, all the great players, all the great coaches and all the great systems that are in the NBA, for us to finish with the best record is a tremendous feat. And that is something the franchise should be proud of."

With his team having clinched the top record with a game to spare, coach Mike Brown will likely make James and other key players spectators against Philadelphia -- even though it could cost the Cavs a shot at more NBA history.

A win by the Cavaliers on Wednesday would tie them for the NBA record for best home mark, 40-1, set by the Boston Celtics in 1985-86. James isn't worried about it.

"We've got to do what's best for the ring," he said. "We've got home-court advantage already. We're not fighting for breaking a record anymore. We're fighting for that ring."

And James won't call his team the favorite for it.

"It's going to be Boston," he said. "It goes like that every year. Until you knock off the NBA champs, that's the team to beat. We worked hard for the regular season to get to the point where we're at now, the home court. We must serve home in the playoffs like we did in the regular season."

Monday's performance likely was James' last chance to impress voters for the MVP award. He shot 12-for-23 from the field and had five rebounds and five assists. Some fans chanted M-V-P during the fourth quarter.

Danny Granger, the All-Star who scored 38 points for the Pacers on Monday night, believes James makes Cleveland the team to beat. He also says James has elevated his game past Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat.

"I think LeBron separates Cleveland from other teams," Granger said. "Kobe's still a great player, and D-Wade's a great player, and Boston has their 'Big Three,' but I think LeBron brings so much to that team. It opens up so much for everyone else. He's virtually unguardable, and I think he makes them special."

James' teammates were strong on Monday. Delonte West scored 20 points, Mo Williams had 18 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Cleveland, which won its fifth straight.

Rookie Brandon Rush scored 27 points and Troy Murphy had 17 points and 13 rebounds for Indiana. The Pacers had already been eliminated from the playoff race, but had won seven of 10 and had been playing particularly well on offense. The Cavaliers took the Pacers seriously after Indiana stunned them 96-95 on Feb. 10 at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Brown said Cleveland simply gave its usual effort.

"This group for the most part has been very focused this year," he said. "They've been in tune to what the task was at hand, and no matter who the opponent was, they just tried to bring it."

Cleveland was able to focus a day after a 31-point win over Boston.

"I think that's the mark of a championship team," Granger said. "They really didn't lay down. They came out and they gave us their best effort, and we gave them ours, and they got the best of us."

Indiana led 41-38 in the second quarter before Cleveland closed the first half with a 24-6 run during which James scored 11 points to take a 62-47 lead.

Cleveland took a 73-59 lead early in the third quarter after James went on another scoring spree that included a monster two-handed dunk down the middle of the lane and a 3-pointer from the left wing.

Indiana hung tough and narrowed its deficit. Rush was fouled on a dunk, and the free throw with 1:39 left in the third quarter trimmed Cleveland's lead to 84-80. The Cavs led 91-84 at the end of the period.

Cleveland stayed ahead throughout the fourth quarter. A baseline tomahawk dunk by James got the bench players out of their seats and gave the Cavaliers a 107-98 lead. Williams stepped back to drain a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:29 remaining to give the Cavaliers a 114-104 lead and put the game out of reach.

Brown said he doesn't think the team needs to change anything to have similar success in the playoffs.

"We've got to make sure that in the postseason, we're getting after 50-50 balls," he said. "Those are going to be big because possessions are going to be so big during that time. We have to sacrifice our bodies and so on and so forth to come up with that one extra possession that can be the difference not only in a game, but in a series. And then, we've got to rely on our bread and butter, which is defense."

Game notes
The Cavaliers were very loose, and had what looked like a slam-dunk contest before the game. James' array of dunks had the crowd in a frenzy well before tip-off. ... Granger made a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer to give the Pacers a 27-26 lead. ... Indiana G Marquis Daniels sat out for the 12th straight game with a sprained right wrist. ... Murphy collected his 48th double-double, the most for an Indiana player since the Pacers joined the NBA in 1976. ... The Pacers had just their third sellout of the season, with a crowd of 18,165.