James and the Cavaliers look to nail down the top seed in the East on Friday night and continue their pursuit of finishing with the best record in the NBA as they visit the playoff-bound Philadelphia 76ers.
Cleveland (63-15) got 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds from James in a 98-86 win over Washington on Wednesday to cut its magic number to gain the No. 1 seed in the East to one.
But the Cavaliers hold only a one-half game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the race for the best record, and must finish ahead of Los Angeles to gain home-court advantage for a possible meeting in the NBA finals.
That’s why James insists there will be no letup in the final week of the season.
“We’re just trying to get better,” he said. “We don’t want to take a step back with four games to go.”
Gaining the top overall record would also boost James’ bid to earn his first MVP award. He leads the NBA with a 31.4 scoring average on the road, where Cleveland is trying to avoid a season-high third straight loss.
The Cavaliers play Philadelphia (40-38) twice in the next six days. Cleveland won the first two meetings this season in December despite having trouble defending the athletic 76ers on the fast break.
Philadelphia outscored Cleveland 42-19 on the fast break in those two games, and the Cavs want to do a better job in that department.
“We know this is going to be a get-back game for us (in transition) because they have a lot of athletes and they want to get out and run, especially in their arena,” James said. “We have to get back on the defensive end and shut down their fast break.”
The 76ers have lost three straight to hamper their chances of moving up in the East. They trail fifth-place Miami by one game, and lead seventh-place Chicago by 1 1/2 and eighth-place Detroit by two.
Philadelphia missed a chance to solidify its hold on sixth place with a 113-99 loss at Chicago on Thursday. The 76ers led by 14 points early in the second quarter, but allowed 63 points over the final two.
“Once they got their rhythm and momentum, it was difficult to stop them, especially with the home crowd here,” Sixers coach Tony DiLeo said.
The Sixers have won three straight at home, and seven of their last eight there.
Cleveland, meanwhile, is becoming healthier, getting center Ben Wallace back Wednesday for his first game since he broke his right leg on Feb. 26 at Houston. Wallace had seven points and six rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench—snapping his streak of 766 straight appearances in which he started.
“For not playing for a month and a half, I thought he was pretty active,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “I thought he was pretty good.”