The Cleveland Cavaliers have accomplished a lot in the past week by wrapping up the top seed in the Eastern Conference and following that with an emphatic 31-point rout of the reigning NBA champions at home.
Now comes the last goal: securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and avenging one of their few losses Monday night when the Cavaliers play the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Cleveland (65-15) needs to win either this game or its season finale at home against Philadelphia to clinch the NBA’s best record. The Los Angeles Lakers are two behind the Cavaliers in the loss column, but hold the tiebreaker by virtue of a series sweep that includes Cleveland’s lone home loss in 40 games there.
“It’s great to be in that position at this point in the season, knowing that a lot of teams that have went on to win championships have done that in the regular season - put themselves in a position where you have to come to their home court to get the title,” Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson said. “I think we put ourselves in a great position to be able to do that come this postseason.”
The Cavaliers’ swagger and dominance at Quicken Loans Arena were on display again Sunday in a 107-76 dismantling of the Celtics in a matchup between the top teams in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James hit five 3-pointers and scored 29 points before sitting out the fourth quarter as Cleveland bolted to a 31-9 lead after one period, led by 30 in the first half and shot 55.1 percent for the game, including 62.5 percent (10-for-16) from beyond the arc.
Despite the lopsided victory, James bristled when asked if the Cavaliers were sending a message to the Celtics.
“Haven’t we sent enough messages this year?” he said. “We know we’re a good team. It wasn’t a message. It was just about getting better.”
Cleveland would have been attempting a season sweep of its Central Division rival, but Indiana (35-45) came away with a 96-95 victory on Feb. 10 that did not sit well with Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. James was called for a foul with two-tenths of a second left, and Danny Granger made 1 of 2 free throws for the winning point.
“I don’t care if I get fined. It is what it is. I saw the two plays; just a bad call determined the outcome of that game,” said Brown after that game, earning a $25,000 fine from the NBA for his comments. “If they want to fine me for telling the truth, fine me. This isn’t me. I never do this.”
James, who finished with 47 points in the game, had been fouled with 0.8 seconds left by Granger and sank both foul shots to tie the game at 95.
Indiana snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Cavaliers with the victory and have not beaten Cleveland in consecutive games since April 6 and Nov. 24, 2005.
The Pacers, who will miss the postseason for the third straight year, beat Detroit 106-102 on Saturday for their fifth win in seven games. Danny Granger scored 24 points and Brandon Rush continued his late-season push to be the starter at shooting guard next season, hitting five 3-pointers and finishing with 21 points.
“We have to keep this type of play and carry it over to the end of the season and into next season,” said Rush, who has averaged 15.8 points on 51.9 percent shooting in 10 games since entering the starting lineup. “I think we’re beginning to know each other a little bit better and are playing better. Carry over for the next year is what we need to do.”
Indiana’s three-year playoff drought is the team’s longest since missing the postseason five straight years from 1982-86.