“For me, the playoffs have already started,” he said.
On Sunday night, the Cavaliers finally played as though they intend to make them.
The Cavs, who hadn’t played since snapping a six-game losing streak on Tuesday night, had a season-low five turnovers, held Indiana to three field goals over the final 14:36 and just 15 points in the fourth.
The win stopped Cleveland’s speedy freefall in the Eastern Conference standings, a slide that was threatening to derail the Cavs’ push toward their first playoff appearance since 1998.
“We’re fighting for seeds, fighting to win the division and fighting for home court,” Snow said. “You’ve got to have a playoff mentality.”
With part-owner Usher leading the cheers from his courtside seat in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers played one of their best all-around games in weeks. And, as usual, James led the way, adding five rebounds, five assists and exuding an arena full of confidence in 44 minutes.
When Indiana was still within striking distance in the fourth, James drained two straight jumpers to make it 93-82 with 1:33 left.
After the second one, James turned, sprinted up the floor and looked in the stands. He shook his head as if to say he couldn’t be stopped. James was replaced a few seconds later to a rousing ovation and he made sure he slapped hands with everyone on Cleveland’s bench before taking a seat.
James said Cleveland’s recent losing skid was humbling.
“It showed us we weren’t the team we thought we were,” he said. “It made us come out more focused. We got back to the basics. It’s getting close to the playoffs, time to play complete basketball.”
Indiana couldn’t buy a basket in the fourth quarter, going 3-of-16 from the floor. The Pacers went 8:59 without a field goal before Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 5:27 left to bring Indiana within 83-77.
But Ilgauskas hit an 18-footer, Snow hit a crucial jumper and Ilgauskas scored again as the Cavs went up by 10. That’s when James went to work, hitting his two jumpers as the Cavaliers beat the Pacers for just the second time in 12 games.
“They were off four or five days and it’s hard to be off that long and come out sharp,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “They picked it up and we didn’t.”
Carlisle shook up his starting lineup again as James Jones and Scot Pollard started in place of Greg Foster and Stephen Jackson. Because of injuries and the brawl-related suspensions, Carlisle has used 26 different lineups.
But the change didn’t do the Pacers much good.
“We definitely struggled shooting,” Jackson said. “Reggie tried to carry us but we didn’t give him much help.”
James, who came in averaging 7.6 assists, didn’t get his first one until midway through the quarter. But he was getting his points, scoring seven straight, the final three coming on a long-range jumper as the Cavaliers took a 76-71 lead after three quarters.
“He made a lot of tough shots,” Jackson said. “And as he goes, they go.”
Miller, retiring after the season, was possibly playing in Gund Arena for the final time. He scored 14 consecutive points for Indiana, bridging the second and third quarters. He had made a career-best 61 consecutive free throws before missing a technical in the third.
If Carlos Boozer is activated from Utah’s injured list, he will return to Cleveland on Tuesday night for the first time since he bolted last summer as a free agent. Cavs coach Paul Silas expects Cavaliers fans, who felt betrayed by Boozer, to rudely welcome him back. “They (fans) aren’t going to move on, and they’re going to let him know it,” Silas said. “He’s going to have to deal with it.” … It will be interesting to see what the Cavaliers have in store for Boozer, who wasn’t with the Jazz on Sunday in Detroit. Last year, the club was fined $5,000 by the NBA for a skit aimed at Boston guard Ricky Davis, a former Cavalier who criticized Cleveland after his departure. … Pacers G Jamaal Tinsley sat out his ninth straight game with a bruised left foot. … The last time the Cavs had only five turnovers in a game was on Jan. 13, 2001, at Vancouver. … Miller’s previous long free throw streak was 51 straight in 1991.