Cavs clinch division outright behind James’ 32

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CLEVELAND (AP)—The Cavaliers clinched their second straight outright Central Division championship Wednesday night—and Mo Williams(notes) went home disappointed.

LeBron James(notes) had 32 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in Cleveland’s 99-94 victory over the Indiana Pacers. With the win, Cleveland (54-15) became the first team this season to clinch a division title.

Williams spent last summer and the early part of this season trying to cherish the little things along Cleveland’s bid to win an NBA championship. The first milestone passed by Wednesday without him realizing it.

“We have to cherish these moments and celebrate these moments,” Williams said. “Our goal (last year) was so focused on a championship, we looked past clinching the division, clinching the playoffs and clinching home-court advantage. All that makes the main goal that much sweeter.

“That’s kind of funny that we didn’t come in here and acknowledge it. I’m kind of disappointed in that.”

James made sure that was the only reason to go home disappointed, taking over late after Indiana cut an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter to one. James had six points, two blocks, two steals and an assist in the final 4 minutes, including a nifty dunk behind his head after catching an alley-oop pass from Anderson Varejao(notes). James fell a rebound and an assist shy of his second triple-double in two nights.

“That’s all phases of my game in a couple possessions,” James said. “That solidifies who I am on both sides of the floor.”

Troy Murphy(notes) had 19 points and 15 rebounds—but just four points and five rebounds in the second half for the last-place Pacers, who were trying to win consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 2-5. Roy Hibbert(notes) added 20 points for Indiana, which was without leading scorer Danny Granger(notes).

Granger, averaging 23.1 points a game, did not make the trip after spending the night in an Indianapolis hospital Tuesday. He took an inadvertent elbow to his upper right cheek in the final minute Tuesday night against Charlotte. CT scans on his head and neck found no problems.

Coach Jim O’Brien is hopeful Granger can return quickly, particularly because Indiana’s injury list is growing. T.J. Ford(notes) has missed the last three games with a sore groin, Tyler Hansbrough(notes) has missed two months with an inner ear infection and Jeff Foster(notes) is out for the season following back surgery.

The Pacers have lost 13 of their last 17, including nine straight on the road. They have played Cleveland and Milwaukee, the top two teams in the division, down to the final minutes this week before falling.

“The last two road games, we’ve given ourselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter and came up short against good teams,” O’Brien said. “We’ve won our last three home games, so things are starting to pick up for us.”

James had 14 points and seven rebounds in the third quarter as Cleveland used a 16-2 run to start the second half and open a 66-50 lead. But the Pacers fought back, pulling within a point on a basket by Earl Watson(notes) with 4:52 left.

James refused to let the Pacers take the lead, blocking Brandon Rush’s(notes) shot off the backboard on Indiana’s next possession.

“It was goaltending. I swear to God it was goaltending,” Rush said, laughing. “I didn’t hear anybody say that he was behind me, but I knew he was coming.”

The Cavaliers converted on a basket in transition by Varejao and James scored on Cleveland’s next two possessions—the dunk behind his head and a fadeway jumper to put Cleveland up 94-87. Then James got A.J. Price(notes) with another block off the backboard in the final minute and Cleveland leading, 99-93, to seal the victory.

“I try to send a little message,” James said. “Anytime you go to the hole, you have to be looking for me.”

NOTES: James moved into fourth place on the Cavs’ all-time rebounding list and reached the 2,000 point mark for the sixth straight season. … James wore gold shoes on St. Patrick’s Day in honor of his high school, the St. Vincent St. Mary Irish. … Delonte West(notes) returned after missing a game with a sprained left knee. … Indiana’s Dahntay Jones(notes) started in place of Granger. … Cleveland has won 16 of the last 18 meetings against the Pacers, who haven’t won in Cleveland since a double-overtime victory on Nov. 3, 2004.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Indiana
T. Murphy Troy Murphy
6-14,  19 Pts
15 Rebs, 5 Assists
 Cleveland
L. James LeBron James
11-24,  32 Pts
9 Rebs, 9 Assists

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Rebounds
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Wednesday, Mar 17