Cavs Secure Home Court for 1st Round of Playoffs

ESPN -- For 12 minutes, the Cleveland Cavaliers drove, dunked and did anything they desired.

And all New Jersey could do was watch.

LeBron James looked primed for the postseason, scoring 35 points in 36 minutes, and the Cavaliers secured home-court advantage for the first round of the NBA playoffs with a 94-76 win Thursday night over the Nets, who blew a chance to inch closer to a berth.

Larry Hughes added 19 points for Cleveland, tied with idle Chicago at 47-32 for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs have three games left, and they'll probably have to win them all and hope the Bulls -- who own the tiebreaker between the clubs -- stumble to avoid being the No. 5 seed and possibly playing Miami in the first round.

With a few trademark slams, and by using his size advantage to post up near the basket, James took over in the third quarter, scoring 15 points when the Cavaliers shot 82 percent (14-of-17) from the field and outscored New Jersey 36-19 to blow the game open.

Cleveland's third-quarter point total matched its entire output in the first half.

"We got into a flow," Hughes said. "We hit a rhythm because we got defensive stops and quality looks. We made it simple. We made it easy."

Vince Carter scored 26 points to lead the Nets (37-41), who came in as the East's No. 7 seed.

A victory would have reduced New Jersey's magic number to one for clinching a sixth straight playoff appearance. However, the Nets were out of synch offensively and got just five points from Richard Jefferson and only eight from Jason Kidd.

Jefferson, who was coming off a season-high 35-point performance against Washington, was only 2-of-13 from the field.

New Jersey's next chance to lower its magic number will be at home on Friday against New York.

"We still have four games left," Carter said. "We've got to find a way to get it done. Hopefully we can bounce back. That's the goal right now, just locking down the spot and being a playoff team.

"We played like we wanted to be in the playoffs for maybe 2 1/2 quarters."

Hoping to tighten things up at both ends before the playoffs begin on April 21, the Cavaliers played one of their finest 12-minute stretches of the season in the third to open a 21-point lead.

Everything worked for Cleveland. James, who has too often settled for jumpers, drove for easy baskets, scoring eight points in a 52-second span. Hughes, who has struggled with his shooting all season, made open jumpers as the Cavaliers took control of a game they needed -- and wanted -- badly.

"That was a pretty good quarter," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "I can't remember the last time we've played a quarter of basketball that good. We've had some decent quarters this year, but that was one of our best."

Kidd was disgusted with New Jersey's defensive effort after halftime.

"Our defensive principles, there were none," he said.

Hughes scored nine in the third and Sasha Pavlovic seven for the Cavs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas didn't put the ball in the basket, but Cleveland's 7-foot-3 center made the night's sweetest pass, whipping one behind his back in transition to a trailing James, who grabbed it with his right hand, powered to the rim and dunked as Mikki Moore watched helplessly.

"He didn't even know who he was throwing it to," James said with a playful smirk. "If I hadn't caught it, the ball would have gone out of bounds."

The Cavaliers shot 22-of-34 (65 percent) after halftime.

Cleveland missed its first four 3-pointers before Pavlovic connected, highlighting a 9-2 run that gave Cleveland a 36-32 halftime lead.

New Jersey's Big Three -- Carter, Kidd and Jefferson -- were a combined 6-of-22 in the first half.