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John Schuhmann

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Cavaliers earn a much-deserved break

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Apr 13 2009 6:08AM

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are facing a little bit of a dilemma in these final days of the season. They've still got work to do in order to earn the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage throughout the Playoffs. But they'd also like to get an extra day or two of rest before the first round begins.

"There are pros and cons to both," LeBron James said before Sunday's matchup with the Boston Celtics. "You can always use some rest, especially going into the Playoffs. We know how mentally and physically challenging and tiring it can be in the Playoffs. But what we have going for ourselves right now, to be able to get home-court advantage throughout the whole Playoffs, is something special. We've got to be smart about things and see what's best for the team."

With a 107-76 dismantling of the defending NBA champions, in which James played just 30 minutes, the Cavs got to satisfy both needs.

Cleveland moved within one win or one Lakers loss of clinching the best record in the NBA with the victory. And James didn't need to play the fourth quarter.

He probably didn't need to play the second or third either. This game was essentially over after 12 minutes. The Cavs shut the Celtics down in the first quarter, holding them to just nine points on 3-for-20 shooting.

"I think we got our swagger back today on defense," said Delonte West, noting that they weren't at their best in their last couple of games. "We definitely can take something from tonight defensively."

"It was really fun to see how everybody was on a string," James added. "We covered for each other and we just didn't allow them to get a comfortable shot."

After Paul Pierce hit a jumper on the Celtics' first possession of the game, the Cavs held them to just two scores in their next 13 times with the ball and built an early double-digit lead. After a Pierce step-in jumper made it 16-8, the Celtics could only manage a free throw in their last eight possessions of the period.

On the other end of the floor, James and Daniel Gibson combined to shoot 4-of-5 from 3-point range, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao found little resistance inside, and the Cavs had 31 points before the second quarter began.

This game was such a blowout that when Boston put together a 14-0 run late in the first half, they only cut the lead to 16.

The only drama on this afternoon was an altercation between Varejao and the Celtics' Ray Allen, who got tangled up after a made free throw. Varejao tossed Allen to the ground in an attempt to free himself and Allen appeared to throw an elbow towards Varejao's groin as he fell.

That was the only fight the Celtics put up.

With Orlando's loss in New Jersey on Saturday, the Celtics clinched the two-seed in the East. And they will likely wait until Wednesday before letting Kevin Garnett put his uniform back on. So as far as the standings and playoff position were concerned, Boston had nothing to play for on Sunday ... and it showed.

"You could tell one team was playing for a purpose," Kendrick Perkins said, "and the other team was kind of whatever. It should never be that way."

Perhaps a win in Cleveland would have given the Celtics a mental edge heading into a potential Eastern Conference finals matchup. Instead, the home team has won all 15 games these teams have played in the last two seasons.

Stealing one at "The Q" (where the Cavs are an NBA-best 39-1) would have been nice, but the Celtics are the NBA champs, a confident bunch.

"If we face them in the Playoffs," Cavs coach Mike Brown said, "just because we won tonight, big or whatever, that doesn't mean anything the next time."

Still, Doc Rivers was not afraid to admit that Cleveland's home-court advantage is important.

"They're pretty good at home, from what I hear," he quipped. "It is a big deal."

The Cavs have two games remaining. They visit Indiana on Monday, and host the Sixers back at "The Q" on Wednesday for the chance to tie the all-time single-season home win record set by the 1985-86 Celtics. They'll approach Monday's game just like they approached this one.

James will play his 81st game of the season. He's happy that he's healthy enough to play all 82, but just knowing he could play in that final game is good enough. He'll be glad to sit it out and get some extra rest.

And if the Cavs start Monday's game like they did on Sunday, he'll get just that.

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