James, Cavs Top Mavs To Clinch Playoff Berth
Cleveland 107, Dallas 94
CLEVELAND, March 29 (Ticker) -- LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were a sniff away from the playoffs entering Wednesday. Now they can enjoy the taste.
James took over in the second half, scoring 31 of his 46 points, as the Cavaliers clinched their first playoff berth in eight years with an impressive 107-94 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
"I've always felt since I was drafted here that I was going to light (Cleveland) up like Vegas," James said. "I said that on day one. It's been slow progress, but it takes a few years to put a building up in Vegas, too."
Just 13 the last time the Cavaliers made the playoffs, James joined the postseason party in style by dominating the game after intermission. He did not remember the last time Cleveland was playing in May.
"I was a Bulls fan in seventh grade. But I'm all Cavs now," he said.
James scored 19 points in the third quarter as the Cavaliers turned a one-point deficit into an 83-65 lead entering the final period. The superstar scored 10 points in the final 4:58 of the period after taking a flagrant foul from Erick Dampier.
On the next trip down the floor, James took another hard foul while converting a layup that gave the Cavs a 72-59 lead.
"The thing that I like is that young guy set the tone for this team," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "He went in there and got hammered, and what did he do next time? He went back to that hole. When your leader is doing something like that, everybody else better step up on that bench and play just as hard, and just as physical."
James was the recipient of another flagrant foul in the fourth quarter. In all, the game featured three technical fouls and two flagrants.
"Those guys don't realize, I'm a football player first," said James, who was an All-State wide receiver in high school in Ohio. "I'm going to lay down for a little bit, regroup and get back up. I'm used to taking those hits. They're nothing compared to football hits."
On the night he became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 6,000 points, James made 16-of-23 shots and 10-of-13 free throws. He also grabbed five rebounds to go along with three steals.
"LeBron really is a special player," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "Boy, he put on a performance. He was just aggressive."
"He's an inspiration on and off the floor, the way he carries himself," Cavaliers guard Damon Jones said. "He's been a professional all year long. He's been (criticized), even though he's scoring 30-some points a night, people are still not satisfied. Because of it, he's prepared his team for the playoffs. I want to see what the kid is capable of."
The dominant third quarter for the Cavaliers was a sharp contrast from their last meeting with the Mavericks on March 14. Cleveland held a 53-34 halftime lead in Dallas, only to be outscored by a lopsided 27-8 in the third quarter of an eventual 91-87 loss.
"You have to give credit to Dallas, they came up with a great game plan in the second half to speed the game up and get the momentum down in there place," Jones said. "They came in here and tried to do the same thing, but because we learned from our prior mistakes. We were able to move the basketball and get some good looks."
Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 13 points and Donyell Marshall 12 for Cleveland, which has won six straight and moved 4 1/2 games in front of Washington for fourth place and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Ilgauskas is the lone remaining member of the last Cavaliers' playoff team. He played in all 82 games that season before missing significant time over the next three seasons due to injury.
"It feels great," Ilgauskas said. "Myself personally and this franchise have been through a lot of struggles in my years being here. It was cloudy here for a while and then the sun came up with LeBron and started shining."
Dirk Nowitzki scored 29 points and Jerry Stackhouse added 23 for the Mavericks (54-18), who have lost consecutive games for the first time in nearly four months to fall 1 1/2 games behind first-place San Antonio in the Southwest Division.
"We looked like we were a little tired," Johnson said. "But our guys have been battling. I'm on the train with them, whether it gets rocky or not. Right now we are just sputtering."
Dallas was coming off Tuesday's 97-90 loss at league-leading Detroit.
"No excuse," Mavericks guard Jason Terry said. "(Cleveland) had a lot more energy than we did in the second half. I thought we were in it for a stretch and I still thought we had a chance in the fourth. We just didn't get enough stops. They seemed to take the momentum and put us away."