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LeBron, Cavs become first team to clinch playoff spot

Mar 5, 2009 - 4:54 AM CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- With six weeks left in the regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have already punched their postseason ticket.

The Cavs became the first team to clinch a playoff berth this season, rolling to a 91-73 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, qualifying for the fourth straight campaign.

"That was never a goal," Cavs forward LeBron James said of clinching. "If we didn't make the playoffs, that would be a disaster for us. We have one goal, and that's to win a championship."

James posted 23 points and eight rebounds and Delonte West recorded eight steals as Cleveland continued its push toward home-court advantage. The Cavs are battling it out with the Boston Celtics (47-14) for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

"We're a playoff team. From the first day I got here, I believed we were a playoff team," Cavs head coach Mike Brown said. "We expect to be in the playoffs, so it's good."

They came into the night with a one-game lead over the reigning champs for the driver's seat in the East. With the win, they pulled to within eight games of matching the franchise record for single-season victories - 57, set in the 1988-89 campaign.

The Cavs and Celtics square off Friday night in Boston.

"It's going to be a big heavyweight bout," West said. "Hopefully, we'll be the victors in the battle. That's our plan."

The Bucks put up a good fight, but Cleveland seized control late in the third quarter. James scored four straight points to push the lead into double digits and West and Wally Szczerbiak followed moments later with back-to-back 3-pointers. LeBron closed the quarter with a three of his own, opening up a 14-point lead.

"I'm a confident guy," James said. "I expect that from my guys every time we go out and play."

Milwaukee climbed back to within eight early in the final frame, but that was as scary as the threat got for the Cavaliers. Mo Williams answered with a 20-footer to spark a 15-0 run. James added another three and Darnell Jackson capped the surge with a pair of free throws to push the cushion to 91-68.

"They played better than us in almost all areas. It wasn't that we didn't play hard, but they played harder than us," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "We got it to eight in the fourth quarter. Then we kind of fell asleep."

Despite the win, it certainly wasn't the smoothest offensive performance for the Cavs, who have now won four straight. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskaus was just 5-of-17 and the team shot 31-of-74 (42 percent) as a whole.

Thankfully for them, their league-best defense put the clamps down as usual. The Bucks shot just 37 percent (28-of-75) and turned the ball over 18 times. Of course, West's eight swipes had a lot to do with that.

"I don't know how he gets some of the steals he gets. Someone is going to make a pass and, the next thing you know, his hand is on the basketball and he's going the other way," Brown said. "His anticipation, his athleticism, his quickness, his dexterity, all that stuff is just off the charts. Some of the steals he gets, there's just no way he should get them."

Richard Jefferson rebounded from a rough shooting night Tuesday against New Jersey, scoring 29 points on 10-of-20 from the field.

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    MattDOOM777 Added 5 roots

    Bucks 73, Cavaliers 91  FinalMar 5 12:56 AM

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    Bucks 47, Cavaliers 55  3rd - 7:58Mar 4 8:34 PM
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    Bucks 57, Cavaliers 55  3rd - 7:58Mar 4 8:32 PM

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