CLEVELAND – From his corner cubicle in Cleveland’s locker room, LeBron James kept his eyes riveted on the flat-screen TV. He wanted to see every replay.
There was his no-look pass to Wally Szczerbiak. There was his reverse dunk in the final seconds of the first quarter. And then there was his majestic, step-back three-pointer to beat the halftime horn, a shot he admired before playfully swinging his arms back and forth.
Seeing it on tape for the first time, James smiled, stood and repeated his arm-swinging gesture.
It’s all easy.
Maybe too easy.
James scored 27 points, ending the first and second quarters with last-second baskets, and Mo Williams added 15 points as the untested Cavaliers overpowered the Atlanta Hawks 105-85 on Thursday night to open a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
“I’m having fun,” James said. “I’m having a ball.”
Now a perfect 6-0 in the postseason, the Cavaliers tied a league record by winning their sixth consecutive playoff game by double digits.
The only other team to do it was the 2004 Indiana Pacers. Cleveland also matched the 1986 Los Angeles Lakers by winning three straight games by at least 20 points in a postseason.
“I don’t want to say I’m surprised,” James said of Cleveland’s playoff dominance. “We’re just a really good team. We’re really confident and we believe in each other.”
Maurice Evans scored 16 points and Mike Bibby had 11 for the Hawks, who were missing centre Al Horford and forward Marvin Williams because of injuries. If that wasn’t bad enough, leading scorer Joe Johnson rolled his right ankle in the third quarter and did not return.
X-rays were negative, but Johnson wore a walking boot as he and his teammates went to their bus before heading home for Game 3 on Saturday.
“I can’t see me not playing,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to let this opportunity go by. We’re down 0-2. I want to be out there for my teammates. Hopefully in 48 hours it will feel a lot better.”
While the rest of the NBA exchanges elbows, flagrant fouls and menacing stares in the playoffs, the Cavaliers are looking for a fight.
So far, they can’t find one.
Just like Game 1, this was easy for the Cavs.
Named MVP earlier this week, James’ three-pointer at the end of the half opened a 24-point lead that swelled to 36 in the third.
James and the Cavaliers starters spent the entire fourth quarter lounging on the bench as Atlanta’s reserves outplayed the Cavs’ backups in 12 minutes of garbage time.
The series switches to Philips Arena, where the Hawks went 31-10 during the regular season and beat Cleveland once. That was on Dec. 13, when the Cavaliers were just finding out how good they were and the Hawks were at full strength.
Atlanta coach Mike Woodson refused to use injuries as an excuse.
“We’re just not playing well right now and they’re playing at a high level,” he said. “We got a chance to go home, regroup, play in front of our fans and see what we’re made of.”
Atlanta’s Josh Smith was held to eight points on 2-of-13 shooting and the Hawks shot only 35 per cent.
“This loss is embarrassing,” said Smith, who was also slapped with a technical.
Cleveland improved to 43-2 at home, 32-5 since the All-Star break, and is playing its best ball.
The Cavs blew through Detroit in four games and have barely broken a sweat against the Hawks, who haven’t figured out how to slow James – or any of his teammates – and have struggled to score.
On the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordan’s jumper – known around here as “The Shot” – over Craig Ehlo that beat the Cavaliers in the 1989 playoffs, James gave Cleveland fans a shot to remember.
Taking an inbounds pass with 5.4 seconds left, James quickly dribbled into the frontcourt, pulled up on Hawks guard Mario West and drilled a 36-footer to make it 59-35.
As 20,000-plus fans erupted, James stood still, relishing the moment.
“I can say, yes, it was demoralizing (to the Hawks) because of where I shot the ball,” James said. “We carried that momentum into the second half.”
Notes: Cavs G Delonte West was poked in the right eye in the third quarter and did not return. He is not expected to miss any time. … In six playoff games, James is averaging 31.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.3 steals.