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LeBron James lifts Cavaliers past Pistons and into second round – Metro US

LeBron James lifts Cavaliers past Pistons and into second round

Two seasons ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed six games, including a
double-overtime victory, to beat the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Eastern
Conference final.

How times have changed.

LeBron James had 36 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists to lead the
Cavaliers to a 99-78 victory over the Pistons on Sunday, sweeping the
Eastern Conference first-round series.

James and the top-seeded Cavs were so efficient against past-its-prime
Detroit — earning the only sweep of this post-season — they might be
off for more than a week, waiting for Atlanta or Miami to advance.

“That’s what happens when you take care of business,’’ James said.

Detroit, meanwhile, will have its longest off-season since 2001 and
about US$20 million in salary-cap space to rebuild a once-proud team
that fell apart after trading Chauncey Billups in November.

“It’s sort of the changing of the guard,’’ Pistons coach Michael Curry
said. “I knew once we traded Chauncey, we were going to be a different
team.’’

Even with Billups, the Pistons would’ve probably had a tough time
getting past James and his dramatically improved surrounding cast.

Elsewhere in NBA playoff action it was: Chicago 121 Boston 118 (2 OT); Orlando 84 Philadelphia 81; and Houston 89 Portland 88.

At Auburn Hills, Mich., James made his first four shots — including a
windmill dunk — and helped put the Pistons away for good with a 16-6
run midway through the third quarter.

Mo Williams scored a career playoff-high 24 and Delonte West had 12 points for the Cavs.

“Mo was fantastic, Delonte was fantastic,’’ Brown said. “And
obviously, LeBron was LeBron. Again, he almost had a triple-double.’’

James had 25 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in Game 3.

In the final game of what was a miserable season, Detroit’s Antonio
McDyess had 26 points to tie a career playoff high, Will Bynum scored a
career playoff-high 22 and Rodney Stuckey had 14.

“It’s been a unique season, a difficult season,’’ Curry said. “It’s
the first time this group has gone through any rough stretches.’’

James said his work ethic has been “everything’’ in a career that has surpassed unprecedented hype.

“You’re only born with a certain amount of gifts,’’ he said. “You
have to take advantage of them, and put in the work. My work ethic has
helped me be the player I am today.’’

Cavs coach Mike Brown said James is a “workaholic,’’ and relayed an
anecdote about his son being in awe of James lifting weights and going
through individual drills during last off-season.

“I said, `LeBron doesn’t just show up at the game with a Superman outfit on,’’’ Brown recalled saying to his son.

Detroit was in the conference finals the past six years, the longest
such streak in the NBA since the Los Angeles Lakers’ run two decades
ago. The Pistons, the only Eastern Conference team in the playoffs for
an eighth straight year, had advanced in each of the previous seven
post-seasons.

James has led the Cavs into the playoffs the past four years, winning at least one series each time.

Cleveland lost to the Pistons in the second round of the 2006 playoffs,
got past them the next year in the conference finals en route to its
first NBA finals appearance and was eliminated by the eventual champion
Boston Celtics in the second round last year.

The Cavs will face the winner of the Atlanta-Miami series, which the
Heat lead 2-1 heading into Monday night’s game at home. The
best-of-seven series could end as late as Sunday, May 3.

“For us to get a week off before our next game is big,’’ James said.

When James joined his teammates for warmups before Game 4, Cleveland
fans seemed to outnumber Detroit supporters and he waved his arms in
the air to encourage them to be even louder.

“It’s great to be in Cleveland,’’ Cavs radio broadcaster Joe Tait joked.

James gave them plenty to cheer about early, especially on a
spectacular dunk, and ignited more “M-V-P!’’ chants by a slam that put
the Cavs ahead 86-69.

“He deserved it,’’ Bynum said. “He dominated from Game 1 through Game 4.’’

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