CLEVELAND (Ohio) • James Jones saw this happen before. He watched LeBron James evolve into an efficiency machine in Miami three years ago, and he is watching James do it again on the eve of the National Basketball Association play-offs.
James carried that Heat team to a championship. He is trying to do the same with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he just made the road to get there a little easier.
He scored 34 points, including 19 in the third quarter, and the Cavs beat the Atlanta Hawks 109-94 on Monday to clinch home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference play-offs.
"There's a clock that goes off in his body," said Jones, James' close friend and team-mate both in Cleveland and Miami. "It starts to wake up and round into form. He's just feeling good."
James dominated the game, playing 32 of the first 36 minutes before sitting out the fourth quarter.
He shot 13-for-16 and staked the Cavs (57-24) to a 90-75 lead before Kyrie Irving took over in the fourth.
LeBron James was deadly from the field, landing 13 of 16 shots against Atlanta.
Over his last 10 games, James averaged 28.4 points, 8 rebounds and 8.5 assists while shooting 63 per cent.
He is shooting nearly 52 per cent from three-point range over that period, a dramatic improvement on what has been one of the worst three-point shooting seasons of his career.
2016 NBA PLAY-OFF PICTURE
1 Cleveland Cavaliers (57-24)
2 Toronto Raptors (54-26)
3 Atlanta Hawks (48-33)
4 Miami Heat (47-33)
5 Boston Celtics (47-34)
6 Charlotte Hornets (47-34)
7 Indiana Pacers (43-37)
8 Detroit Pistons (43-37)
1 Golden State Warriors (72-9)
2 San Antonio Spurs (65-15)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (55-26)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (52-28)
5. Portland Trail Blazers (43-38)
6. Memphis Grizzlies (42-38)
7. Dallas Mavericks (42-39)
8 Houston Rockets (40-41)
9 Utah Jazz (40-41)
• Fifteen teams have qualified for the National Basketball Association post-season, with only the eighth play-off spot in the West still up for grabs.
• The Rockets can clinch it with victory over the Sacramento Kings in the regular season finale today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time). The Jazz will face the Lakers.
"I'm in that mode right now," the Cleveland forward said. "As far as that personal kind of vendetta versus my opponents that I have during the post-season, it will ratchet up a little bit more. But as far as me personally, I'm where I want to be."
Irving finished with 35 points. He scored 11 of the Cavs' first 12 points in the final period and 13 in the quarter overall - a big reason why James did not have to return.
James was named the East's Player of the Month the last two months, and he won three of the four weekly awards in March. He is playing his best basketball of the season at just the right time.
"I hope he can keep it up," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "If he plays like this, man, we're going to be tough to beat."
Kevin Love had 10 points and 14 rebounds, and Matthew Dellavedova scored 10 points off the Cleveland bench.
It is the third time in franchise history the Cavs will end the season with the conference's best record. Neither of the first two resulted in championships.
Kent Bazemore scored 23 points for the Hawks, including the game's first eight points to give Atlanta an early lead. He was held to just two points in the second half.
Al Horford had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Jeff Teague added 21 points and nine assists.
Even with the loss, the Hawks (48-33) clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the play-offs thanks to the Boston Celtics' 100-114 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Monday.
Atlanta hold a half-game lead over Miami (47-33) in the battle for the No. 3 seed in the East, a position the Hawks would clinch with a win at Washington today.