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Cavs secure No. 2 seed as Bulls stumble at N.J.

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Cleveland's LeBron James (23) shoots over Milwaukee's David Noel (34) and Damir Markota during Wednesday's season finale.

Cleveland’s LeBron James (23) shoots over Milwaukee’s David Noel (34) and Damir Markota during Wednesday’s season finale.

Mark Duncan, Associated Press

The wait was worth it for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Was it ever.

In a little more than an hour, they jumped three playoff spots and somehow dodged the Miami Heat.

LeBron James scored 24 points and capped a decisive run to open the fourth quarter with one of his powerhouse dunks, giving Cleveland a 109-96 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in its regular-season finale on Wednesday night in Cleveland.

Following the game, the Cavaliers — and several thousand fans — stayed around to watch New Jersey beat Chicago, giving Cleveland the No. 2 seed in the NBA playoffs. If that wasn't enough, the Cavaliers were further rewarded when Washington clinched the No. 7 spot.

So instead of being the No. 5 seed and an underdog in Round 1 vs. the defending NBA champions, the Cavaliers will be favored over the injury-depleted Wizards, who are missing stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

Talk about lucky bounces.

"I don't care if we play this team or that team," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "To me they are all dangerous at this time of the year."

The Cavaliers (50-32), who finished the regular season with four straight wins, pulled away from the Bucks by outscoring them 12-3 to open the final period.

However, they left the confetti-littered floor of Quicken Loans Arena not knowing who their next opponent would be. During postgame interviews, James and Co. kept one eye on the TV screens in Cleveland's locker room.

James, who has said for two weeks that he didn't care who Cleveland played, sure seemed to be pulling for the Nets.

"You can't let Ben Wallace get a layup!" hollered James, who then cheered when Nets forward Bostjan Nachbar knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to put New Jersey up by 10.

The Cavaliers and Wizards played a memorable first-round series last year, with Cleveland winning in six games. Cleveland went 2-1 against Washington this season, but Brown knows the postseason is entirely different.

"We have to respect them," he said. "This could be a dangerous team because those guys in a second season can rise to the occasion and you never know what could happen this time of year. We have to go into this series knowing we must defend first and continue to do the things that got us to the second seed."

NETS 106, BULLS 97: At East Rutherford, N.J., Vince Carter had 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and the New Jersey Nets beat Chicago, costing the Bulls the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Ex-Jazzman Mikki Moore had 22 points and Jason Kidd added 11 assists and 11 rebounds as the Nets clinched the No. 6 seed in the East. New Jersey, which won eight of 11 to finish at .500, will now face the Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors.

MAGIC 94, HEAT 68: At Orlando, Fla., Grant Hill scored 17 points, Hedo Turkoglu added 15 and Orlando beat undermanned Miami for its sixth victory in seven games. The Magic could have moved up to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and avoided a first-round matchup against Detroit. But Washington beat Indiana later Wednesday, securing Orlando as the No. 8 seed.

NUGGETS 100, SPURS 77: At San Antonio, Reggie Evans had 19 points and 20 rebounds to help Denver beat San Antonio in a game that was more of a tuneup than a playoff preview. Denver and San Antonio will meet in the first round of the playoffs, beginning this weekend. For the regular season finale, both teams rested their top players.

WIZARDS 98, PACERS 95: At Indianapolis, Antawn Jamison had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Washington beat Indiana to clinch the No. 7 seed in the East. Mike Dunleavy led short-handed Indiana with 17 points. Forward Jermaine O'Neal sat out with a sore left knee and guard Jamaal Tinsley was active but did not play because of a sore right elbow.

76ERS 122, RAPTORS 119: At Toronto, Willie Green had a career-high 37 points to lead Philadelphia over Toronto in the final regular-season game for both teams. Former Ute Andre Miller had 29 points and Joe Smith added 26 points for the rebuilding 76ers, who finished 35-47.

PISTONS 91, CELTICS 89: At Boston, Flip Murray hit the winning shot and Amir Johnson set career highs with 20 points and 12 rebounds, leading Detroit over Boston. Murray finished with 16 points for the Pistons, who closed out the regular season with two straight wins. Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell each had 11 for Detroit.

GRIZZLIES 116, TIMBERWOLVES 94: At Minneapolis, Pau Gasol had 25 points and 16 rebounds and Tarence Kinsey added 22 points to lead Memphis to a victory that assured that Minnesota will keep its lottery pick. Randy Foye had 26 points and eight rebounds and Ricky Davis scored 23 for the Wolves, who dropped their final seven games of the season.

KNICKS 94, BOBCATS 93: At Charlotte, N.C., Eddy Curry scored 28 points and tipped in a miss with 0.6 seconds left to give New York a victory over Charlotte, spoiling the final game for Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff.Steve Francis added 24 points for the Knicks, who snapped a five-game losing streak and avoided their second straight 50-loss season.

MAVERICKS 106, SUPERSONICS 75: At Seattle, Dirk Nowitzki scored 20 points and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Seattle SuperSonics in a meaningless game. Seattle coach Bob Hill, who is rumored to be fired in the coming days, played all but one of his eligible 10 players as Seattle (31-51) posted its worst record since also finishing the 1985-86 season at 31-51.

Dallas coach Avery Johnson, one day after playing his "C" team in a blowout loss to Golden State, played his normal starters during a final tuneup before the top-seeded Mavericks' first-round playoff series beginning this weekend. The Mavericks, who tied for the sixth-best record in NBA history at 67-15, clinched the Western Conference's top seed April 9.

LAKERS 117, KINGS 104: At Sacramento, Calif., Kobe Bryant scored 34 points and keyed a big third-quarter run that helped the Los Angeles Lakers sew up the seventh seed in the West. The season-ending win sets up a first-round rematch between the Lakers and Phoenix Suns, who knocked out Los Angeles in seven games in the opening round a year ago. The Lakers went 1-3 against the Phoenix this season and have lost 10 of the last 12 regular-season meetings with the Suns. Bryant wrapped up his second straight scoring title as well, averaging 31.6 points this season.

WARRIORS 120, TRAIL BLAZERS 98: At Portland, Ore., Baron Davis had 12 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, and Golden State beat Portland to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 1994. Golden State (42-40) claimed the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

HORNETS 86, CLIPPERS 83: At Los Angeles, Rasual Butler hit the tie-breaking jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining to give New Orleans a 3-point victory over the Clippers, who had been eliminated from playoff contention even before the final NBA game of the regular season ended. The Clippers finished 40-42 and missed the playoffs a season after losing to Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals.