CLEVELAND - Mo Williams made four free throws in the final 12.8 seconds as the Cleveland Cavaliers held on for a 101-98 win last night over the vastly improved Milwaukee Bucks, who showed they might be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
LeBron James scored 23 points and Williams 21 for the Cavs, who have won 10 of their past 11 and are closing in on the league's best record and home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
John Salmons scored 28 points and Andrew Bogut had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Bucks, who attempted just nine free throws - none in the fourth quarter - to 45 for Cleveland.
Salmons' 3-pointer with 8.6 seconds left pulled Milwaukee to 99-98, but Williams, one of the NBA's best free-throw shooters at 89 percent, was fouled and knocked down two free throws. James then stole a pass by Luke Ridnour with two seconds left to seal it.
With the win, the Cavaliers improved to 26-0 at home against Eastern Conference opponents in March under coach Mike Brown.
This one wasn't easy, though.
The Bucks, who went 11-4 in March to climb back into the playoff picture, overcame a 10-point deficit and took a 95-93 lead with 1:27 left on a 3-pointer by Ersan Ilyasova. The Cavs had been unable to separate from the Bucks in the fourth mostly because they kept missing free throws.
They opened the period by going 5 of 11 from the line before James made two straight to tie it with 49.3 seconds left.
Salmons missed on Milwaukee's next possession and the Cavaliers called a timeout during which they set up a play that has worked all season.
Williams took the inbound pass and drove the left side and into the lane before threading a bounce pass from under the rim to a cutting James, who muscled in his layup over Bogut to put the Cavs ahead 97-95 with 17.4 seconds left.
Milwaukee called time and ran a play for Salmons, but as he started to the basket he was stripped by J.J. Hickson. The officials initially gave the ball to the Bucks but changed the call after a video review. Williams was fouled and made two free throws to make it 99-95.
Salmons then hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8.6 seconds to go, giving the Bucks new life.
But Williams, mired in a shooting slump from the field, then made his two free throws as the NBA's best team finally put away his former team by making its final six from the line.
Before the game, James said he will likely pass on playing for Team USA this summer at the world championships in Turkey. James said his summer schedule, which will include free agency and a role in a movie, will make it difficult for him to play for the U.S. team.
"I've got a really, really, really, really busy summer," said James, a two-time Olympian, who won gold at the Beijing Games in 2008. "If I had the opportunity to be part of the national team, I would love to represent my country. But there's a lot of things I need to take care of first."
Late in the third quarter, James provided another of those plays that only he can make.
Taking a bounce pass on the right wing, he began to elevate just as he was being wrapped up by Ridnour, who threw his arms around James' neck. But even with the 175-pound Ridnour clinging to him, James rose off the floor.
He missed the layup but the awesome display of power drew oohs and aahs from the crowd as it was replayed on the scoreboard.
JAMES/TEAM USA: James says he's "probably not playing" for Team USA in this summer's world championships.
James, a captain on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, said he may be too busy this summer to play for the national team. He is eligible to become a free agent after this season, and said "there are a lot of decisions I need to make this summer" before he can get back on the floor.
James made the comments before the game against Milwaukee.
The reigning NBA MVP is also scheduled to have a role in a movie this summer.
O'NEAL/THUMB: Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal says his surgically repaired thumb is healing ahead of schedule.
Looking remarkably fit, O'Neal, who has been out since tearing a ligament in his thumb on Feb. 25 and having surgery, said he plans to resume basketball activities soon. He said his thumb is "good" and that he's looking forward to getting back on the court.
The Cavs had expected O'Neal to miss the remainder of the regular season, but the iconic superstar sounded as if he might be back before the April 14 finale at Atlanta.41.50436 -81.69046
Mo Williams made four free throws in the final 12.8 seconds as the Cleveland Cavaliers held on for a 101-98 win Wednesday night over the vastly improved Milwaukee Bucks, who showed they might be a dangerous team in the playoffs.