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LeBron, Cavs ground Hawks

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Cavaliers shook off some rust, and then the Atlanta Hawks.

Newly crowned MVP LeBron James scored 34 points and the well-rested Cavs, who waited nine days between playoff games after a first-round sweep, pulled away in the second half for a 99-72 win over the Atlanta Hawks in their Eastern Conference semifinal opener on Tuesday.

Showing why he was voted the league's best player in a landslide, James added 10 rebounds, three assists and four steals as the top-seeded Cavs won their fifth straight lopsided game in a postseason that has so far mirrored the best regular season in franchise history.

Mo Williams added 21 points for Cleveland, which has won each of its five games by double figures.

With the Cavs up by 21, James was pulled with 4:29 left - extra down time before Game 2 on Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers are 42-2.

Josh Smith scored 22 and Mike Bibby 19 for the Hawks, who needed seven games to get past Miami and are playing in the second round for the first time in 10 years.

James was presented with his MVP trophy before the game by league commissioner David Stern, who complimented the 24-year-old superstar's selflessness, saying 'you led the team by playing team first' to get the award. James did that for all 35 minutes on the floor.

Stern's praise was nearly drowned out by more than 20,000 fans chanting 'M-V-P!' in another salute to James, the first Cavaliers player to win the award.

Not wanting to take part in Cleveland's celebration, the Hawks stayed in their locker room and only took the floor after James addressed the crowd.

Perhaps out of sync because of the long layoff, the Cavs were sluggish in the first half, especially on offense, and didn't take control until the third quarter, when they outscored the Hawks 28-17. As usual, Cleveland relied on its defense to turn things around after halftime.

'I think the team knew and I knew the ceremony was going to happen, but we still had a game to play,' James said. 'We didn't want to rain in the ceremony by not preparing ourselves the best way to come out and play. We had some lapses in the first half, but we got it going in the third and fourth quarter and took care of the game.'

With the Hawks still within eight, James was all alone on defense but stopped a 2-on-1 by drawing a charge on Joe Johnson, whose assist to Smith for an alley-oop dunk was wiped out by the personal foul.

Later in the quarter, Wally Szczerbiak moved his feet to take a charge, a defensive play that had Cavs coach Mike Brown dancing on the sideline as if it was a game-winning shot.

James had 22 points at halftime but zero assists, a sign that he may have been holding onto the ball too long and that Cleveland's offense wasn't in rhythm.

He finally set up Williams for a 3-pointer and then another as the Cavs opened an 11-point lead in the third quarter.

James then went on a personal nine-point run, scoring on two drives, a 3-pointer and an alley-oop slam off a sweet pass from Delonte West.

James arrived so early that he was on the floor shooting before the lights were fully illuminated inside Quicken Loans Arena.

To a seat-shaking soundtrack that included Jay-Z and Snoop Doog, James worked his way around the 3-point line, dropping shot after shot off crisp passes from Cavs assistant coach Chris Jent - more than three hours before tipoff. Apparently, MVP also stands for Most Valuable Practicioner.

Hawks coach Mike Woodson knew his team had its hands full.

'I have never seen a player as young as LeBron, as strong as LeBron, as quick and as athletic as LeBron that has all the fundamental tools a player can have,' Woodson said before the game. 'I have never seen that type of player in my lifetime. And he's still young. That's the scary thing.'

Wearing special Nikes to honor his MVP win, James was scary from the outset, starting like he needed to prove he deserved the award.

He dunked on Cleveland's first possession, got his second bucket on a left-handed finger roll and finished the first quarter with 16 points and five rebounds, leading the Cavs to a 25-21 lead.

But it was when James sat that the Cavaliers opened a 12-point lead. The Hawks, though, didn't let Cleveland get any further away.

With Bibby making two 3-pointers and Smith driving for dunks or easy baskets, Atlanta, which shot 56 percent from the floor, was within 49-44 at halftime.