CLEVELAND (AP) — Jarrett Allen scored 24 points and had 14 rebounds, Donovan Mitchell added 22 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2018, beating the Houston Rockets 108-91 on Sunday night.
After LeBron James left five years ago, the Cavs went through a massive rebuild while enduring coaching changes, a pair of 19-win seasons and just missing the postseason last year before finally getting back.
It’s also the first time Cleveland has made the playoffs without James on it roster since 1998.
The Cavs are closing in on locking up the No. 4 spot — and home-court advantage in the first round — in the Eastern Conference. They’ve won 9 of 11.
Evan Mobley added 19 points and Darius Garland 17 for Cleveland.
Jalen Green scored 30 to pace the Rockets, who have lost five straight.
Houston trailed by 20 in the third quarter but rallied and closed within five early in the fourth when Allen single-handedly put the Cavs back in control.
First, Cleveland’s center hustled back on defense and blocked an attempted dunk by Tari Eason. Allen then made four free throws before his dunk pushed the Cavs’ lead to 11. Caris LeVert knocked down a 3-pointer and made a steal and dunk to give Cleveland a 102-86 lead.
The 21-year-old Mobley, who seems to improve every game, had a dominant sequence in the first half.
Mobley snatched a pair of offensive rebounds to prolong Cleveland’s possession before grabbing a third in the air and dunking over two Rockets defenders to put the Cavs ahead by 11.
Mitchell made back-to-back 3-pointers and scored eight points in the final 1:48 to help the Cavs open a 60-43 halftime lead.
Rockets forward Kevin Porter Jr. returned to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse for the first time since being traded by Cleveland in 2021.
Porter spent a tumultuous 1 1/2 years with the Cavs, a stay that included an arrest for weapons possession and an argument with GM Koby Altman.
“I’m happy for Kevin after everything he’s been through — and it’s a lot — since the day he left here,” Houston coach Stephen Silas said. “He has matured and grown. I’m proud of him for that.”
Rockets: With one of the league’s youngest rosters, Houston is a work in progress. Silas sees the Cavs as a model for his squad. “That’s where we want to be, playing for the chance to make the playoffs or seeding late in the season,” he said. “They were young and inexperienced and went through their lumps. Then they got the vets in to take the next step forward.” … Houston has lost 18 of its last 20 road games.
Cavaliers: Mitchell is 13 shy of 10,000 career points. … F Isaac Okoro did not play in the second half due to left knee soreness. … Improved to 30-8 at home. … Coach J.B. Bickerstaff smiled when asked what he was doing in 1998, when the Cavs last made the postseason without James on their roster. “I mean, I was having a hell of a time in college,” said Bickerstaff, who was a sophomore at Oregon State.
Rockets: At New York on Monday.
Cavaliers: Visit Atlanta on Tuesday.