Cleveland Cavaliers make NBA playoffs without LeBron James for first time since 1998

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro celebrates with teammates Cedi Osman and Donovan Mitchell, right, after making the game-winning shot against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in New York.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro celebrates with teammates Cedi Osman and Donovan Mitchell, right, after making the game-winning shot against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in New York.

CLEVELAND ― For the first time in the 21st century, the Cavaliers are headed to the playoffs without LeBron James.

With the Cavs defeating the visiting Houston Rockets 108-91 on Sunday night, Cleveland clinched one of the top six seeds in the Eastern Conference. Those six avoid the four-team play-in tournament to determine the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds.

Center Jarrett Allen tied a season high with 24 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked three shots, and All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell added 22 points as the Cavs (48-28) officially punched their ticket to the postseason against the Rockets (18-57).

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"When I came here, my expectation wasn't just to make the playoffs," Mitchell told the Beacon Journal. "It's to make a run, never be satisfied and trying to find ways to continue to make a run and win this championship."

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Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell shoots against Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. during the first half, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Cleveland.
Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell shoots against Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. during the first half, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Cleveland.

The Cavs are comfortably in line for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round. The Milwaukee Bucks (53-21), Boston Celtics (52-23) and Philadelphia 76ers (49-25) are in line for the East's top three seeds.

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"Clinching isn't my concern. It's the home court," said Mitchell, who has made the playoffs in each of his six NBA seasons, the first five with the Utah Jazz.

"You don't want to ever undermine all the small goals. You want to appreciate every little thing on the way up. But by the same token, I've done that before. So, for me, it's like, 'All right. Let's get home court.'"

Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen shoots against Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) and center Alperen Sengun, right, during the first half, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Cleveland.
Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen shoots against Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) and center Alperen Sengun, right, during the first half, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Cleveland.

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The Cavs will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2018. It's also the first time the Cavs will be in the playoffs without James on the roster since 1998, when Shawn Kemp, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Wesley Person led Cleveland.

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"I think that's big for the progress of the Cavaliers ― to be where we want to be, be one of those top teams," Allen said. "This is huge.”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro (35) and forward Cedi Osman, center right, celebrate after defeating the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in New York.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro (35) and forward Cedi Osman, center right, celebrate after defeating the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in New York.

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In the opening round, the Cavs are positioned to face the New York Knicks (42-33, fifth in the East), Brooklyn Nets (40-35, sixth) or Miami Heat (40-35, seventh).

Of the top six teams in the East, only the Cavs have a losing road record ― 18-20 compared with 30-8 at home.

Cleveland's magic number for home-court advantage is two.

"I do think it would be a huge benefit for us," Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.

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Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cavs clinch NBA playoffs without LeBron for first time since '98