Darius Garland has 24 points, Cavaliers beat Wizards 117-94

CLEVELAND (AP) — Darius Garland had 24 points and nine assists, Donovan Mitchell scored 20 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers never trailed in a 117-94 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday night.

Evan Mobley had 20 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots for the Cavaliers, who are closing in on their first playoff berth in five years. They built a 21-point lead in the second quarter and didn’t allow Washington to get closer than seven.

“We’re doing a lot of good things right now and the biggest thing for us is to keep moving forward, step by step,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to continue to push and start getting ready for April.”

Cleveland (45-28) moved three games ahead of New York and 4 1/2 in front of Brooklyn in the battle for fourth place in the East and home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. The Cavaliers’ next two games are in Brooklyn.

The victory assured Cleveland of its winningest season since 2018, when it was swept in the NBA Finals by Golden State. Starting center Jarrett Allen missed his fourth straight game with a right eye contusion.

“You can think ahead to the playoffs, but do it in a positive way and keep working toward that,” Mobley said. “I believe that will help you better yourself for the playoffs once they get started.”

Bradley Beal scored 22 points and Kristaps Porzingis had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Wizards. Washington (32-38) lost for the sixth time in eight games and fell into a tie with Indiana and Chicago for the final East play-in tournament spot.

The Cavaliers only made 4 of 19 3-pointers with Mitchell and Garland combining to miss their first 10 attempts. Caris LeVert had 15 points off the bench and Ricky Rubio added eight points and five assists.

“We laugh about it as a staff because we just win differently than anybody else,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Obviously, we wish more of those shots went in, but we have to do things different because of the way this team is constructed.”

Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma had seven points after missing a game with a sore right knee. Corey Kispert scored 12 points and Monte Morris had 10 points, but Washington committed 17 turnovers that cost it 21 points.

“Live-ball turnovers are lethal,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “We don’t have a ton of individual shot creation, so it’s about ball movement.”

CAUTIOUS COACH The Cavaliers’ magic number has been reduced to five for earning their first playoff berth without LeBron James on the roster since 1998. A total of five Cleveland wins and Miami losses would clinch it.

“We’ve got to go out and finish what we’ve started,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s our focus.”

Cleveland lost 10 of its final 13 games last season, including two in the play-in tournament, to finish 44-38 and extend its playoff drought to four years since James joined the Lakers.

“We’re not finished getting better yet and that’s the fun part of it,” Bickerstaff said. “We have improved, but we still have room to grow.”

TIP-INS Wizards: F Xavier Cooks — named MVP of Australia’s National Basketball League last month — signed a multi-year contract before the game. The 6-foot-8, 183-pound Australian went undrafted in 2018 after graduating from Winthrop. “Xavier is coming off a championship run (with the Sydney Kings) and had another excellent season,” Unseld said. “He did enough to get noticed.” Cooks is making his NBA debut.

Cavaliers: F Danny Green has only logged 45 minutes over six games since being signed Feb. 15 after his release by Houston. The three-time NBA champion has made 5 of 10 3-pointers with Cleveland. “There are guys who need reps and I’ve been talking to Danny about that,” Bickerstaff said. “I need to get him more five-on-five time.” … F Dean Wade, who made nine starts, has not played in five of the last seven games.

UP NEXT Wizards: Host Sacramento on Saturday night.

Cavaliers: At Brooklyn on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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