Jarrett Allen returns, starts in Friday’s play-in game vs. Atlanta Hawks, sources say

The Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star center, who has missed the previous 19 games because of a fractured middle finger on his left hand, will play -- and start -- in Friday night’s play-in game against the Atlanta Hawks, sources tell cleveland.com.

Allen, considered questionable going into the all-or-nothing matchup, tested the injury during pregame warmups and did not have any setbacks. Well, aside from getting to the arena late because he was stuck in gridlock traffic downtown.

Sources tell cleveland.com that Allen will be in the starting lineup, alongside rookie Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen, Caris LeVert and Darius Garland. Swingman Isaac Okoro, who has started 62 of his 68 appearances, will be moved to the bench.

While sources say Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff deliberated between LeVert or Okoro, one of them shifting to a reserve role to fit Allen, Okoro’s limitations on the offensive end would’ve allowed Hawks star point guard Trae Young to “hide” on the defensive end. In Tuesday’s loss, Brooklyn defenders repeatedly left Okoro open, daring him to take outside shots.

That strategy -- one expected from Atlanta as well -- restricted Cleveland’s offense. Part of the overarching Trae Young Plan is to make him expend energy on defense, perhaps even getting Young into foul trouble. The Garland-LeVert-Markkanen-Mobley-Allen lineup is one the Cavs have been waiting to see.

As for Allen, sources say any kind of minute restriction will be a play-it-by-ear situation. How much can he handle? How effective is he after missing more than a month? Is he favoring that achy finger? It’s possible Allen gets shorter stints but that will be entirely dependent on how he’s feeling throughout the game.

Over the last week, Allen has been doing everything possible to make a return. His participation in shootaround was the next step. Early Friday morning, Allen went through everything before briefly meeting with Bickerstaff at center court. Following that interaction, Allen entered the trainer’s room for more recovery and treatment.

Allen suffered the injury on March 6. He’s been making steady progress recently, conducting on-court pregame workouts with multiple assistants for nearly 20 minutes in each session.

During those workouts, Allen has been shooting with his left hand -- floaters, layups, jump-hooks -- and attempting to catch soft entry passes. In the defensive drills, Allen has only used his right hand, clearly protecting the still-recovering finger. Prior to Tuesday night, Allen increased the activity even more, sprinting full court to simulate post-ups, pick-and-rolls and early seals.

In 56 games this season, Allen averaged 16.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots. With Allen in the lineup, the Cavs have been one of the league’s best defensive teams. Ahead of the March 6 game against Toronto in which Allen bashed his middle finger on the rim attempting to block a shot, the Cavs boasted a 106.5 defensive rating, which ranked fourth in the league.

Allen missed the most recent meeting on March 31 -- a 131-107 blowout loss. The Cavs are 9-18 without him this season.

The Cavs and Hawks will play for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. The winner earns the No. 8 seed, setting up a best-of-seven first-round series with the top-seeded Miami Heat starting on Sunday afternoon.