J.B. Bickerstaff makes his Cleveland head-coaching debut when the Cavaliers visit the Washington Wizards on Friday night.
Bickerstaff takes over for John Beilein, who resigned earlier in the week, as the 14-40 Cavaliers resume play following the All-Star break.
“(This) happened, I don’t know if you can call it at a ‘good time,’ but coming out of the break guys are energized, they’re refreshed, they’ve had some time away,” Bickerstaff said, according to Cavs.com. “So, we can come in here with a clear mind and try to put a focus on these last 28, and there’s still a lot for us to be had in these last 28 games.
“There’s individual growth, there’s team growth, there’s the ability to lay the foundation of what we think we can look like moving forward.”
The Cavaliers entered the break having lost 13 of their last 15 games and 35 of 45 after a 4-5 start under the 67-year-old Beilein. They own the worst record in the Eastern Conference and second-worst overall behind 12-43 Golden State.
While Beilein was an NBA rookie coach after a storied college career, Bickerstaff, 40, has NBA experience. Most recently, he coached the Memphis Grizzlies over the final 63 games of 2017-18 after the release of David Fizdale and all of last season before being released after the team went 33-49 and missed the playoffs.
Exiting the break, Cleveland’s Andre Drummond leads the league in rebounding, averaging 15.8 per game. Tristan Thompson went into the break after a 27-point, 11-rebound game, and Kevin Love averaged 19.3 points and 10 rebounds over his past four games.
“I think there was both sides of (success and failure) for us as players,” Love said, according to Cavs.com. “I think we — in some ways, in a lot of ways — could have been a lot better. We have a lot of young players on this team and the veterans were trying to figure out ways to help the young fellas as well as the coaching staff.”
The outlook is much different for the Wizards. Despite a rash of injuries early in the season, Washington resumes play three games back of the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the East and five games back of the Brooklyn Nets for the seventh seed.
“It’s been a tough year with a lot of injuries, but we’ve battled and we’ve fought and we were still playing competitive when we had a lot of guys out and now, we’re getting guys healthy,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “The playoffs are always a goal … but we’re not going to skip steps. Right now, it’s so important for us to keep developing.”
Washington entered the All-Star break with momentum, winning five of its last seven games. The Wizards have 29 games left, including 17 games against teams currently set to qualify for the postseason.
Cleveland is not one of those teams, but Brooks isn’t looking past the Cavs.
“They have a lot of good pieces and a lot of good, young pieces as well. Their guards are really good,” Brooks said. “And Tristan and Kevin Love is a tough matchup for every team. You’ve got a guy that can really space the floor, and you’ve got a guy who battles for rebounds and offensive rebounds and scores around the paint.”
Wizards guard Bradley Beal has scored more than 25 points in 12 straight games. Center Thomas Bryant, who has missed the past three games with a sore right foot, has been practicing and could return against the Cavaliers.
–Field Level Media