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On Friday night, the first game of the J.B. Bickerstaff era begins in the nation’s capital.
Just as All-Star Break was wrapping up, John Beilein stepped down as head coach of the Cavaliers, with Bickerstaff taking the reins 54 games into the campaign. He’ll make his debut as bench boss tonight in D.C., taking on a Wizards team that was warming up before the break, winning five of their last seven games.
The Cavaliers head into the second half after snapping a 12-game home slide in a decisive win over the Hawks at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, with all three big men tallying double-doubles and Tristan Thompson having a career night off the bench.
The Wizards – who come into the contest as the second-leading scoring team in the East – won their two previous games heading into the break, blasting the Bulls at home before manhandling the Knicks in New York.
The Wine & Gold have had plenty of success against the Wizards – especially on their home floor – having won 11 of the past 15 games at Capital One Arena, including a 13-win back on November 8.
Stopping the Wizards means slowing down their top offensive weapon, Bradley Beal.
Despite somehow being left off the All-Star squad, Beal is having a career year, averaging 29.1ppg – good for 5th-best in the Association. As good as he’s been all season, he’s been even better of late – having scored at least 25 points in each of his last 12 games, averaging a gaudy 34.7ppg over that stretch. Over that span, he’s posted six games of 30-plus points and three outings of at least 40.
Beal’s already notched a pair of strong showings against the Wine & Gold – including a 36-point outburst in the Wizards’ win over Cleveland back on January 23.
In that game, Beal primarily locked up with Collin Sexton, who had an outstanding night of his own – finishing with a team-best 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting, going 2-of-2 from deep and 7-for-7 from the stripe.
Sexton has, again during his sophomore season, been the model of consistency, having now scored at least 23 points in seven of his last eight games. Over his last 14 games, he’s also been deadly from the stripe – going 52-of-55 (.945) over that stretch.
Whether starting or coming off the bench, Larry Nance Jr. has been on one of the hottest stretches of his career over the past three weeks heading into the Break.
Nance went into the Break after posting his sixth double-double in his last 11 games – going off for a career-high 23 points in Cleveland’s win over the Hawks. In that contest, Numeral 22 went 8-of-11 from the floor, adding 12 boards, two assists a season-high-tying three steals and a pair of blocks.
Over that 11-game stretch, the former Wyoming standout has averaged 14.4 points, 8.8 boards and 2.9 assists. He’s also canned at least two triples in four of his last five outings. And he was excellent in Cleveland’s last meeting against the Wizards, finishing with 22 points and 12 boards, going 10-of-14 from the floor, drilling both three-pointers he attempted.
Nance will likely come off the bench again on Friday, with Kevin Love back in the starting lineup. Cleveland’s second unit will need all the juice it can get against Washington’s high-scoring set of reserves – led by sharpshooter, Davis Bertans.
In his fourth NBA season, his first with the Wizards, the “Latvian Laser” is having a career year, averaging an even 15.0ppg so far this season. He notched double-figures in six straight games before the Break – having posted 11 games of at least 20 points and a 32-point effort in early December against the Hornets.
Bertans struggled in the first meeting between these two teams, going 1-of-8 from beyond the arc, but finished with 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting from deep in the Wizards recent win over the Wine & Gold.