CLEVELAND — With the NBA playoffs approaching, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff is turning to a wise neighbor for some feedback.
“I reached out to him to just see if I could pick his brain on some things,” Bickerstaff said Sunday. “He’s been open, and he’s always reached out and shown support.
“He and I, we’re set up [to discuss more]. We’re going to talk [soon], but I’ll keep all that stuff between us.”
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Cleveland (51-31) earned its greatest number of wins since it finished the 2016-17 season with the same record. Led by LeBron James, the Cavaliers were coming off their only NBA title back then.
The Eastern Conference’s fourth-seeded Cavs will have home-court advantage against the fifth-seeded New York Knicks (47-35) in a best-of-seven series. Game 1 is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
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As a basketball fan and Cleveland supporter, Francona follows the Cavs closely.
“I don’t know if we mirror them or they mirror us, but the way they play, it seems like they play defense,” Francona said Friday before the Guardians’ home opener. “They hustle. They’re an easy team to watch.
“I watch a lot more college [basketball] than I do professional during the winter, but I watch most of their games, just because I like to watch them play. I think J.B.’s done a great job with them. They’re young. They’re easy to like. They’re fun to watch.”
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The Guardians exceeded outside expectations last year with a record of 92-70, a divisional title in the American League Central and a trip to Game 5 of an AL Division Series, which they lost to the New York Yankees. A two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox, Francona was named the AL’s Manager of the Year for the third time.
“I do think there are similarities, obviously, with the youth of our teams,” Bickerstaff said. “But there’s like a charisma or a pizzazz that engaged the fan base with both of our teams, whether it’s individual personalities or it’s how they play as a team, which I think our fan base really respects and appreciates. So I do think there is that scrappiness that both of our teams have.”
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Bickerstaff and Francona have sports in their bloodlines.
Francona’s father, Tito, who died in 2018 at the age of 84, played for 15 seasons in the major leagues. He spent six seasons with Cleveland.
Bickerstaff’s father, Bernie, has more than 45 years of experience as an NBA executive and coach. He holds the title of senior basketball adviser with the Cavs.
“My mom [Eugenia] and dad were my role models growing up, and I always just wanted to be like my dad coming up,” Bickerstaff said. “I watched him, and I had so much respect and was so proud to be his son that there was nothing more that I wanted to do than try to emulate what he did.”
In October, Francona’s Guardians defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in an AL Wild Card series.
Now Bickerstaff’s Cavs are looking to give the Knicks the same type of treatment in the upcoming NBA playoffs.