The Eastern Conference-worst Cleveland Cavaliers will be under the direction of a new head coach when they come out of the All-Star break and visit the Washington Wizards on Friday. The Cavaliers and coach John Beilein mutually agreed to part ways during the break, with Beilein leaving four years on a pact signed over the summer.
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Beilein, 67, was in his first season as an NBA head coach after a decorated college career - most recently at Michigan - and struggled to adapt to the NBA while guiding a rebuilding team that was trying to mix development and winning. "This was a very difficult decision for me, but I want to be clear -- this was my decision to step down and I truly appreciate the understanding and support of the front office during this time," Beilein said in a statement. "I find losing very challenging and this year has taken a much bigger toll on me than I expected. I grew concerned for the consequences this toll could potentially take on my own health and my family's well-being down the road." The Wizards went into the break with wins in five of their last seven games and feel good about their chances to compete for a playoff spot over the final 29 games. "We're in a good spot," Washington star Bradley Beal told reporters after the team earned a 114-96 victory at New York last Wednesday to go into the break on a high note. "I wish we could have had a few more (games) before the break. We lost two that I feel we could have won, but for the most part we are in a good position. We can make a lot of noise coming out of the break."
TIME: 7 p.m. ET. TV: FS Ohio, NBCS Washington
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (14-40): Assistant J.B. Bickerstaff, 40, will take over as head coach the rest of the season and is leading his third NBA staff after stints with the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies. "I also would not be doing this now, during the season, if J.B. Bickerstaff was not ready and capable to assume the head coaching role immediately and continue the rebuilding process that we have started," Beilein said in the statement. "For 45 years and more than 1,300 games, my journey as a basketball coach has been a dream come true. I have never been afraid of a challenge and have given each one my all -- sometimes to the detriment of my own well-being." Bickerstaff takes over a team that added center Andre Drummond (16.5 points, 14.5 rebounds in two games with the team) just before the break and is still trying to develop young backcourt talents Darius Garland (12.2 points, 3.8 assists), Collin Sexton (team-high 19.8 points) and Kevin Porter Jr. (9.8 points).
ABOUT THE WIZARDS (20-33): Washington sits three games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic in the East coming out of the break and is getting healthy at the right time with forwards Davis Bertans, Moritz Wagner and Rui Hachimura all making noise during All-Star weekend after dealing with injuries in December and January. Center Thomas Bryant is set to return from a foot injury on Friday, giving the Wizards another inside scoring threat to compliment Beal, who is averaging 29.1 points on the season and scored 30 or more in nine of the last 11 games. "It's a good feeling," veteran center Ian Mahinmi told the Washington Post. "I feel like we've got enough to win every game. The East is open."
1. Bertans finished third in Saturday's 3-point contest and is averaging 15.2 points in six games this month.
2. Cavaliers PF Kevin Love (Achilles) sat out the final game before the break but is expected back on Friday.
3. The teams split the first two meetings, with Washington earning a 124-112 victory at Cleveland in the most recent matchup on Jan. 23.