With Cavs prepping for playoffs, J.B. Bickerstaff picks brain of Guardians' Terry Francona

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff yells to players during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

CLEVELAND — With the NBA playoffs approaching, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff is turning to a wise neighbor for some feedback.

The Guardians play at Progressive Field right next to the Cavs at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, so a natural synergy exists between Cleveland's professional baseball and basketball teams.

Bickerstaff is tapping into the connection by consulting Guardians manager Terry Francona . The two exchanged text messages Saturday.

"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."

FILE - Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona makes a pitching change during the team's baseball game against the Houston Astros, Aug. 4, 2022, in Cleveland. Francona is feeling much better these days. He has a rod in his left foot that bothers him when he wears his beloved flip-flops, but it's a breeze compared to what he experienced in the past. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)

Francona said Monday he encouraged Bickerstaff to meet with him in person. Francona revealed he has traded ideas in the past with coaches from other sports, including former Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer .

"I'd love to visit with [Bickerstaff] just because, one, I like him, but, two, it's just fun to hear, and it's interesting to hear," Francona said.

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The Cavs wrapped up their regular season Sunday with a limited lineup and a 106-95 loss to the visiting Charlotte Hornets.

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.

"I was telling [Bickerstaff] I was really happy for [the Cavs], I was proud of them," Francona said, "and then he was like, 'Maybe we can visit one of these days.'"

The Cavs will soon begin their first playoff appearance since 2018 , the final year of LeBron's second tour with his hometown NBA franchise.

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.

"I definitely have some views. I think I can help [Bickerstaff], like pick and roll and some things that he can incorporate, which I'm sure he would appreciate," Francona said with a laugh.

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Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, left, gestures next to referee Nick Buchert (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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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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Mar 30, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona (77) reacts to a call in favor of the Seattle Mariners by home plate umpire Mark Carlson (6) during the eighth inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona smiles as he stands in the dugout prior to a spring training baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Nate Ulrich can be reached at On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich . Ryan Lewis contributed to this story.