HomeBasketball TodayLarry Nance Jr. Injecting NFL Draft Excitement into NBA Playoffs!

Larry Nance Jr. Injecting NFL Draft Excitement into NBA Playoffs!

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Pelicans reserve Larry Nance Jr. loves the football feel of the NBA Playoffs.

There will be a lot of scouting tape getting watched this weekend in the Crescent City. Whether a fan or a front office employee, there is plenty of film to comb over this April. The New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder‘s first-round NBA Playoffs series will overlap with the 2024 NFL Draft. The best part for Willie Green is at least one Big Easy basketball player does not mind mixing a bit of football into the action on the hardwood.

The Pelicans are making small adjustments going into Game 2, the biggest of which might be getting used to the new level of physicality allowed. Brandon Ingram is preparing for Lu Dort’s dogged isolation defense. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can expect less time with Herb Jones switched onto anyone else. Zion Williamson might return sooner rather than later.

This Pelicans-Thunder, gladiator-style matchup is already electric and it’s just getting started. Larry Nance Jr. couldn’t help but smile when talking about the freedom to play purist basketball during a Game 1 loss to the Thunder.

“Oh! This is basketball,” Nance smirked, commenting on increased physicality of the postseason. “I think last game it took me a half to react, to figure out what are they going to call. What are they not going to call and let go? Then in the second half, it was football. And I loved it. Oh man, I loved it. But this is how basketball is supposed to be played I feel.

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“Obviously, the minuscule contact type stuff with guys throwing their heads back are not getting called as much,” he continued. “Even from watching the (other NBA Playoffs games), every game going forward is really fun and competitive. I’m a fan of it. I wish we could keep it like this all year long.”

Pelicans playing through pain to stop Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. (22) dunks against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter of game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Playing through contact is an easy adjustment. Stopping Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an entirely different headache.

“Shai and OKC present a different challenge than most teams. Most star guys, most MVP candidates, when they are hunting a switch are probably going to want a big. As for Shai, he’s shown he’s targeting our guards,” Nance revealed. “That presents a different challenge than most teams. We’ve worked on different coverages. We’ve worked on different options but that’s what sets them apart from other teams and frustrates teams…I think it’s good that it’s a seven-game series and we get to a chance to react to some of the punches they’ve thrown.”

It’s 2nd-and-9 in football parlance for the Pelicans. Nance and company got a yard’s worth of a moral victory in a 94-92 Game 1 defeat. New Orleans has to get a win in Game 2. Anything less means Green’s group will have their backs against the wall in Game 3. A loss there could lead to a lot of local fans punting on Game 4 at Smoothie King Center with Jazz Fest at full blare.

Still, Nance is not worried about any Willie Green-led locker room, especially not after losing a close game to the Western Conference’s top-seeded Thunder. The Pelicans will lean on the high-character traits that got them this far and let the cards fall where they may.

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“It’s resiliency. Since Willie got here that’s been the story of this team. They started 1-12 and then it’s been a kind of steady improvement. There’s been ebbs and flows but it’s been steady improvement,” Nance said. “That’s the story of this year’s team. Yeah, we lost a tough one but…we’re not over-reacting. We feel good about the position we are in, giving up 94 points to a team on their home court should be enough for a win. We hit a few more shots we’ll be in a better position. We’re fine.”

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