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Cavs Forward Begins Slowly Working His Way Back to the Game
Despite the Clark Kent veneer in Wednesday’s virtual meeting with the media – specs and his standard CAVS hoodie – Larry Nance Jr. made it excessively clear: He’s ready to get back after it.
However many games the Cavaliers can play, wherever they can play them and in front of who, Nance doesn’t care. He’s ready to rumble.
”At this point, I think I have – as (Michael Jordan) would say – ‘a competition problem,’” Nance jokingly confessed, saying he’d play “at 4 a.m. with one hand behind (my) back and (my) eyes closed” and “82 games in 82 days at this point.”
Like every basketball fan in the greater universe, Nance is watching ESPN’s “The Last Dance” – although he admitted the experience is unlike yours and mine, watching alongside his famous father, whose outstanding squads were stymied by MJ’s Bulls back in the early-90s.
”Just to see them say something about Michael and his competitiveness and just kind of watch my dad and hear my dad’s side of things has been really, really cool.”
It’s not entirely accurate to say that Nance is ready to go. If the League’s lockdown was hypothetically lifted tomorrow, he and his mates would still need time to ramp it back up.
”There's no such shape as ‘game-shape,” he said. “You can run all you want, jump rope, you can do whatever you want, but there's no such shape as game-shape – so I think that takes a level of getting used to obviously with all the running the jumping the pushing and so on.
“I think you'd need, I'd say minimum, two-and-a-half, three weeks of some pretty intense work – and that's if we really got after it.”
Since last Friday, Nance has been taking part in the limited, voluntary workouts alongside teammates at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence. Those workouts have obviously been unique to the current situation, but Nance maintained that he feels completely safe.
”You know you get your own two basketballs and that's it,” he said. “You have your one coach that coaches wearing a mask and gloves that are unique to you and them. Even in the weight room, you pick up a weight – and if I was using the 45s, nobody else that day was allowed to use the 45s until they were cleaned and sterilized.
”So, for me, it was just so well-regimented that I feel pretty safe going.”
It’s not hard to see why the 27-year-old Akron native is champing at the proverbial bit to get back on the hardwood. After an inconsistent start to the 2019-20 campaign, Nance had been on a tear since mid-January.
After missing six games with a knee ailment to start the calendar year, he jumpstarted his season against the Grizzlies on January 17 – netting 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting. From that moment until he tallied 16 points, six assists and a pair of swats against Chicago in what turned out be the Cavs final game this year, Nance looked like a different player.
Over that 24-game span, the former Wyoming standout notched double-figures in 19 of them, netting nine double-doubles and nine games of at least four assists.
The squad’s most versatile player and perhaps best natural passer, this year Nance led the team in rebounding nine times, in steals 17 times and in blocks on 14 occasions.
Nance was also enjoying the team’s success – playing alongside the recently-acquired Andre Drummond as the Cavaliers ran out to a 5-6 mark under J.B. Bickerstaff.
"Just another reason to want to get back – I was really enjoying that, just getting a chance to play and win and really compete. And obviously, I was thoroughly excited to keep playing with our big lineup; that was probably my favorite part of the year."
”We really competed with and beat some really good teams in that stretch and I think it was how we did it,” said Nance. “There was no fluke about it, because a couple of those games went into overtime and we just out-manned the other team, just out-executed, out-muscled them.
”And just another reason to want to get back – I was really enjoying that, just getting a chance to play and win and really compete. And obviously, I was thoroughly excited to keep playing with our big lineup; that was probably my favorite part of the year.”
Lightly recruited out of Revere High and a four-year player at Wyoming, Nance has improved in each of his five NBA seasons after being taken with the 27th overall pick by the Lakers in 2015 – averaging double-figure scoring for the first time in his career.
But while this season up until March 10 has shown Nance – one of the league’s funniest and best all-around guys – how great he can be on the hardwood, having to stay home has humbled him in other ways.
”The biggest thing I've learned about myself is I am really, really bad as a handyman – like really bad,” joked Nance. “A hammer and nails and screws and all that stuff, it’s not for me. I’ve tried.”
Luckily, the high-flying scion of a Cavaliers legend doesn’t have to focus on stuff like that. He’s one of 450 specialized workers who, just like the guys driving nails, is eager to get back to work and venture out into the new normal.
”I don’t think anybody really knows how (the COVID lockdown) is going affect the league, if we have to scratch the season or in terms of free agency money or TV money or in terms of when next year's season starts,” said Nance. “There's a whole lot that comes into play, but for me, the number one reason I want to get back is just loving the game. This is the longest that I haven’t played a game of basketball in my entire life.”