CLEVELAND — Following Larry Nance Jr.’s career night in his first-ever start with the Cavaliers in a 112-90 rout of the Detroit Pistons on Monday, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said Nance will remain the team’s starting center for at least the next two weeks while Tristan Thompson recovers from a sprained right ankle.
“He’s starting now,” Lue said.
Thompson’s timeline for recovery was previously described by the team as causing him to miss “multiple games.” The two-week timeline that Lue revealed will effectively cause Thompson to miss the entirety of the Cavs’ six-game road trip, starting Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets. Thompson will travel with the team for the trip, according to a team spokesman.
If Nance continues to play the way he did Monday — setting a career high in points with 22 on 9-for-15 shooting and adding a career-high 15 rebounds as well as two steals — Lue might have a hard time turning the starting role back to Thompson.
“I was just letting him get a chance to figure out our offense, our defense and what we want to do,” said Lue, explaining why it took nine games and a Thompson injury before he went with Nance in the first unit. “I liked what he did off the bench because we need that spark and that energy. But we can’t dig ourselves holes at the beginning of games either and expect for those guys to come in and bring us back every time. Don’t know right now.”
Despite being without Thompson and Kevin Love (broken left hand) and facing Detroit’s front-line tandem of Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, the Cavs won the rebounding battle 53-40 and outscored the Pistons 40-26 in the paint.
“High-energy plays is what he’s all about,” LeBron James said of Nance. “He’s very fast, athletic and puts himself in a position to be successful on the floor. He’s always in the right spots, and for us, if we break the defense down, just try to put it up there for him on a lob, or if the 5 man is sagging off on him, we try to get him the ball where he can get his shots. He makes a lot of energy and effort plays by just being himself, and it results in good things for our team.”
James and Nance have developed a nice on-court chemistry. Since Feb. 11, James has a plus-minus of plus-53 in 127 minutes played alongside Nance. But in 203 minutes played with Nance on the bench in that time frame, James has a plus-minus of minus-29, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“It just kind of felt easy,” Nance said. “The guys were giving me all the opportunity in the world to make my shots, and I just happened to be making them.”
Larry Nance Sr. was at the game Monday, watching his son make the two of them just the fifth father-son duo in NBA history to score 20 points in a game for the same team, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, out of the 20 father-son duos to have played for the same franchise.
Nance’s stat line in his first start with Cleveland also bested his father’s 17 points and 11 rebounds in his first start for the Cavs on Feb. 29, 1988.
“I saw some little image [on social media about] my first career start for the Cavs and his first career start for the Cavs, and I got him a little bit,” Nance said. “So I’m sure I’ll razz him about that.”
Nance also became the first Cavs player besides James or Love with 20-plus points and 15-plus rebounds since Thompson did it more than four years ago (Feb. 2, 2014), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Nance went 3-for-5 on jump shots from 17 feet or beyond against the Pistons, surprising his new team.
“I didn’t know he could shoot it,” Lue said. “He never shot it in L.A. But coming here, just watching him shoot, he has 3-point range also, which I didn’t know. If he can continue to make that shot, it helps our offense out tremendously.”
James said Nance’s ability diversifies the offense.
“Keeps the opposing 5 man honest,” James said. “That’s all. [He] can’t just sit in the lane and kind of muck up everything. It just keeps them honest, and Larry’s ability to make that 15-foot jump shot — and he’s been working on his 3 as well — so I told him to keep taking them if they’re going to keep leaving him open. It helps. It just gives us a little more spacing.”
Nance hinted that more performances like Monday night’s could be coming as he gets his extended audition for the starting role.
“To be honest, playing here, I have quite a bit of confidence,” he said. “Whether it’s the coaching staff or the guys, they have confidence in me. Therefore I have confidence in myself. The numbers, the night individually that I had, is all secondary to the win.”