NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers' Larry Nance Jr previews new season for BBC Sport

By Laura SavvasBBC Sport
Larry Nance Jr
Larry Nance Jr previews the 2018-19 NBA season for BBC Sport

As a child, Larry Nance Jr couldn't help but be influenced by basketball.

His father - three-time NBA All-Star Larry Nance Sr - won the league's first Slam Dunk Contest; his home town - Akron, Ohio - is the birthplace of the legendary LeBron James.

It came as little surprise, then, that Nance Jr should forge a career in the sport.

Now 25, he is preparing for his second season at the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom he joined from the Los Angeles Lakers last season.

A move back to the city he loves was followed by the Cavs taking his father's number out of retirement for him - which he says was a "dream come true".

James, his idol, has since moved in the opposite direction.

But how have the Cavs adapted to his departure? And who are the players - and teams - to watch in the new NBA season?

What is life like after LeBron James?

Larry Nance Jr and LeBron James playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers
Larry Nance Jr and LeBron James starred alongside each other at the Cleveland Cavaliers last season

James' achievements have led to comparisons with all-time greats such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. After featuring in four consecutive NBA Finals with the Cavs, and giving the city its first NBA championship, James signed a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers worth $154m (£116m). James has opted for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood; ideal for his lead role in the forthcoming Space Jam movie.

"You never want to lose a player of his calibre, but that being said we're all very excited to show that we're more than what we've got to show the past couple of years," Nance Jr said.

"He demands so much attention from other teams - and he's so good - that we all have to take a back-seat role and just accept and enjoy playing with him.

"We're all very excited to step out of that role and get to show the kind of players we really are."

Asked whether the Cavs face extra pressure following James' departure, he added: "No, not really. I feel like there's no pressure on us. We lost the best player in the league, so nobody's really expecting anything. They're not even expecting us to make the play-offs.

"The way we look at it is when we make the play-offs, people are going to be pretty shocked and we just can't wait to shock everybody."

Who are the teams to watch?

Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Steph Curry
Nance Jr says "there's plenty to watch for this year"

The past four NBA Finals have been between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavs. The Warriors have won three of those, including the past two. Can they make it three in a row? Can the Houston Rockets topple them in the Western Conference? Do the Boston Celtics deserve favouritism in the Eastern Conference, or can the Toronto Raptors make a push?

"I have to start with Golden State - they're the returning champions two years straight and they added the best centre in the NBA [DeMarcus Cousins] so that kind of speaks for itself," Nance Jr said. "They're probably number one.

"I think number two is the Houston Rockets. They had the Warriors against the ropes last season. They're a very, very good team.

"Obviously the LA Lakers can't be overlooked now they have LeBron. Any time you bring in a player of the calibre that [Golden State and Los Angeles] brought in - DeMarcus Cousins and LeBron - your off-season can't be overlooked.

"Toronto and Boston are going to be interesting teams. I think there's plenty to watch for this year."

How can the Warriors be stopped?

Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors celebrate winning the 2018 NBA Championship
Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors celebrate winning the 2018 title

The Golden State Warriors won their third NBA Championship in 1975, then went 40 years without another. But, as they seek a third straight title, how can Steph Curry and his team-mates be stopped?

"If I knew, then we would have won a couple of games," joked Nance Jr.

"They were so good last year, and to add a talent like DeMarcus Cousins is a whole new ball game, so I don't know.

"I'm glad we don't play them until the middle of the season, so hopefully I can watch a couple of teams beat them and we can get a few ideas.

"I do think Golden State are going to end up taking it home again, but I think Houston could give them some problems.

"Obviously the Lakers are going to be very good. Those are really the two big ones for me."

Who are the sport's rising stars?

NBA rookies
Forget Steph Curry - there are some new boys on the block

The game's biggest stars are household names in the United States. But, as the sport makes bigger waves across the Pond, who are the up-and-coming players to look out for? Nance Jr picks out the Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz - and a former team-mate.

"You have to start with the big three rookies," he said.

"Ben Simmons was outstanding last year. He's almost like a mini LeBron - he plays like LeBron did early in his career.

"Then you've got Jayson Tatum. We got to play against him in the play-offs. He is extremely impressive.

"Donovan Mitchell is going to be really good for years to come, with everything he can do scoring-wise and playmaking.

"One of my old team-mates who doesn't get mentioned enough is Kyle Kuzma. He's probably the best rookie in terms of scoring; he can really light it up."

Like father, like son?

Larry Nance Jr
Nance Jr wearing his father's Phoenix Suns jersey at the 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest and his new Cavs jersey

Nance Sr spent 13 seasons in the NBA at the Phoenix Suns and the Cavs. In 1984, he won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, an event his son competed in 34 years later - wearing his father's jersey. When Nance Jr joined the Cavs in February, he wore 24 - then switched to 22 after his father's number was brought out of retirement.external-link

"It was a dream come true," he said.

"As a kid, I had my dad's jersey on all the time and it was just cool that it was 'Nance 22' and it's up in the rafters.

"The one request I made is that if I did get to wear the 22 they left the jersey up in the rafters - and they did, so every game I get to play underneath it, which is really cool."

The Cleveland Cavaliers' season gets under way on 17 October against Toronto Raptors. Fans in the UK can watch the action live at the NBA London Game 2019 on 17 January, when the Washington Wizards take on the New York Knicks.


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