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SBN Reacts: Pelicans helped pave way for big NBA playoff crowds

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The postseason is better with lots of fans in the stands — in nearly all cases

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Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NBA. Each week, we send out questions to the most plugged-in New Orleans Pelicans fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to join Reacts.

Not that long ago, the New Orleans Pelicans could have been considered pioneers of sorts.

The Pelicans were but one of six teams in the league that allowed fans to attend games at the outset of the 2020-21 regular season amid the coronavirus pandemic. The initial figure was capped at 750 people, or approximately four percent of the capacity inside the Smoothie King Center. That number grew to 1,440 in late January and 2,700 the following month.

Thanks in large part to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, no games ever became known as super-spreader events.

After February’s increase, Stan Van Gundy was asked about whether he observed the change in attendance following a Pelicans victory over the Pistons.

“I haven’t noticed it, to be honest. I just haven’t. You know, I don’t know that I ever do unless you’re in a place that is absolutely packed and going crazy, and it’s hard to hear everything else is when I really notice it on the side.”

Well, with the first round of the playoffs underway, the most noticeable difference in the games has been the addition of nearly full crowds. The Celtics should be at near capacity for Game 4 in their series against the Nets. The Nuggets will have over 10K for their next home playoff game against the Trail Blazers. And the Bucks plan to have 95% capacity once the second round begins.

According to the latest SB Nation Reacts survey, more than 50 percent of fans around the country said the inclusion of fans has significantly improved the viewing experience. Only 16 percent said it hasn’t improved the experience at all.

Of course, not all upticks in the number of onlookers can be described as positive developments. Three separate incidents marred last Wednesday’s slate of games. Russell Westbrook was showered with popcorn by a 76er fan as he was walking back towards the locker room, Trae Young was spit on in Madison Square Garden and Ja Morant’s family was accosted in Utah with racist and sexist remarks from several fans.

All of that is entirely unacceptable behavior. Fortunately, swift action was taken by home arena personnel. Five fans were banned from among the three cities and the Knicks, Jazz and 76ers quickly issued apologies. There have been no bad occurrences since and that’s good news because playoff basketball deserves the spotlight.

With the rest of fans around the country watching at home, there is no shortage of great opening round series to enjoy. 30 percent of fans around the country believe the Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers series is the best of the group. The New York Knicks series against the Atlanta Hawks is the next most popular choice, with 21 percent of the vote.

Personally, my favorite series to watch has been the Grizzlies versus the Jazz. Which series gets your vote to date?

To vote in the Reacts surveys and have your voice heard each week, sign up here.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.