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Potential Larry Nance Jr. return could lift Pelicans to victory over Bulls

An important home stand kicks off tonight and Chicago arrives not playing well

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Charlotte Hornets Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are on the verge of getting a timely boost for the final ten games of the regular season schedule.

While Zion Williamson remains without a timetable despite the progress in his recovery and Brandon Ingram is listed as doubtful on the latest injury report, Larry Nance Jr. has been upgraded to probable.

“Larry, it looks like, we’ll have him tomorrow night,” Willie Green said after yesterday’s practice. “We’ll see. He still has to go through shootaround, but it’s looking good.”

Nance, who has missed 18 games after right knee arthroscopy, is chomping at the bit to suit up for the Pelicans since arriving from Portland with CJ McCollum and Tony Snell in the trade deadline deal that shipped out Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and several other players.

For those unfamiliar with the 6’7 power forward/center, the New Orleans head coach gave a good synopsis of Nance’s game.

“He’s a primetime player,” Green said. “I told him just recently that when we hit him at the top, if he’s at the four or five or whatever, he becomes a playmaker for us. He rebounds the ball. He’s athletic. He can guard multiple positions. He and Jaxson on the floor, sometimes when {Jonas Valanciunas} is off, we become that much more faster and dynamic in our ability to attack teams. So he adds a ton of value to our squad and what we want to do.”

With the Lakers falling 126-121 to the 76ers last night, the Pelicans have a chance to move back into ninth in the Western Conference. Standing in their way of accomplishing that goal on Thursday evening will be the Chicago Bulls.

The last time these teams met, the circumstances were much different. The Bulls won six of seven games to begin the 2021-22 season. That included a 128-112 trouncing of the Pelicans, who managed only a single victory in their first 13 contests.

Fast forward to tonight, New Orleans is playing the better brand of basketball. The Pelicans have gone .500 over the last 12 games. Conversely, Chicago has managed only three wins in the same amount of contests.

In the 126-98 loss to the Bucks on Tuesday, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic combined for 64 points, but no other Bulls player reached double figures.

To be fair, Chicago was poor on both ends of the floor and that performance is emblematic of their recent rough stretch, as Chicago’s offense ranks 28th and their defense, 21st, in the last 12 games.

The Bulls feel beatable, but somewhat surprising at first glance, oddsmakers are currently listing the Pelicans as 1-point underdogs. Looking deeper though, it’s maybe justifiable.

New Orleans has played poorly at home since the big McCollum trade, posting a 4-8 W/L record. The Pelicans struggle immensely without Brandon Ingram in lineups. There may also be an expectation that the Bulls, who have a lot more wins than the Pelicans overall, will turn things around soon.

“At some point, we’ve got to get tired of getting our butt kicked like this and flip that switch of understanding, all right, enough is enough,” DeRozan said. “Now it’s time to turn it around and show that desperation.”

New Orleans should be similarly desperate. They’re close to securing a spot in the Play-In Tournament. A really good showing on this home stand (Bulls, Spurs, Lakers) could make a trip to the postseason near a formality.

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Who: New Orleans Pelicans (30-42) vs Chicago Bulls (42-30)

When: March 24, 2022, 7:00 p.m.

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

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.