THE ANGELS – The NBA play-in tournament is a recent invention, but New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas has already grown familiar with the format.
In 2020, Valanciunas participated in the NBA’s first ever play-in game. The Memphis Grizzlies, whom Valanciunas spent 2½ seasons with, faced the Portland Trail Blazers for the right to face the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in a first-round series.
The following year, the Grizzlies were a play-in tournament team again. The ninth-seeded Grizzlies won a pair of do-or-die games against the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
On Friday, Valanciunas will suit up in yet another play-in tournament game — the fifth of his career. To end a four-year playoff drought, the Pelicans need a road win over the Los Angeles Clippers, who are missing star forward Paul George. At 24.3 points per game scorer, George tested positive for COVID-19 and is unavailable, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.
Before the game, Valanciunas discussed his play-in tournament experience, his chemistry with guard CJ McCollum and one of his favorite hobbies: fishing.
Is the do-or-die environment fun?
It’s fun. Extra pressure. Extra motivation. It’s not a comfortable game. If you lose, you go home. Your season is over. I’ve been in playoff games for quite a bit now. I’ve been on both sides. Winning and losing. It’s not fun after a tough game and you have to go home. We have to do everything to extend our season to the playoffs.
The Grizzlies got the No. 2 seed this season. Do you think their play-in tournament experience in 2020 and 2021 was valuable?
Do not doubt. You build your experience by playing in tough games. Tough environments. Meaningful games. If you just practice or play for a 12 spot, you’re not going to get good experience.
I’ve asked you a lot about your improvement as a 3-point shooter this season. Wednesday against the Spurs, you were mashing people inside. All nine of your field goals came near the rim. You grabbed 14 rebounds. Is it most fun for you when you’re playing at the basket?
You have to be versatile. In these moments, you have to adjust to the opponent. If they let me do damage inside, I’ll go inside and do it. If they need me to space the floor and be a creator, I’ll do that. I’ll distribute and pass. I am playing for the team. Yeah, individual stats look good. But (looks over at forward Larry Nance Jr.), I’ll let Larry Nance grab 12 rebounds.
How is the chemistry with CJ McCollum in the pick and roll feeling?
Good. He’s super crafty out of pick and rolls. I think he’s really good when he gets a good screen. I’m trying to do that. I’m trying to do that and give him space to operate for him to shoot, distribute the ball. A lot of stuff going on in the pick and roll.
What do you think about CJ’s overall skill level?
He’s super skilled. He’s taking advantage. Coming off the pick and roll and being able to see everything and play with the ball, get to the open spot. It’s impressive.
I have to ask you about the fish. What’s the story here?
That’s me and the fish.
They just said on the in-arena broadcast that JV’s favorite hobby is fishing. Check out. pic.twitter.com/QgAo83wOho
— Christian Clark (@cclark_13) March 26, 2022
Where did you catch it?
Norwegian. We were in Norway. I like fishing. We do all kinds of fun fishing trips.
How big was it?
Fifty kilograms. So convert that pounds. Like 115 pounds.
Was fishing something you liked to do as a kid?
yeah. I just like to be in nature. Clearing my head. Leave the phones away. Leave all the media, everything away. Just be by myself, be with my good friends. Clear my head.