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Long Island Nets begin quest for G League title Sunday

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Long Island Nets

The Long Island Nets are in the G League Finals. Bet you forgot that in obsessing about the playoffs. The Nets, who won the Eastern Conference in dramatic fashion with a Theo Pinson three on Tuesday, are hosting the Rio Grande Valley Vipers —the Rockets affiliate— in the Best-of-3 series starting Sunday at the Island Federal Arena in Stony Brook.

The two teams were the best G League teams in the 2018-19 season, record wise, both going 34-16. The Nets and the Vipers shared the best regular season record heading into the playoffs, earning No. 1 seeds, and both fought hard to get to the Finals. How do these two teams match up? They have a lot in common.

Where to Follow the Game

The game will be broadcast only on ESPN U at 7 p.m. ET.

The Game

The Nets were suppose to play game 1 and 3 at their home, the Nassau Coliseum. Well, that is not the case anymore. The Coliseum will be hosting the Long Island Boat Show while the Nets and Vipers will be playing Game 1 Sunday. And if Game 3 is necessary, on April 12, Nassau will be hosting PJ Masks, a family show, not the G League Finals that night.

This means Long Island lost homecourt during the Finals. Games 1 and 3 will instead be played at the Island Federal Credit Union Arena at Stony Brook University. The arena does not have nearly the capacity that the Coliseum does, but at 4,160 for basketball, that should be enough, considering the Eastern Conference Finals drew less than 2,500 fans. Still, Long Island played 24 home games at Nassau and had a 12-game winning streak.

For the Vipers, they will have one game of homecourt, Game 2, at the Bert Ogden Arena, a few miles north of the Mexican border in Edinburg, Texas.

Anyways, the two G League powerhouses only faced off once in the regular season. Long Island won that game, on December 20, with the final score 110-100. Not a blow out but a win nonetheless.

While Long Island just slipped their way into the Finals thanks to Theo Pinson, the Rio Grande easily defeated the Santa Cruz Warriors, 144-125, following the Nets win.

It could be an offensive-defensive battle. Long Island is the NBA G League’s top scoring team while Rio Grande is one of the G League’s top defensive teams. Who are the players to watch?

Players to Watch

The player matchup to watch throughout the Finals will be Pinson vs Gary Payton II. Both have had great seasons, proving that they are arguably, the best point guards in the G League. Let’s dive into the stat lines.

Pinson: 34 games, 35.6 minutes, 20.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 0.9 steals.

Payton II: 28 games, 30.5 minutes, 16.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 3.0 steals.

It’s likely we’ll see the two guard each other in the Finals. Both players played like the All-Stars to get their teams where they are.

Payton II is the Vipers main point guard while Long Island have good point guard depth. Jordan McLaughlin is a great defensive guard off the bench for Long Island and someone who can give Payton II some trouble. McLaughlin plays tight defense and is a heavy steal threat. On the offensive end, McLaughlin is unpredictable. He can let it fly with consistency from behind the arc, can drive the ball at a high level, and on some possessions, just be the floor general.

Dzanan Musa has shown great development with Long Island all season. Musa played in 36 games for the Nets and averaged 19.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. The Nets 29th pick in last years draft is going to be a hard assignment for the Vipers. Like McLaughlin, he is unpredictable. He can put the ball on the floor and drive full court to the basket, can shoot the ball from just about anywhere on the floor with confidence, and is an elite passer, the best in the G League, according to his coach, Will Weaver.

For the Vipers, Isaiah Hartenstein has been great this season. Averaged 19.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. To go along with that impressive stat line, the 20-year-old averaged just under two blocks a game. Long Island will need to lock him down in order to win the Finals. He is aggressive on the boards like Alan Williams and has recorded 20+ rebound games five times. His best performance of the season came on January 26 when he recorded 42 points and 21 rebounds in a Vipers win.

Williams will have to have a big series for Long Island. Big Sauce has proved it all season and in the playoffs, he can have double-double performances throughout three quarters. Williams will need to control the boards and be a force down low. It will be interesting to see the rebounding battle between him and Hartenstein. Along with Angel Delgado, they are arguably the two best rebounders in the league.

NBA G League Awards and Honors

There is no question both of these two teams have great depth and talent on their roster. With the outstanding success this season, it’s no surprise both teams have earned G League awards and honors these season.

Nets:

Theo Pinson: All G League Second Team, G League All D-League 2nd Team, G League All-Rookie 1st Team, Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference Team. Runner-up, G League Rookie of the Year.

Alan Williams: All NBA G League First Team, G League All D-League 1st Team, G League MVP runner-up, G League NBA D-League Showcase 2nd Team, Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference Team. Runner-Up, G League MVP.

Will Weaver: G League Coach of the Year

Trajan Langdon: G League Executive of the Year

Vipers:

Gary Payton II: G League All Defensive Team

Michael Frazier: G League Most Improved Player

Isaiah Hartenstein: NBA G League All D-League 2nd Team, G League Player of the Month (January)

Bruno Cabocio: G League Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference Team

Projected Starters

Long Island Nets: Theo Pinson, Tahjere McCall, Dzanan Musa, Thomas Wimbush, Alan Williams

Rio Grande Valley Vipers: Gary Payton II, Michael Frazier, Isaiah Hartenstein, Dakari Tucker, and Vincent Edwards

And finally, some messages from some of the Nets top players...