Entering Thursday night, the Long Island Nets were full of confidence.
Coming off of their longest road trip of the season, the Nets had won four straight games, and six of their last eight.
“I think we have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing,” head coach Adam Caporn said pre-game. “Our ability to be highly competitive and put ourselves in a position to win, that’s what I like: that we’ve got belief in what we’re doing.”
The road trip saw the Brooklyn Nets’ G League team travel from Detroit to Chicago to Grand Rapids, with each Midwestern stop featuring some crummy weather. Other than a team golf outing, most of the time was spent playing, practicing, or looking for somewhere to eat.
“We were really battling on that road trip, you know,” Caporn said. “We had a few good wins, but all of them were close. And I was really pleased with that grit and competitiveness. And that’s the main thing I’ll be interested to see if we can continue to build on.”
That confidence helped lead the Nets to their fifth straight victory, 111-107, this one coming against the Lakeland Magic, the G League affiliate of the Orlando Magic, at Nassau Coliseum. With the win, the Nets have improved to 13-8, still slotted at the fifth seed in a tight Eastern conference, good enough for a playoff slot.
Long Island star guard Craig Randall II notched 35 points, five rebounds, and three assists in 41 minutes. The 6’5” guard is tied for first in the G League in points per game at 26.1.
Tyrone Wallace added 23 points of his own, along with eight rebounds and four assists in an identical 41 minutes.
Much to Randall’s delight, Wallace was anointed a member of the 40-minute club with his heavy workload against Lakeland. Randall himself had to rest late in the fourth quarter after not sitting for the entire second half up to that point. He’s averaging better than 40 minutes.
Center Adam Woodbury earned his second consecutive double-double, tallying 14 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes of action.
it's a second straight double-double for the big man himself, Adam Woodbury!— Long Island Nets (@LongIslandNets) February 25, 2022
He's got 14 PTS, 10 REB with 8 minutes left in the 4th! pic.twitter.com/UWuUFNJw3h
Wallace, Randall’s backcourt partner, didn’t even notice his minutes, saying, “Honestly, I didn’t even know I played 40 [minutes]. I knew we were shorthanded, but I felt good in the fourth. So definitely, you could say, I had the legs late.”
After a tight start, the Nets extended their lead to seven points by the close of the first quarter. Lakeland quickly responded with a 7-0 run of their own, their lead growing to as many as seven points as well.
After recapturing a brief lead with a minute to go, Lakeland finished the half strong to lead 57-54 at halftime.
Randall opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers, putting Long Island ahead for the first time in the period.
A Wallace three gave Long Island a 10-point lead, their largest of the game with nine minutes remaining. It would be the only double-digit advantage either team would mount all evening. Lakeland immediately responded with two 3-pointers of their own, however, keeping the scoring margin between the two squads tight.
A few more Magic triples had this one knotted up at 94 with 5:25 remaining. It’s at that point coach Adam Caporn benched Randall for two minutes, getting his star guard some extra rest.
With 47 seconds remaining, Lakeland’s Jeff Dowtin nailed two free throws, cutting Long Island’s lead to one. Wallace was only able to sink one free shot on the other end, and the Nets led 106-104 with 26.4 remaining.
A driving Dowtin layup went astray, and the rebound ricocheted out of bounds; Nets ball. Craig Randall nailed two free throws on the ensuing possession, but a quick three by former Long Islander Devin Cannady left the Nets with a one-point advantage with just under 10 seconds remaining.
The Magic would next get the ball with eight seconds remaining, but Cannady’s potential game-tying three was long and Jordan Bowden sealed another close victory at the free-throw line.
Postgame, coach Caporn explained his philosophy regarding fouling up three late in games: “I think it depends on your rebounding team. I like fouling up three. Eight seconds was a little bit high for me, and I thought we had fatigue .... so currently, we’re not a foul team, but I’m open to it.”
Next up, Long Island will host the Motor City Cruise at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday night. The Cruise, the G League affiliate of the Detroit Pistons, is the only team that the Nets weren’t able to beat during their mid-February road trip in mid-February, and also sit atop the Nets in the Eastern Conference G League standings.
“We believe we’re capable of something special with this group, in this season, so it’s a good measuring stick [game],” Caporn said. “They’re one of the better teams in this league and they got us twice.”
“It might not be something I necessarily bring up, but we’ve got a competitive group — they’ll bring it up.”
Bring it up they did. Randall said postgame, “It’ll be a test for us. Like I said, we’re always up for the task. Obviously, we owe them one, so we’ll be ready for Sunday.”
The game will tip-off at 6 p.m. (note the early start time) and air on NBAGLeague.com and the Yes App.