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Long Island Nets face off with Cleveland Charge in playoff opener

The G-League’s number-one overall seed looks to continue dominant season vs. Cleveland

The Long Island Nets cruised through much of the G-League season before stumbling down the stretch, finishing 1-6 over their final seven games. However, that was still good enough to secure pole position, and the league’s best overall record at 23-9, for the Eastern conference playoffs. Their road to the finals begins on Friday at noon, as they have a date with the Cleveland Charge (the Cavaliers’ affiliate) that will be broadcast on ESPN 2.

What to know

Just before Long Island’s quarterfinal matchup with the Charge, the G announced that head coach Ronnie Burrell won the league’s coach of the year award.

“The G-League, and sports in general, is about the players, helping them develop and helping their careers,” said Burrell, just the fourth-ever recipient of back-to-back G League Coach of the Month awards. “At the end of the day, I’m just a coach. I’m just here to help them. So that makes me feel really good.”

Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn has also sung Burrell’s praises, calling him a “super high-level coach” who is instrumental to the entire organization: “Whether I have a question about David Duke or Dru Smith, or whether he has a question about talking with players in different ways to get things done,” Vaughn said. “I think overall we have a great relationship because we respect each other and the route that he got to definitely respect it.”

In addition, Long Island GM, J.R. Holden, finished second in voting for G League Executive of the Year.

Burrell heads up a historically effective defensive unit that has been largely responsible for Long Island’s success. His squad leads the G in defensive rating by a margin that equals the difference between second-place and the twentieth-place team. Led by ferocious perimeter defenders David Duke Jr. and Brooklyn’s 2022 undrafted free agent signing, Alondes Williams, the team ranks second in the league in steals, and first in points allowed in the paint.

However, they’ll have their hands full with the Cleveland Charge, who swept the season series with Long Island. The Charge are led by Sharife Cooper, who is averaging 21 points and six assists on the season.

“You think about a guy like Sharife Cooper, you really can’t stop him from getting in the paint, you just try to defend him as well as possible,” Burrell said of the former Auburn standout.

Cooper, who packs supernatural quick-twitch into a slight six-foot, 170-pound frame, is one of the G-League’s most exciting watches. He does, however, have a penchant for turning the ball over, coughing the rock up four times a game, tied for the second-highest average in the league. Cleveland as a whole follows suit; they have the second-worst turnover rate in the G. This figures to be the crux of Friday’s quarterfinal matchup, whether or not Long Island can execute their trademark style of aggressive perimeter defense, forcing turnovers and pushing the ball up court.

“This is a battle of two styles, that’s what makes it interesting. They’re still going to try to get into the paint, we’re still going to try to defend our paint,” said Burrell.

Cleveland is coming off a win over the Maine Celtics in the first round of the playoffs on Wednesday (Long Island received a bye). Cooper finished with 23 points and 11 assists, and Sam Merrill and Dylan Windler, two wings with NBA experience, finished a combined 11-19 from deep. Isaiah Mobley, brother of Evan, and averaging 21 with nine boards himself, is also on the roster. There will be NBA-level talent on the floor at Nassau Coliseum on Friday afternoon, for both sides.

Who to watch

You know David Duke Jr. from his time with the big-league squad in Brooklyn. He’s averaging over 22 points in Long Island, and figures to be the focal point of their offense vs. Cleveland. So too does Chris Chiozza, averaging over eight assists a game while shooting 44% from deep. By any measure, he’s been one of the G’s best point guards this season.

You may be less familiar with the aforementioned Alondes Williams, part of the 2022 Summer League Nets, and who played his college ball at Oklahoma before transferring to Wake Forest.

As those highlights evidence, Williams is an explosive athlete whose can read the floor, and isn’t afraid to make high-risk passes. The question with him coming out of school was his jump-shot, as he only converted on 27% of his threes in his college career.

With Long Island, though, he’s hitting 37.9% of his triples, taking over four a game, boding well for his NBA prospects. If his shooting leap carries over to next season, don’t be surprised to see him on an NBA floor in the near future, with Brooklyn or not. Nets fans should keep one eye on him when he’s on the court on Friday afternoon.

Long Island’s matchup with the Cleveland Charge, a winner-take-all game for a date in the semifinals, figures to be a good one: a matchup with NBA-level talent and high stakes. Tune in to ESPN 2 at 12:00 p.m. ET and catch up with the minor-league squad in their biggest test of a very successful season.