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Tale of two road trips for Islanders, Nets

Isles Cruise and Nets Lose as Teams Continue Epic Odysseys

February 24, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Islanders celebrate an early goal by Frans Nielsen (center) as they cruised to a 4-1 victory in Minnesota Tuesday night, improving to 2-0 on their seven-game Circus Trip. AP photo
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The circus is in town, which means the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Nets aren’t.

While the big tops, elephants and acrobats of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus inhabit Downtown’s Barclays Center for the next few weeks, both of our borough’s major pro sports franchises are in the midst of their longest sojourns of the season.

The Islanders, in a tough battle for the coveted third spot in the Metropolitan Division race, are off and running on their season-high seven-game trip, having won two in a row away from home thus far, including Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

The Nets, on the other hand, are simply playing out the string in what has long been cemented as their first non-playoff campaign since arriving in Brooklyn four years ago.

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They suffered a 112-104 loss in Portland on Tuesday, kicking off a franchise-record nine-game trek spanning several time zones.

“It’s always nice to get off to a good start,” Islanders center Frans Nielsen said after scoring two goals, including a game-clinching empty-netter, during Tuesday’s win over the Wild in front of 19,085 fans at the Xcel Energy Center.

“We did a good job on the small details tonight,” Nielsen added. “We were digging in on the [penalty kill] and did all the little things. It paid off.”

Isles captain John Tavares potted his team-high 23rd goal and added an assist for New York (32-19-7, 71 points), which improved to 7-3-1 since the All-Star break and moved three points ahead of Pittsburgh for third place in the Metropolitan, staying just above the fray of the NHL’s wild-card format.

Team tough guy Matt Martin opened the scoring just 1:36 into the opening period before Nielsen gave the Isles a two-goal cushion with his 17th of the season, redirecting a shot by Tavares.

Backstopped by 30 saves from Jaroslav Halak, the Isles never looked back, cruising to their third victory in four games overall.

“It was good for us to get that one early to give us a little bit of confidence on this road trip against a really good team and try to take some of the crowd noise out and get some of the momentum,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said.

“We were resilient tonight and played a good game all the way around. It was one of our best games of the season.”

If only the Nets could say the same, though they did put up a significant fight against a red-hot Portland squad.

Brooklyn trailed by as many as 21 points before racing to an 89-88 lead with just over nine minutes remaining. A back-and-forth struggle ensued thereafter, but as has so often been the case this season, the Nets failed to be strong to the finish.

C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, torched Brooklyn for 34 points apiece, combining for back-to-back 3-pointers with just over a minute remaining to put Portland in front to stay, 107-101.

Brook Lopez poured in 36 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Joe Johnson added 19 points for the Nets (15-42), who dropped their seventh straight road game before a crowd of 19,393 at Portland’s Moda Center.

“We had a lot more energy [in the second half] and we knuckled down on defense and got some stops,” Lopez said. “We came out a bit relaxed. I don’t know what it was. There really is no excuse to start that way.”

The Islanders will return to action Thursday night in Calgary before making stops in Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg. They’ll take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 6 in the trip’s finale before retaking the ice at Barclays Center March 8 against the Penguins.

The Nets still have to go through Phoenix, Utah and Los Angeles, where they will play the Lakers and Clippers, Denver, Minnesota, Toronto and Philadelphia before returning to Barclays March 13 against Milwaukee.

Isle Have Another/Nothing But Net: Tavares has had 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in his last 13 games, upping his team-high point total to 49 … Mikhail Grabovski sat out his first game of the season Tuesday with what the Isles described as an upper-body injury … Halak has won back-to-back starts, yielding just one goal while stopping 58 shots, after going 1-4 in his previous five outings. “He was focused and determined,” Capuano said of Halak. “Overall I liked Jaro’s game, but our defense especially.” … Johnson needs three points to become the 52nd player in NBA history with at least 19,000 career points … Nets interim head coach Tony Brown, who is auditioning for a full-time job in front of newly hired GM Sean Marks, was enthused by the effort his team showed in climbing out of a significant hole in the second half. “We did not play particularly well on the defensive end in the first half,” Brown said. “As soon as we got engaged and started being aggressive, things started to turn for us.”

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