Nets desperate to end slide at Barclays

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The Nets have 10 games to hold on to an automatic bid to an Eastern Conference playoff series.

Perhaps none more important than Thursday night’s matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

After suffering its fourth consecutive loss and third in a row on this thus-far fruitless homestand here vs. Cleveland Tuesday night, Brooklyn (39-33) finds itself in a virtual tie with Miami (40-34) for the sixth spot in the postseason race.

The Heat beat the fifth-place New York Knicks (42-32), 127-120, Wednesday to pull within a single percentage point of the coveted position.

Only the top six teams in the East will begin the playoffs in a best-of-7 series, while the No. 7-10 seeds will be forced to compete in the NBA’s play-in tournament.

Though the Nets will visit the Heat on Saturday in Miami, they’d love to do so after ending their current slide, which began at the end of a successful 3-2 road trip.

Brooklyn hasn’t won a game since, dropping home contests to Sacramento, Denver and the Cavaliers in the opener of this two-game series.

The Nets came out strong Tuesday, taking a 30-23 lead after 12 minutes. But Cleveland won the next two quarters handily, opening a 94-78 lead entering the final period.

Joe Harris hopes to help the struggling Nets improve their 3-point shooting and end a four-game losing streak in Downtown Brooklyn Thursday. AP Photo by Noah K. Murray

Though Brooklyn closed within five down the stretch, the Cavaliers held on for a 115-109 triumph and their eight victory in 11 games.

The Nets have lost nine of 14 since the All-Star break, suffering through a pair of four-game slides.

If they hope to get back on track, they’ll have to begin burying the long-range shots that have them ranked third in the league in 3-point shooting.

“We’re a team that has to shoot 3s,” insisted Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn after the Nets went 9-of-33 from beyond the arc in the series opener. “That’s how we’re comprised. We have to make them.”

Make them or not, the Nets also have to get better at defending the 3-point line.

Their last two opponents have combined to shoot 50 percent (26-of-52) from long range. Cleveland knocked down 14-of-29 3s Tuesday, turning the contest into a rout just as it appeared Brooklyn would snap out of its ongoing malaise.

Mikal Bridges, the Nets’ top scorer since arriving here last month in the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix, finished 0-of-8 from deep while connecting on 9-of-13 from inside the arc.

“We’re in a stretch right now that we just need to pull things together, stay together,” Vaughn insisted.

Brooklyn had a rare night where it won the rebounding battle with Cleveland, 49-34, in the opener. It also grabbed 19 offensive rebounds while surrendering only eight off its own glass.

But most of that success was due to the Nets’ own repetitive misfiring and the Cavaliers’ 51 percent shooting from the field overall.

Donovan Mitchell lit up Barclays with 31 points, draining a 3-pointer to open a 24-point cushion in the third quarter and throwing down a thunderous dunk on Yuta Watanabe in the fourth.

Day’Ron Sharpe led Brooklyn with 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, perhaps paving the way for him to log more minutes in Thursday’s rematch.

The Nets will continue to be without versatile swingman Ben Simmons, who has been out with knee and back issues since the All-Star break.

Brooklyn will spend the weekend in Florida, visiting the Heat Saturday and the Orlando Magic on Sunday before returning to Barclays Wednesday to kick off another four-game homestand vs. Houston.

Before the Nets can look ahead, however, they have to find a way to leave Brooklyn on a winning note, or at least a performance that speaks to more consistent basketball over 48 minutes.

“Again, it’s along those lines of putting four quarters together, it always seems like there’s one quarter that really punches us in the gut a little bit,” Vaughn said after Tuesday’s loss.

Nets forward Cam Johnson was at P.S. 001 in Sunset Park Wednesday participating in a basketball clinic, along with members of the New York Liberty. Photo courtesy BSE Global

NOTHING BUT NET: The Nets and New York Liberty revealed Wednesday that they are expanding their community-based youth basketball clinics through a new partnership with New York City Public Schools. The co-tenants of Barclays Center will teach basketball fundamentals, along with critical off-the-court life and leadership skills. The teams were previously operating after-school clinics at schools in Brooklyn on an individual basis. “We have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on young individuals as our clinic programs not only teach basketball fundamentals but are also designed to provide critical life and leadership skills off the court and in the classroom,” said Sam Zussman, CEO of BSE Global, parent company of the Nets and Liberty. “The Nets and Liberty are excited to deepen our relationship with New York City Public Schools and play a more meaningful role in the community and the lives of its residents.” The initial clinic was Wednesday at P.S. 001 in Sunset Park, near the Nets’ HSS Training Facility.

Nets’ slide continues in opener vs. Cavs

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In the midst of the stretch run toward a coveted Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Brooklyn Nets can ill afford a winless homestand.

But that’s exactly what they’ll face Thursday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Donovan Mitchell poured in 31 points and the visiting Cavaliers used a big second quarter to run past the nose-diving Nets, 115-109, in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 disappointed fans on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

Leading by seven after 12 minutes, Brooklyn (39-33) was outscored 38-25 in the fateful period and never seriously challenged thereafter during the opener of a two-game set vs. the Cavaliers.

Cleveland (46-28) made 6-of-12 3-pointers during the game-changing run to take a 61-55 lead at intermission.

The Cavaliers blew it open in the third quarter, leading by as many as 24 points on a 3-pointer by Mitchell before the Nets’ bid for a late comeback fell short in the fourth.

“We got a little sloppy with the basketball (in the second quarter),” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said after his team committed 16 turnovers en route to dropping to 0-3 on this four-game homestand.

“Again, it’s along those lines of putting four quarters together, it always seems like there’s one quarter that really punches us in the gut a little bit,” he added. “So we’ve got to be able to sustain throughout all those runs.”

The Nets also took another body shot in the standings as their lead for the coveted sixth spot in the East was shaved to half a game over Miami (39-34), which was idle Tuesday.

The Heat will host the fifth-place New York Knicks, who are 2 1/2 lengths in front of the Nets, on Wednesday night.

Donovan Mitchell poured it on in the third quarter as the Cavaliers pulled away from the struggling Nets Tuesday in Downtown Brooklyn. AP Photo by Noah K. Murray

Only the top six teams in each conference will receive an automatic bid to a first-round, best-of-7 playoff series while the No. 7-10 seeds will compete in the play-in tournament.

Brooklyn has lost four in a row overall, dropping its record to 5-9 since the All-Star break, hardly the mark of a team heading into the postseason with a head of steam.

“We’re just in a stretch right now that we just need to pull things together, stay together and remind them of the good things that they’ve done,” insisted Vaughn, who will lead the Nets back into battle with the Cavs here on Thursday.

Day’Ron Sharpe had 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, Spencer Dinwiddie added 19 points and Mikal Bridges finished with 18 points for the Nets, who went a dismal 9-of-33 from long range while allowing Cleveland to make 14-of-29 3-pointers.

“We came out slow in the second quarter and they put us in a big hole,” noted Sharpe.

Brooklyn has watched its last two opponents shoot a combined 50 percent (26-for-52) from beyond the arc.

Former Net Caris LeVert had 18 points in a reserve role and Darius Garland and Evan Mobley added 17 apiece for the Cavs, who have won seven of their last nine contests to rise to fourth place in the East.

Cam Johnson scored 16 points and Nic Claxton added 13 for the Nets, who have lost five of their last six at Barclays.

If Brooklyn hopes to rise back up in the standings, it’ll need to avoid empty quarters like the ones it experienced Tuesday night and during this perilous slide.

“I think just lapses in quarters like the second and third, just getting down. That was tough,” Bridges explained.

“I think we need to come out no matter what quarter it is and keep the same intensity the whole game.”

New York Knicks legend and former Nets executive Willis Reed received a pre-game moment of silence Tuesday night at Barclays Center. AP Photo by Noah K. Murray

NOTHING BUT NET: After hosting the Cavs Thursday, the Nets will spend the weekend in Florida, visiting the Heat in a critical showdown Saturday before going to Orlando Sunday. … Former Nets executive and New York Knicks Hall of Famer Willis Reed died Tuesday. There was a moment of silence before tip-off for the local legend, who was 80 years old. … The Nets and Cavs have split the first two of their threee meetings this season.

Nets need to play better to avoid play-in

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The Nets are no longer looking at how they can jump up in the Eastern Conference standings.

Instead, Brooklyn is feeling the heat of dropping down into the play-in tournament.
The Miami Heat, that is.

Losers of three in a row and about to open a two-game set with Cleveland here at Downtown’s Barclays Center Tuesday night, the Nets (39-32) are only one game ahead of seventh-place Miami with 11 regular-season games remaining.

Following a 3-2 road trip that had Brooklyn battling the East River rival New York Knicks (42-31) for the No. 5 seed in the East, consecutive losses to Sacramento and Denver on this four-game homestand have dropped the Nets into a perilous spot in the standings.

“I thought on our road trip, we had great energy, great juice, and somehow we’ve come home and lacked a little bit of energy and juice to start the game heck,” lamented Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn.

“Happened versus (Sacramento) and happen(ed) again tonight,” he added. “So I think the starts of the game are important for us just for confidence-wise, just for setting the tone.”

The No. 7 to 10 seeds will be forced to compete in the play-in, with only two squads emerging into a first-round, best-of-7 playoff series.

Last year, the Nets had to settle for the seventh spot, beating the Cavaliers (45-28) in the play-in before bowing out in four straight games to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics.

Brooklyn was the only team to participate in a playoff series last season that didn’t win a single game.

Mikal Bridges keeps scoring, but the struggling Nets continue to drop in the Eastern Conference standings. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

This year’s unit has an opportunity to go deeper into the postseason than the 2021-22 version did with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the fold.

The Nets went 7-7 in their first 14 games since the superstar tandem was traded out of Brooklyn last month, but this three-game slide has them teetering on the brink of falling out of the coveted slots reserved for teams gaining an automatic bid to a postseason series.

Brooklyn will play eight of its remaining 11 contests at Barclays, but Saturday night’s visit to Miami will be a key showdown in the hunt for a top six seed.

The Nets do hold the tiebreaker advantage over the Heat regardless of the outcome of their next contest.

But Brooklyn must pick up as many wins as possible to remain ahead of Miami, which has its arrow going up with victories in three of its last four games.

The Heat fell to the new-look Nets here on Feb. 15 as Mikal Bridges poured in a career-high 45 points.

Bridges led the Nets again with 23 points on Sunday, but Brooklyn never recovered from losing the first three quarters despite outscoring the Nuggets 31-17 over the final 12 minutes.

“There were some opportunities. We had good looks to shave the lead a little bit, just didn’t go in for us,” noted Vaughn.

The Nets are five games behind the Cavs heading into Tuesday’s game. They beat Cleveland 125-117 on Dec. 26, with Durant leading the way with 32 points.

The teams will meet again on Thursday before the Nets head out to Miami this weekend.

The Nets are still hoping to get injured swingman Ben Simmons back before the regular-season ends, according to head coach Jacque Vaughn. AP Photo by Rex Arbogast

NOTHING BUT NET: The Nets have played 13 games since the All-Star break without Ben Simmons, who has been hampered by knee and back issues. Vaughn still isn’t biting on the idea that Brooklyn may be without the enignmatic playmaker for the remainder of the campaign, as he intimated following the loss to Sacramento last Thursday night. “So we want him back to hoop, he wants to be back to hoop and that is definitely the goal,” Vaughn said of Simmons, who has been working out with his teammates at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park. … After visiting Miami on Saturday, the Nets will be in Orlando Sunday before returning to Brooklyn for a four-game homestand.

Simmons still out for playoff-hungry Nets

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On the eve of their final drive toward the playoffs, a 13-game run that begins at Downtown’s Barclays Center Thursday night vs. Sacramento, the Brooklyn Nets aren’t sure when, or if, they’ll get Ben Simmons back this season.

Though head coach Jacque Vaughn insisted prior to Tuesday night’s loss in Oklahoma City that the enigmatic swingman was not being shut down for the rest of the year as of yet, he also isn’t counting on Simmons being available anytime soon.

“Yeah, I think first of all I’ll just be pretty simple. He’s still managing his back and knee soreness,” Vaughn said. “He’s back home in Brooklyn. We’ll get a chance to kind of see where he’s at when we get back home after this trip.”

The Nets (39-30) are back home and ready to continue pursuing one of the six automatic berths to a first-round playoff series.

Last year, even with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the fold, Brooklyn had to settle for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference after beating Cleveland in the NBA’s play-in tournament.

That victory didn’t matter much when they got swept by Boston in the opening round, becoming the only team in a playoff series last season not to win a single game.

Simmons, who sat out all of last year due to mental health concerns and a herniated disk, was averaging 6.9 points, 6.3 boards and 6.1 assists per game for the Nets this season before going down with knee soreness and an ongoing issue with his back on Feb. 15.

He hasn’t played since and Irving and Durant are both chasing championships elsewhere, leaving Brooklyn to ponder how much they’ll get the rest of this playoff chase from the key player they received in last year’s trade-deadline deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia.

The addition of players like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, both of whom have contributed mightily to the Nets’ postseason push, have masked the absence of Simmons, who was once touted as Brooklyn’s potential third superstar alongside its recently departed dynamic duo.

Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn doesn’t seem to be counting the days until Ben Simmons returns to the Nets’ lineup. AP Photo by Darren Abate

Simmons hasn’t said much about his status since late last month, when he was asked following the annual NBA All-Star break if he would be ready to rejoin the Brooklyn rotation.

“It’s frustrating. But it’s something that’s an injury I’ve never dealt with before,” he said of his knee. “So it’s something I’m learning about, that we’re learning about.”

The Nets knew about Simmons’ disgruntlement with his situation in Philadelphia when they acquired him last year.
They also know he’s only played 42 of a possible 69 games for them this season.

With his trade value diminished and his availability in question, the Nets must find a way to make the playoffs without him.

But having him back in the mix isn’t out of the question as Brooklyn welcomes the Kings, Denver and Cleveland here twice for this homestand.

After that, it will be a run of nine games to maintain their position in the playoff race.

Brooklyn is percentage points behind the East River rival Knicks for the No. 5 seed and two games ahead of seventh-place Miami.

Vaughn hasn’t backed off his desire to get Simmons back, but at this point the players available are much more important than one who remains the biggest question mark on the team.

“We want Ben back when he’s capable of being back for us,” Vaughn said earlier this month. “The day-to-day thing, that’s just for me to say some term to you guys. When the back gets better, and when the knee gets better, then he’ll be with us.”

When that will be is anyone’s guess at this point.

There was no news coming out of the team’s HSS Training Center in Sunset Park Wednesday regarding Simmons.

Nor is Vaughn likely interested in discussing the matter any further until the 6-foot-10 four-time All-Star deems himself fit for duty.

The new-look Nets are sixth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, a position they’d like to enchance or hold on to down the stretch. AP Photo by Jason DeCrow

NOTHING BUT NET: Following their four-game homestand, which concludes with a two-game set against the Cavaliers on March 21 and 23, the Nets will head to Florida where they’ll visit Miami on May 25 and Orlando on May 26. … Only two of the Nets’ previous 11 games have been at Barclays Center. They’ll play 10 of their final 13 contests in Brooklyn.

Bitter end to Nets’ trip in Oklahoma City

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The Nets were a half away from a very successful road trip Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

Then, the third quarter happened.

Brooklyn blew a 10-point lead following intermission and never seriously challenged thereafter, absorbing a 121-107 defeat to the Thunder in front of 16,976 fans at the Paycom Center.

Off to an impressive 3-1 start to their challenging five-game journey and trying to hold on to an automatic berth in a first-round playoff series, the Nets (39-30) got outscored 38-20 in the third period, watching a 62-52 advantage slip away.

Brooklyn missed all seven of its 3-point attempts in the quarter, while the Thunder drilled 8-of-15 from long range.

“They started executing well and hitting shots,” lamented Brooklyn forward Cameron Johnson. “But I think it’s more about us than them.”

It was Brooklyn’s worst third-quarter differential this season, and dropped the Nets a half game behind the East River rival New York Knicks for fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Only the top six teams in each conference avoid the league’s play-in tournament, but the Nets at least remained 2 1/2 lengths in front of seventh-place Miami with 13 regular-season games to go.

Mikal Bridges scored a team-high 34 points and Johnson finished with 23 for Brooklyn, which had won five of its previous six games, including Sunday night’s heart-stopping 122-120 triumph at Denver.

Mikal Bridges scored 34 points, but it wasn’t enough as Brooklyn failed to complete its five-game road trip with a victory. AP Photo by Sue Ogrocki

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn wasn’t interested in taking bows for an otherwise successful 3-2 trip, instead pointing out Brooklyn’s poor performance in the first 12 minutes after halftime.

“That’s what playoff basketball is about. You’re going to play every other day,” he noted. “Twenty assists in the first half, then not to have an assist in the third quarter was a big (factor) in us losing tonight.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a game-high 35 points and Lu Dort equaled his season high with 24, including five 3-pointers in the fateful third quarter, for Oklahoma City (34-35), which rallied for its fourth consecutive home win.

“We didn’t go down 25 and we easily could have,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “We just kind of hung in there long enough for the game to turn.”

Spencer Dinwiddie had 16 points and Nic Claxton finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for Brooklyn, which will kick off a four-game homestand Thursday night vs. Sacramento.

“Our offense got a little stagnant (in the second half) and we weren’t sharing the ball like we did in the first half,” said Nets guard Seth Curry.

“For the most part we did a good job on the road (trip), but now it’s time to go home and take care of business.”

Brooklyn led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but the long trip, coupled with the Thunder’s third-quarter deadeye shooting, left the Nets to ponder how they will respond come Thursday after a 14-point loss.

“They made some 3s in the beginning of the third (quarter),” said Bridges. “Other than that, they just outplayed us in the second half.”

Vaughn pointed out how important the stretch run to the postseason will be for a squad that seems to have adjusted well thus far to losing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving ahead of last month’s trade deadline.

“We talked about, every single possession for this team matters. Every 50-50 ball matters,” he said. “You’ve got to get dirty. You’ve got to get on the floor. You’ve got to get that possession. … We didn’t do that often enough and we paid for it tonight.”

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn was disappointed by his team’s third-quarter effort Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. AP Photo by Sue Ogrocki

NOTHING BUT NET: Vaughn was asked about Ben Simmons’ absence for the 11th straight contest Tuesday, but insisted that the versatile swingman would not be shut down for the season. Simmons has been dealing with knee and back issues since his last game on Feb. 15. … After hosting the Kings in Brooklyn on Thursday, the Nets will have a rematch with the Nuggets on Sunday before a two-game home series against Cleveland on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. … The Nets announced Tuesday that the first 5,000 fans to attend their March 21 contest vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers will receive a miniature replica of the Barclays Center as part of the franchise’s ongoing 10-year anniversary celebration of their move to Downtown Brooklyn.

Lady Terriers lose in NEC semifinals

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Brooklyn’s last hope for a Division I NCAA Tournament bid disappeared last Thursday night in Teaneck, N.J.

Sophomore center Sarah Bandoma scored a career-high 15 points, pulled down six rebounds and blocked a pair of shots, but the St. Francis Brooklyn women’s basketball team suffered a 59-40 loss at Fairleigh Dickinson in the semifinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament.

Bandoma, who was selected to the All-NEC Tournament team, went 6-of-11 from the floor and 3-of-5 at the free-throw line.

She did her best to keep SFC’s hopes of advancing to the NCAAs for the first time since 2015 alive, but the Knights (24-7) cruised into the NEC Final, using a 13-2 third quarter to pull away for good.

“So proud of the team…I mean, you know, third time’s a charm, I guess,” said FDU head coach Angelika Szumilo, who watched her team lose to Sacred Heart in Sunday’s NEC Championship game.

“The last two years we came up short,” she added. “So, this definitely means a lot more just to be able to persevere and I’m just so proud of our girls.”

Angena Belloso added 12 points and Eszter Varga finished with six points and a team-high eight rebounds for the Terriers (11-19), who went 10-8 in conference play this year, including a 58-51 triumph over Staten Island rival Wagner in last week’s NEC quarterfinal at The ARC.

Bandoma had 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting against the Seahawks, blocking a shot and grabbing seven rebounds. She was the only player on the All-Tournament team that did not participate in Sunday’s final.

The Providence, Rhode Island native pushed her season shooting percentage to nearly 50 percent with the two clutch efforts and also went over 200 career rebounds for SFC.

The Long Island University men’s and women’s teams and the SFC men’s squad were all eliminated in the opening round of the NEC Tournament last week.


Losers of their first 13 games this season, the reigning NEC champion Long Island University men’s baseball team finally got off the schneid Sunday afternoon.

Jake Mastillo belted a pair of homers and Garrett Yawn pitched six scoreless frames as the Sharks, who reached the NCAA Regionals last year, avoided a three-game sweep against NEC rival Fairleigh Dickinson with an 8-5 victory in front of 103 fans at the Naimoli Complex in Teaneck, N.J.

Jake Mastillo homered twice Sunday as the LIU baseball team ended a season-opening 13-game losing streak at FDU. Photo courtesy of LIU Athletics

Mastillo upped his season home run total to a team-leading seven by backing Yawn’s longest career outing with a two-run homer in the top of the first inning and a solo shot in the fourth that gave LIU a 5-0 cushion.

The slugging right fielder finished the day 3-for-5 with a walk and four RBIs for the Sharks, who hadn’t won since blanking Bryant, 7-0, on May 29 to grab the conference’s automatic bid to the regionals.

Yawn (1-1) held the Knights at bay for most of the afternoon, limiting FDU to four hits and a walk while striking out six. Ty McInnes went 2 1/3 scoreless innings to close the game out, earning his first save.

The Sharks will host non-conference foe St. John’s University Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m., after the game was pushed back a day due to inclement weather.


In local pro sports news, Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn isn’t sure when versatile swingman Ben Simmons will be back in action.

Following the Nets’ 122-120 win at Denver Sunday, which gave Brooklyn a 3-1 record thus far on their five-game road trip, Vaughn was asked when, or if, Simmons would be returning from the knee and back injuries that have sidelined him since the middle of February.

“Yeah, I think first of all I’ll just be pretty simple. He’s still managing his back and knee soreness,” Vaughn told the New York Post.

“He’s back home in Brooklyn. We’ll get a chance to kind of see where he’s at when we get back home after this trip.”

The Nets (39-29) have won five of their last six games and will try to close out their trip with a victory in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night before returning to Barclays Center Thursday to host Sacramento in the opener of a four-game homestand.

Ben Simmons is still out for the foreseeable future with knee and back issues for the Nets, according to head coach Jacque Vaughn. AP Photo by Jessie Alcheh

Simmons, acquired from Philadelphia last year in the trade-deadline deal that sent James Haden to the 76ers, is averaging 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists for Brooklyn this season after missing all of last year with mental-health concerns and a herniated disk.

With their recent resurgence following a four-game slide following the All-Star break, the Nets have moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, percentage points ahead of the East River rival New York Knicks.

Liberty to show off star-laden roster in 2023

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The star-studded New York Liberty will be much more than a local fascination this summer.

The Brooklyn-based squad, expected to seriously pursue its first-ever WNBA title in 2023, will be featured nine times nationally across ESPN platforms, the WNBA and the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” announced Wednesday.

“As we get set to tip off our 27th season, ESPN is once again stepping up as an incredibly engaged broadcast partner for the WNBA,” said league commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

“We are grateful that ESPN will provide significant opportunities to tell the stories of the incredible players across the league in 2023.”

The Liberty, coming off back-to-back playoff appearances ending in early exits from the postseason, will flash the gaudiest roster of new acquisitions and mainstays entering the WNBA’s newly expanded 40-game campaign.

The co-tenants of Barclays Center, alongside the Brooklyn Nets, added 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones via a blockbuster three-team deal this offseason. They also made the biggest splash in free agency, signing 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and veteran point-guard extraordinaire Courtney Vanderpool.

With All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu coming back with an assortment of superstars, New York is aiming for much more than Flatbush Avenue’s first championship parade since the beloved Dodgers finally got past the hated Yankees in the 1955 World Series.

They’re shooting for several celebrations in our borough.

“The ultimate goal is to create a dynasty,” Vandersloot said at last month’s introductory press conference. “It’s not going to happen overnight.

“When we hear that word dynasty, it’s about doing the things that you have to do to win championships and create a culture here that other players want to come in to because that’s the kind of place it is,” she added. “That’s what they’ve started to create here, and that’s what we wanted to be a part of.”

Liberty All-Star Sabrina Ionescu will have an assortment of superstars to play with this summer at the Barclays Center. AP Photo by Noah K. Murray

The slew of new talent, which Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello referred to as “Christmas in February”, prompted team co-owner and governor Clara Wu Tsai to proclaim the beginning of something big here in Brooklyn.

“It’s truly a new era for the New York Liberty franchise. New York hasn’t seen a basketball championship since (the) 1973 (New York Knicks), and I think this team is ready to bring one home,” she gushed.

The Liberty will kick off their much-anticipated season May 19 at Washington before hosting Indiana on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush on May 21 in their home opener.

Their national television debut will come on May 30, when Stewart returns to Seattle, where she spent her first six WNBA seasons. The Storm will also travel to Barclays for an ESPN rematch on July 8.

Dallas will visit New York on June 11, Washington will be here on June 25 and the Liberty will head to Los Angeles on July 30. All three of those contests will also be nationally televised.

New York will host Las Vegas on Aug. 6, go to Indiana on Aug. 13 and welcome Vegas back to Brooklyn on Aug. 23.

Vandersloot will finally get a crack at her long-time teammates in Chicago on Sept. 3, rounding out the Liberty’s
national schedule until the playoffs.

“As ESPN enters its 27th season with the WNBA, we continue to elevate our coverage of this exceptional league with premier broadcast windows, expanded studio programming and best-in-class storytelling,” said ESPN’s Matt Kenny, the network’s vice president of programming and acquisitions.

“Our ongoing collaboration with the WNBA resulted in unprecedented growth and success last year and we have a marquee schedule that will once again showcase the league’s best players and teams across ESPN platforms.”

Liberty regulars like Marine Johannes, Betnijah Laney, DiDi Richards and Han Xu will be joined by local hoops legend Epiphanny Prince, who starred at Murry Bergtraum High School and Rutgers University before beginning a 13-year WNBA career.

New York also announced this week that they have signed their 2022 first-round pick Nyara Sabally. The No. 5 overall selection in last year’s WNBA Draft will receive a rookie scale contract after sitting out last season due to a right-knee injury.

Like Ionescu, Sabally is a University of Oregon alum. She averaged 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest with the Ducks.

ESPN will also air the 2023 WNBA Draft at New York’s Spring Studios on April 10.

Jonquel Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP, will chase her first championship here in Brooklyn with the Liberty this summer. AP Photo by Rex Arbogast

Despite all the heightened expectations and national exposure, the Liberty know that what they do in training camp and on the hardwood come the regular season will count more than whatever hype they accumulate.

“When you’re playing basketball in New York, you’re are automatically in the spotlight,” Stewart said.

“Everyone’s being watched, people are paying attention to the Liberty here, [but] it’s more about what we’re doing internally than what’s happening externally.”

Nets ride Bridges to third straight win

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Who needs two superstars when you have one Mikal Bridges?

While that may sound like blasphemy to some, Bridges continued to prove Tuesday night in Houston that he was the most important return chip in the trade deadline deals that sent Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant out of Brooklyn.

The wiry small forward poured in 30 points, handed out five assists, blocked two shots and picked up a steal en route to his latest virtuoso effort, spearheading the resurgent Nets to their third straight win, a 118-96 triumph over the Rockets in front of 14,833 fans at the Toyota Center.

Bridges, acquired from Phoenix in the Feb. 9 swap that sent Durant to a surefire NBA title contender, went 9-of-20 from the floor, buried four 3-pointers and hit all eight of his free-throw attempts.

“He is very unselfish,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said of the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Bridges.

“He gives up his time, his knowledge in the locker room, during the games. So it’s really been a joy to be around and learn him as an individual.”

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn embraces Mikal Bridges’ “unselfish” nature on the court since his acquisition from Phoenix on Feb. 9. AP Photo by Michael Dwyer

The Nets (37-28) have their longest run of success since reeling off a Brooklyn-best 12 games in a row earlier this year, when Irving and Durant were still in the fold.

Bridges’ third straight 30-point effort and fifth since coming to the Nets moved Brooklyn within a game of the fifth-place Knicks in the Eastern Conference playoff race. New York had its nine-game winning streak snapped by Charlotte at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

Only the top six teams in the conference can clinch a berth in a first-round, best-of-7 playoff series while the No. 7-10 seeds must compete in a play-in tournament for the seventh and eighth seeds in the East.

Last season, the Nets grabbed the seventh spot by beating Cleveland in a play-in game, but lost four straight to eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston in the opening round.

After losing four in a row following the All-Star break, Brooklyn appeared headed for the play-in tournament at best.

But with Bridges leading the way, the Nets can hope for a better performance in the postseason than they put forth a year ago.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 23 points, Nic Claxton had 18 and 13 rebounds and Joe Harris and Seth Curry added 12 points apiece for the Nets, who kicked off a five-game road trip by overcoming an early 11-point deficit.

Royce O’Neale added 11 points and 11 boards for Brooklyn, which appears to have found an identity since its dynamic duo split town to pursue titles elsewhere.

“We made an adjustment as far as just shrinking the floor more, putting more bodies in front of the basketball,” Vaughn said of the Nets, who used a 33-24 third quarter to pull away from Houston.

“So that was huge on our defensive end of the floor then that allows us to get out and run a little bit,” he added.

Jalen Green finished with 25 points for the Rockets (15-50), who had a two-game winning streak snapped.

“I was disappointed with the turnovers and with the assists frankly,” Houston head coach coach Stephen Silas said. “And some of our shot selection wasn’t great. We’ve got to do better.”

So do the Nets if they hope to remain in a postseason spot over these last 17 regular-season games.

They’ll continue that quest Thursday night at NBA-leading Milwaukee, which has won 18 of its last 19 games.

Nic Claxton survives throwing down a thunderous dunk in Houston Tuesday, helping Brooklyn to its third straight victory. AP Photo by Eric Christian Smith

NOTHING BUT NET: After visiting the Bucks Thursday, the Nets will be in Minnesota Friday, Denver on Sunday and Oklahoma City next Tuesday. … Brooklyn was without versatile swingman Ben Simmons (knee) for a seventh straight contest Tuesday. … Bridges is averaging 26.1 points during his first nine games as a Net.

Bulldogs’ dream ends in Newport News

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It took the top-ranked Division III women’s basketball team in the nation to end Brooklyn College’s historic campaign last Friday night in Newport News, Virginia.

And a team-wide illness didn’t help matters for the Bulldogs.

BC battled valiantly but ultimately fell well short of its goal, enduring an 89-52 defeat in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 1 Christopher Newport University in front of 396 fans at the Freeman Center.

“It just hit us today. A stomach bug ran through the team,” admitted BC head coach Alex Lang after watching his unit suffer its first loss of 2023.

“There was a lot of adversity, but they gave their best effort out there,” he added. “I was the most proud you could possibly be with a 30-point loss.”

Senior standout and CUNYAC Player of the Year Gianna Gotti couldn’t even finish the contest as she had to leave the floor in the fourth quarter to head back to the locker room.

Gotti scored 16 points and Sarah James added 13 for the Bulldogs (19-8), who had won 15 in a row, including 14 straight in conference play, before absorbing their first defeat since Dec. 30 at Cabrini University.

“Obviously we played one of the best teams in the country tonight,” Lang noted. “We had a great season, started off a little sluggishly but we won 15 games in a row coming into tonight.”

The Captains (28-0) were spearheaded by Ashley Steadman’s 13 points against BC before topping Elizabethton College on Saturday night to advance to the Sweet 16.

CNU will visit Wartburg College in Medford, Massachusetts Friday evening in its continued pursuit of a national title.

“I thought we really came out and set the tone. I thought we came out with some really good energy,” said Captains head coach Bill Broderick.

As for the Bulldogs, they’ll have to wait until next season to continue their 46-game league unbeaten streak and take their best shot at a fourth straight CUNYAC crown.

“It’s a great feeling coming here. We worked hard all season and we never turned our backs on each other,” said BC senior Ericka James.


Tyra Myers helped the St. Francis Brooklyn women’s basketball team advance to the semifinal round of the NEC Tournament Monday night at The ARC. Photo courtesy of SFC Brooklyn Athletics

There was a local women’s basketball team that kept its Division I NCAA Tournament hopes alive Monday night.

Tyra Myers scored 17 points and Angena Belloso added 14 off the bench as fourth-seeded St. Francis Brooklyn held off visiting No. 5 Wagner, 58-51, in the opening round of the Northeast Conference Tournament before 347 fans at The ARC.

Myers, a newly minted third-team All-NEC selection, buried a trio of 3-pointers, handed out three assists, grabbed five rebounds and only committed one turnover in 37 minutes.

Sarah Bandomo added 12 points for the Terriers (11-18, 9-7 NEC), who only got two points from All-NEC first-team selection and NEC Most Improved Player Alyssa Fisher on their way to the semifinals.

“I’m so proud of Fisher,” SFC head coach Linda Cimino said Monday night after the league’s annual awards were revealed.

“She worked so hard over the summer and during the season to become one of the best players in the conference. She is our leader and is so deserving of all of the success she has had.”

Belloso and Bandomo sparked a 16-4 third-quarter run that put SFC ahead to stay with eight points apiece during the burst.

The Terriers will visit top-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson Thursday night in Teaneck, N.J., for the right to reach the NEC Final for the first time since they last reached the NCAAs in 2015.

The NEC Championship game will be Sunday.

The seventh-seeded LIU women’s squad entered the NEC Tournament with four wins in its previous five contests, but suffered a 63-44 loss at No. 2 Sacred Heart Monday night in front of 155 fans at the William H. Pitt Center in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Ashley Austin and Cristina Bermelo had 10 points apiece for the Sharks (7-22, 5-11), who kept the game close before being outscored 23-11 by SHU.


R.J. Greene and the LIU men’s basketball team got closed out for the year at top-seeded Merrimack last week in the NEC Tournament. Photo courtesy of LIU Athletics

Both local men’s Division I programs saw their respective seasons come to a close last Wednesday.

Jacob Johnson led five Sharks in double figures in scoring with 16 points, but Long Island University was ousted from the NEC Tournament with a 91-76 quarterfinal setback against top-seeded Merrimack in front of 1,372 fans at the Bert Hammel Court in North Andover, Massachusetts.

R.J. Greene and Amadou Fall each finished with 13 points and Cheikh Ndiaye and Elijah Bailey added 12 apiece for the Sharks (3-26, 1-15), who completed their first campaign under new head coach and former NBA star Rod Strickland.

Over at SFC, Tedrick Wilcox Jr., and Zion Bethea scored 17 points each but the Terriers suffered an 83-75 loss to No. 2 Fairleigh Dickinson before 887 fans at Stratis Arena in Hackensack, N.J.

Josiah Harris added 12 points and Rob Higgins finished with 10 for SFC (14-16, 7-9), which is still seeking its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.