Club puts together second-best start in league history
By José Colorado
The streak is over.
The Moncton Magic came up short in its bid to stake claim as the hottest-starting team in league history as it fell to the Cape Breton Highlanders 114 – 84 on Dec. 21, halting its win streak at 10 games.
Despite the loss the Magic still stand with the second-best mark in league history, trailing only the London Lightning who came out of the gates at 11-0 (win-loss) to begin the 2012 – 2013 campaign.
Earlier this week an in-depth comparison between the two clubs proved that – on paper at least – the Lightning had the edge when it came to a hypothetical showdown of the historical titans.
Nonetheless the Magic put forth one of the most memorable runs in league history and cemented itself as a force in its own right.
Now the club must focus on rebounding from the loss and moving forward with the rest of its season – starting with week seven.
1. Moncton Magic (10-1)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton, The Island, St. John's
Inevitably the Magic were going to have a letdown - but the manner in which it did, and the timing of it, must come as a surprise to many NBLC observers.
With just one more win needed for immortality and the game tied at 53 apiece, the Miracles absolutely bombed in the second half of its Dec.21 meeting against the Highlanders, being outscored 61- 31 – this from a nearly identical Cape Breton roster (exception being in the key addition of Deshaunt Walker) that Moncton had already dispatched of on two separate occasions by an average margin of 10.5 points per victory.
Whatever could have went wrong for the Magic in the second half, did.
Even Moncton's historically great defense was shredded giving up a season-high 114 points on 51.2 per cent shooting from the floor, 10 three-pointers (43.5 per cent) and 25 assists.
Revenge could be forthcoming however – Moncton and Cape Breton's rubber match is set for Wednesday.
2. St. John's Edge (6-5)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Moncton, @Halifax
Despite the early attention given to the Magic, the hottest – and perhaps more dangerous – team in the NBLC at the moment resides in St. John's.
Two double-digit blowout wins against the Sudbury Five this past week only helped push that narrative further as the Edge have now won five in a row – three of those coming by a landslide.
The addition of Glen 'Big Baby' Davis has proven to be much more than simply a media gimmick as the big man brought the force off the pine, tallying 13 points per game (56 per cent field goal) and seven rebounds in just 18.5 minutes per game in the club's pair of matches.
Beyond that, St. John's was scalding from deep as the club went a combined 35-of-77 (45 per cent) from three-point range even without its main gunner, Carl English (rest), while limiting its turnovers to just 11 per game.
Another pair of tough (road) games lies ahead this week in Moncton and Halifax.
Should St. John's be able to plough through both opponents, it might just be time to be talking about them in the same breathe as the Magic.
3. Cape Breton Highlanders (6-4)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Moncton, @Halifax, @Saint John
New blood has brought in new life – and wins - for the Highlanders.
Riding a season-high four game win streak, the club has thrived since adding Deshaunt Walker, Oluyuima Famutimi and George Williams to its roster.
This past week was no different as Cape Breton dominated in its signature win of the year - a 114 – 84 stomping of the historically great Magic.
Cape Breton touched hallowed shooting grounds in the dub as it shot 51.2 per cent from the floor, 43.5 per cent from three and 90.9 per cent from the free-throw line.
Coming off such an emotional high, it was almost inevitable the club would have some hangover two days later against the lowly Saint John Riptide.
But Coach Bernardo Fitz-Gonzalez's club held tough and hung on for a 105 -102 win thanks to a number of timely plays by veteran Bruce Massey down the stretch.
With Walker adding an extra offensive punch (18 points per game on 50 per cent shooting and 3.3 assists) alongside Massey and the Highlanders holding its opponents to 97.75 points per game during its win streak, fearing the cape has never been more relevant.
4. Sudbury Five (8-6)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 1-3 | Upcoming Schedule: Kitchener-Waterloo, London
The schedule makers did the Five no favours in week six.
Sudbury endured a gruelling stretch of four games in six nights with three of those coming on the road.
Without Jaylen Bland – who missed three of its team's four outings and is currently averaging 20.6 points per game - the team faltered, particularly on offense as the Five failed to crack 100 points in two consecutive games for the first time all year.
It had only missed the century mark once before.
In the games Bland has missed the club is just 1-3 and averaging 107.25 points – 9.05 points below its season average when the Californian has suited up (10 games total).
Granted, such a difficult phase of scheduling would have been tough on any club so not too much punishment can be dished out to the Northern boys.
Nonetheless, great teams find ways to win regardless of the circumstances – something the Five must demonstrate if they want to be considered just that.
5. KW Titans (5-5)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Sudbury
Offensive explosions have become the norm in KW since the acquisition of Joel Friesen on Dec.7 – this past week was no different.
The Titans swept the Lightning (129 -123) and Five (124 – 113) by outgunning both squads via impeccable ball movement and offensive execution.
KW went for 35 assists per game while committing just 12.5 turnovers in its pair of matches.
Regardless of how efficient or inefficient the Titans may have been in other facets of its game, it will be nearly impossible to beat them when its offense is firing on all cylinders as such.
Unlike when the Five started off the season hot with its unrelenting iso-centric offense, KW has incorporated an offense dependent on player and ball movement as evidenced by the club's league-leading 21.5 assists per game.
Defense must continue to improve though for the Titans to consistently crack the top five.
6. Halifax Hurricanes (6-6)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Saint John, Cape Breton, St. John's
The 'Canes showed some moxie by ending its season-high four-game skid thanks to a pair of late game outbursts against the Windsor Express and Lightning, respectively.
For the week, Halifax averaged 34 points in the final frame and outscored its opponents 68 – 49, solidifying the club's record at 2-3 in the midst of an exhausting six game road swing that has spanned across Atlantic Canada and Southern Ontario.
The wins – coming on back-to-back nights – allowed the tenured club to celebrate an old face in Cliff Clinkscales (Queens, N.Y.) as the veteran point guard dished out a franchise-record 18 assists against the Express on Dec. 19 to go along with nine points and four rebounds.
Clinkscales' milestone must be particularly sweet for the Queens-native, and the franchise, as the 34-year-old has been a part of the Hurricanes organization for the past six years, winning a title with them in 2016.
In a season as long as the NBLC's, subplots such as these help to liven the journey for all players involved.
But if the 'Canes can grab their final road game against the Riptide on Thursday before heading home, then they might be able to really regain some of their early-season mojo.
7. London Lightning (5-6)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Windsor, @Sudbury
Whoever said there's no place like home clearly didn't have the Lightning in mind as the club dropped two more games at Budweiser Gardens this past week, pushing its overall home record to 2-4.
It was a tale of two woes as London relinquished a 75- 73 lead heading into the final frame against the Hurricanes on Dec.20 by being outscored 34-27 in the fourth quarter.
The next night a 42 -27 first quarter outburst in favor of the KW immediately put London in an insurmountable hole the rest of the way, ultimately resulting in a 129 – 123 loss.
While the Lightning do present a considerably balanced attack with five players averaging double-figures (eight if you are round up), coach Elliott Etherington hasn't quite seemed to solve the club's shooting woes as of yet.
London went a combined 13-of-42 (31 per cent) from three-point range in its pair of games – nearly identical with its league-low 30.6 per cent season average.
8. Windsor Express (3-7)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: London
Express fans were on board to witness both ends of the spectrum as Windsor put in its worst and best defensive performances of the year within a four day span.
Conceding 28 assists, a 48 -28 rebounding deficit and 53.6 per cent shooting, the Express were drubbed by the 'Canes in a 127 -116 home loss on Dec. 19.
The 127 points scored by Halifax represents an opponent season-high.
It is unfortunate that the Express – who allowed Halifax to score 30 points or more in three of the quarters – came with such a nonchalant effort on the defensive end as the club played a superb floor game otherwise with just six turnovers to 18 assists.
On Dec.23 the Express chugged the other way by crushing the Storm from wire-to-wire in a 118 - 90 win.
Windsor set a new season-best for points scored by an opponent and looked refocused in that match, outscoring the Island 36-13 in the first frame and only allowing the league's fourth-best offense to cross 30 points once in four quarters.
As mentioned last week, the Express have some great winning traits about them – perhaps the addition of some new prospects will help the club find consistency.
Ahead of today's game, the @WindsorExpress have made some roster changes ��— NBL Canada (@NBLCanada) December 23, 2018
✔️ Activates Luke Cochran from IR.
✔️ Promotes Angelo Griffs to the regular roster.
✔️ Signs and activates Chris Jones.
❌ Release Brian Addison, Richard Amardi and Reggie Hamilton.#RaiseTheBar pic.twitter.com/uNcgHw7MYB
9. Saint John Riptide (2-7)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @The Island, Halifax, Cape Breton
Daniel Dingle's last-second miss to send the game into overtime may have been the lasting image in Riptide fans' heads following its 105 -102 loss to the Highlanders on Dec.23, but the true culprit for defeat laid elsewhere.
Saint John went uncharacteristically cold from the charity stripe by making just 22-of-32 (68.8 per cent) attempts.
Despite being the worst ranked offensive unit in the league, the Riptide are actually league-leaders when it comes to foul-shooting at 77.7 per cent.
The loss double downs in some ways as the Saint John also experienced one of its best offensive nights of the year by notching 100-plus points for just the third time.
When it comes down to it, it simply doesn't look like the Riptide have enough fire power to compete consistently after six weeks.
10. Island Storm (2-6)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: Saint John, @Moncton
Two double-digit blowout losses has the Storm heading south in this week's rankings as the Island have now lost a league-high five straight.
The club got pummelled from deep in both of its games as the Five and Express went a combined 33-of-73 (45.2 per cent) from three-point range
When it comes to offense, the Island had plenty to write home about with the leading scorer and third-best bucket-getter in the league, Sampson Carter (24.4 points per game) and Russell Byrd (22.3 points per game), consistently giving opposing teams fits.
On the other end it's all bad.
The Storm ranks last in points allowed (115.9 per game), second last in opponent's three-point percentage (36.4 per cent) and third-last in steals and blocks.
The team has given up an average of 119.8 points per game during its current losing streak.