Magic now three wins away from tying league record
By José Colorado
The showdown of the league's two hottest teams has seen Moncton come up with Magic once more.
In a 95 – 91 road win against the Halifax Hurricanes, the Moncton Magic only continued to up the chatter in its march towards history.
At 8-0 (win-loss) the Magic are now only three games away from tying the NBLC all-time record for consecutive wins to start a new campaign – set by the 2012 – 2013 London Lightning at 11-0.
Currently Moncton sits in third when it comes to historic starts with the 2016 -2017 Hurricanes holding the second slot at 9-0.
And with the 'Canes and Riptide rolling into town this week, the Magic could see themselves within shouting distance of the all-time mark should they come away unscathed come Sunday.
There's something MAGIC happening in Moncton!— NBL Canada (@NBLCanada) December 5, 2018
We're watching history in the making as @TheMonctonMagic are 7️⃣-0️⃣ and currently hold the third ������ start in NBL Canada HISTORY.
How far do you think the Magic will go?#RaiseTheBar #WeBelieve pic.twitter.com/3QcVmmvZHX
1. Moncton Magic (8-0)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax, Saint John
If a NBA team slogan had to be appointed to the Magic perhaps the one best suited would be the Memphis Grizzlies' grit and grind mantra.
Despite a sloppy floor game that included 19 turnovers, the first-placed squad once again relied on its league-leading defense by forcing Halifax into 19 miscues of its own and limiting them to just 91 points and two-of-17 three-point shooting.
Sure, there are a bevy of repeated league standouts on the Magic including Jahii Carson, Doug Herring Jr. and Billy White but Moncton epitomises toughness from top to bottom.
In its eight victories thus far the Magic have only allowed its opponents to cross 100 points twice.
On the offensive side the club dishes out the punishment. Moncton sits second in the league for free-throws made (Cape Breton) and first in attempts.
This past week the Magic marched to the charity stripe 10 more times than Halifax – a key factor in the win.
2. Halifax Hurricanes (4-3)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton, @Moncton, @Sudbury
The 'Canes may have lost the latest battle of the titans but the debate could hypothetically still rage as to who the superior team actually is.
Well, first off Halifax played the Magic tough all the way down to the final wire in a see-saw match that was tied at 85 apiece with 3:50 to play.
But second, and perhaps more importantly, the 'Canes played without its leading scorer and bonafide star, Gabe Freeman, who was out with a back issue.
Freeman has been the anchor for the club since his acquisition on Nov. 20 with season averages of 20 points per game to go along with 8.3 rebounds.
His replacement, Karamo Jawara, made a solid contribution with seven points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes but it goes without saying that Halifax has been a different club since Freeman's integration.
With three road games to play this week and Freeman's status still up in the air, the 'Canes will battle once more to stay above .500.
However just based on the eye test, it would be tough to denounce them as the second-best team in the league based off last week's performance.
3. Sudbury Five (5-2)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Halifax
After starting the season off with an impressive 3-0 mark the Five have been unable to string together a pair of consecutive wins.
This past week was no different as the club dropped a close one against the Riptide (115 -111 loss) and then saved face against the Express (123 – 121 win), respectively.
Offense – from its inception – has never been the problem for the Five as the team boasts the league's most lethal one-two punch in Braylon Rayson (25.4 points per game) and Jaylen Bland (23.3 points per game) along with the most potent overall attack at a league-leading 113.4 points per game.
This past week Sudbury averaged 117 points per contest but also conceded 118 per game.
When you have the league's best offense as well as the league's worst defense (113.3 points allowed per game) simultaneously, games are never truly out of reach until the final buzzer.
That is the beauty and the curse in the Five's play and why they remain at No.3 for the time being.
4. KW Titans (3-3)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Sudbury, @Windsor
Rarely can a 26-point road blowout win against the two-time defending league champions be overshadowed by a subplot in a game – but in this instance it is well warranted.
Three-time NBLC champion and former Canadian national team member, Joel Friesen, absolutely scorched his former club, the Lightning, in his season debut with 31 points (five-of-nine three-pointers), six rebounds and four assists on Dec. 9.
Due to a reported salary-cap issue, Friesen – a two—time champion with the Lightning – was released prior to the start of the regular season.
That the Abbotsford-native responded in such a resounding way to such events is no coincidence; the 28-year-old is renowned for his toughness, tenacity and shooting ability.
The Titans had been searching for a signature win all season long.
They just got one – and in the process may have found its marquee player as well.
5. Island Storm (2-2)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @St. John's (Twice)
Sans their floor general and Canadian standout, Alex Campbell (upper body injury), the Island dropped a 116 – 115 overtime decision to the Highlanders in a match it should have come away with in all likelihood.
In front of its home fans at Eastlink Centre, the Island controlled most of the match including an 86 – 81 advantage heading into the fourth quarter but were unable to hang on in its lone game of the week.
End-of-game scenarios have been a consistent theme for the squad. The Storm have either led or been within a single possession heading into the fourth quarter in all four of its matches to date, yet remain a .500 club.
On the bright side, Sampson Carter (22 points, 15 rebounds) seems to have officially found his groove while Tyler Scott (9 points, five rebounds) proved as a serviceable spark off the bench once more, following a season-high 22 points the week earlier.
If Campbell is back to his normal self this week, it's time to keep an eye on the Storm.
6. Cape Breton Highlanders (3-4)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax
Head coach Bernardo Fitz-Gonzalez came into the 2018 – 2019 NBLC season preaching defense as his team's top priority – but seven games into the fray, it has been anything but.
Cape Breton continued its seven-game streak of giving up 100-plus points to its opponents in a pair of matches this week - a split between the Edge (109 – 92 loss) and the Storm (116 – 115 win).
For as long as the Highlanders continue to flounder defensively, they cannot be taken seriously as a contender.
One step forward, one step back type of thing.
Perhaps the most alarming number to watch for the Highlander- faithful is on the glass.
Cape Breton was outboarded in both of its matches this week and now sits dead-last in overall rebounding and defensive boards.
As the Miami Heat legend Pat Riley once remarked, "No rebounds, no rings."
7. London Lightning (4-4)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 1-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Sudbury
Embarrassing probably best sums up the Lightning's week as the club was eviscerated on its home court in a pair of blowout losses.
The only thing that could have worsened the blow would have been if the last-placed Express nailed its near buzzer-beater attempt in London's other match – a 99-98 win for the Lightning.
So maybe it wasn't all bad.
Nonetheless a horrendous second-half effort sealed the defending champs' fate in each of its matches this week as it was outscored by a combined total of 195 – 140 in the third and fourth quarters.
Winning in years past definitely builds up some cache for the Lightning's roster but it's clear London is circling the drain at the moment.
The club has now dropped three of its last four games by an average margin of 20.6 points per game.
8. Saint John Riptide (2-5)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Moncton
A pair of wins and just like that the Riptide are back in the flow of things.
Saint John finally broke the seal this past week with a couple of gutsy performances on the road.
The Atlantic-based team first took down the Five in an over-time thriller that saw the Riptide bend but not break in front of a raucous Northern Ontario crowd.
The club followed that performance up with a dominating win against the Lighting.
Frank Bartley was the driving force behind the victories as he set back-to-back season-highs in points with 24 and 27 while shooting 50 per cent from the floor – well above his 41.2 per cent average.
With the Riptide flowing perhaps there is no time better than the present to take on the red-hot Magic next week.
9. St. John's Edge (2-5)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: The Island (Twice)
Following two frustrating down-to-the-wire losses last week, St. John's made certain there would be no late mishaps this time around.
The main reason being: the Edge demolished Cape Breton before it even got there.
In a 109 – 92 road win, St John's dominated by way of a 49 -31 rebounding advantage and a season-high 28 points from Carl English in its lone game of the week.
With the former league MVP, English, finally getting off the schneid with his best performance of the season, the Edge could finally be trending upwards.
Two home games next week will definitely help their cause but they must string together a few solid wins before they can truly move up the rankings.
10. Windsor Express (1-6)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: Kitchener-Waterloo
It really does seem like the Express deserved to come back home with at least one victory this past week playing the Lightning and Five tough on their court courts – yet they return home with a pair of losses by a single possession each.
A 57 – 41 rebounding advantage and a monstrous double-double (28 points, 15 rebounds) from Lightning forward, Maurice Bolden, lowered the Express' chances against London on Dec. 6.
Reggie Hamilton still had a golden opportunity to seal the win for the Express with a three-pointer in the waning seconds however.
The team's next loss couldn't have been much easier to swallow.
Windsor shot a blistering 16-of-34 (47 per cent) from three-point range yet still walked away with a 123 -121 defeat to the Five.
The point being: the Express are much more competitive than their record may indicate.
But for now, until the results change, they take the last spot.