Moncton holds second best start in league history
By José Colorado
One more to go.
With the Moncton Magic collecting two more wins this past week and pushing its record to 10-0(win-loss), the club has officially usurped the 2016 -2017 Halifax Hurricanes and staked claim to the second best start in league history.
Its chance at immortality will come on Dec.21 in Cape Breton when the Magic will look to tie the 2012 -2013 London Lightning at 11-0.
With a myriad of high-profile signings this past week, the fact remains that all eyes should still focus on Moncton when it comes time to talk championship threats.
1. Moncton Magic (10-0)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton
Whether Moncton's magic ended this past week or not, their spot on top was secure.
The first-place team took care of business in its highly anticipated rubber match against the Hurricanes in a 105 – 96 win on Dec.14.
Six Magic players hit double-digits in that outing including new addition Jason Calliste (14 points) – more than offsetting the loss of lead guard, Jahii Carson, who has signed with a club in Romania.
The squad followed that up with a 93-86 win over a gritty Saint John Riptide team on Dec. 16.
The only thing more impressive than the Magic's record is perhaps the fact that the club could replace its lead guard so seamlessly and familiarize itself with its new additions (Calliste, Korie Lucious) in such a quick turnaround against two surging clubs.
As for the record?
One would be hard-pressed to believe it's coming to an end Friday against the Highlanders.
From there it does get interesting however as the Magic will play three games in four nights next week against the Highlanders (away), Island Storm and St. John's Edge.
2. Sudbury Five (7-3)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @St. John's (Twice), The Island, @Kitchener-Waterloo
With the Hurricanes descending back to the bowels of sub.500 basketball, the Five regain the second spot following a two-week hiatus.
In truth it is difficult to get completely behind the Five in the long-term simply because of their erratic playing style that encompasses an 'outgun them' mentality.
But the wins keep coming in so they can't be denied any further.
This past week – as the club went 2-1 - the Five fan base caught its first glimpse of new addition, Yohanny Dalembert, and even experienced a Dexter Williams Jr. spotting as the latter has only appeared in three games to date.
Dalembert proved formidable in a 120 -117 loss to the Lighting on Dec. 15 by contributing nine points and four rebounds in just 12 minutes of action.
Meanwhile Williams Jr. had his moment on Dec. 13 by starting and notching 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes of play in a 122 – 114 win against the Titans.
The added firepower is nice but the Five already possess the most potent offense in the league.
If the two could add value on the other side of the ball that should really get Five fans excited.
3. St. John's Edge (4-5)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Sudbury (Twice)
The Edge signed NBA champion, Glen 'Big Baby' Davis, so that's why they swept their pair of games and leapt six spots this week, right?
Despite the signing of the former Boston Celtic, Davis saw minimal time in his opening matches recording just three and nine minutes, respectively.
The thought in St. John's must be to ease him into shape – and the rotation - slowly.
That works because in the meanwhile the Edge has something pretty good going on with a season-high three-game win streak currently going.
Carl English is slowly beginning to look like his former self as he notched his second 20-point game of the year this past week while Obinna Oleka (Washington, D.C.) and Diego Kapelan (Vancouver, B.C.) have shored up the bench, combining for 56 points in its team's pair of victories.
And with high-level players such as Keith Wright Jr. and Maurice Jones Sr. consistently producing, Davis will have plenty of weapons to surround himself with when he becomes fully fit and familiarized with his team's system.
4. Cape Breton Highlanders (4-4)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton, Saint John
After a season-worst three-game slide, the Highlanders have put together its first two-game win streak of the year.
Granted, those two victories came with a key rotational player in both opponents' rosters missing including this past week's win – a 94-90 home win on Dec. 13 against the Hurricanes which saw Halifax play sans its go-to-guy, Gabe Freeman.
But Cape Breton can only play who is in front of them and shouldn't be punished for who isn't.
So for that they must be rewarded with a jump in this week's powering rankings.
Beneath the surface there have been some shifting parts to the Highlanders' success other than simply fortune.
The club recently made a trio of signings in George Williams (Houston, Texas), Olu Famutimi (Toronto, Ont.) and Deshaunt Walker (Silver Spring, Md.).
Walked poured in a game-high 22 points, six assists and three rebounds in just 28 minutes of action in his debut against the 'Canes while Famutimi (three points, three rebounds, 10 minutes) also made contributions in limited time.
Should those two be able to successfully integrate themselves into head coach Bernardo Fitz-Gonzalez's offense, the Highlanders will be significantly better for it.
Cape Breton's scoring punch has lagged recently by only crossing 100 points once in its last four games after having hit the century mark in its first four outings.
5. London Lightning (5-4)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax, Kitchener-Waterloo
Perhap London's Elliott Etherington needs to bottle up his pregame speech because it looks like he may have struck lightning.
The newly appointed head coach recorded his first win of the season in large part to a 26-15 wave in the opening quarter that buoyed the Lightning to a 120 -117 win against the Five on Dec. 15.
Indeed the aura of a fresh start likely rallied Etherington's troops in the days leading up to its road match as the Lightning were persistent in forcing the Five into 19 turnovers – nearly five more than Sudbury's season average at 14.1.
The club should again be motivated this week as it returns to Budweiser Gardens for a pair of home games, including one against the KW Titans – a team that embarrassed the Lightning on its home floor in a 123 – 97 blowout just a little over a week ago.
6. KW Titans (3-5)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @London, Sudbury
If nothing else it looks like the Titans' may have become the league's newest offensive juggernaut.
In the three games since KW has acquired high-scoring Canadian guard Joel Friesen (18.7 points per game); the club has averaged 117 points per game after having only eclipsed 110 points once in its previous five matches.
Perhaps more important in the modern game however is the fact that KW have jumped five spots in league three-point percentile shooting to 34.6 per cent after being dead-last two power rankings ago.
But then there's the other side.
KW conceded 122 points in both of its losses this past week (albeit with one of them going to overtime) with Cavell Johnson's team unable to slow the Five (30-plus points scored in three quarters) or the Express (18 scored in overtime) in key junctures.
It's clear the Titans have potential to make some noise with a serviceable piece at each position and a formidable bench.
It's just a matter of putting it together.
7. Island Storm (2-4)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Sudbury, @Windsor
Canadian standout Alex Campbell (upper body injury) was back in the line-up this past week and the Storm's offense reaped the immediate benefits by putting up 220 points in its two games against the Edge.
The only issue?
The Island didn't play a lick of defense in the process.
Giving up 117.5 points per game this past week, Tim Kendrick's team were swept by the Edge in a pair of road games.
Typically it has been closing games that has eluded the Storm thus far however this past week the Island decided to change it up and lag out of the gate.
The club sputtered out of the starting blocks in its opening game of the week – a 112 -104 loss to the Edge - by netting only 17 points to St. John's 23 in the opening frame, a difference it could not make up the rest of the way.
In the rematch two days later, the Island paid the price coming out of the halftime break with a lackadaisical effort, conceding 38 points and notching only 24 of its own in the third quarter.
Much like the Titans, the Island are a habitually teaser: a top-level Canadian in Campbell, MVP candidate in Sampson Carter and one of the best sharpshooters in the league in Russell Byrd.
They show flashes here and there but that's it at this point.
Three of their next four games are on the road.
8. Halifax Hurricanes (4-6)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 0-3 | Upcoming Schedule: @Windsor, @London
With Gabe Freeman, without him, it didn't matter this past week as the 'Canes simply couldn't muster up enough for a single win.
After the initial jolt of life that Freeman's acquisition provided via an immediate four-game win streak, Halifax has regressed the past three weeks.
Currently they are on a season-high four-game skid half way through their six-game road trip.
The problem doesn't appear to be stemming from one particular facet – although Halifax is second last in points scored at 95.8 per game they still shoot respectable percentages from the field (44 per cent) and three (34.3 per cent).
Instead it appears lulls in play have done the team in of late.
In the 'Canes trio of losses this past week the team recorded four quarters of sub-20 points, including twice only netting 15 against the Highlanders.
Only once did its opponents on the other hand notch below 20 points.
With a more steady and consistent level of play, Halifax would be able to more freely dictate pace, tempo and playing style instead of the other way around.
9. Windsor Express (2-6)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax, The Island
For a supposed 'bad' team (record-wise at least), the Express demonstrate two strikingly obvious winning characteristics.
The club makes its free throws (second in percentile shooting) and takes care of the ball markedly well (league-low 10.8 turnovers per game).
And that is exactly how it played out in Windsor's 122 – 114 home win over the Titans on Dec. 15.
The Express bulled its way to the charity stripe an absurd 43 times – making 35 (81.4 per cent) – and only turned the ball over on 11 occasions, offsetting KW's 14 made three-pointers.
If one is take out Windsor's one bad week of play in which it tallied two double-digit losses, the club has either won or lost within four points or less in all of its games.
As expressed last week, Windsor is coming along.
10. Saint John Riptide (2-6)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton
No one has been able to stop the Magic so not too much blame can be given following the Riptide's 93 – 86 road loss – especially with such a valiant effort put forth as theirs.
If you take away the third quarter, Saint John – losers of its first five games – actually outscored Moncton 65 – 57.
The only issue was the Riptide gave up a gaudy 36 points in that third frame.
Saint John ranks last in the league when it comes to points scored (95 per game), field goal percentage (42.4 per cent) and second-last in three-point percentage (31 per cent).
Against the Magic they were below their season-averages in all three categories.
No surprise then to how the game turned out against a historical great team.
Nonetheless, the Riptide – winners of two of its last three games - have been trending in the right direction and did put together three quarters of great basketball.
They are last in the rankings but not by much.