Moncton drops second consecutive game to Cape Breton
By José Colorado
What a difference a little over a week can make.
After etching itself into the NBLC history books, the Moncton Magic are reeling following a 1-3 (win-loss) stretch over the past 11 days including two straight losses to the Cape Breton Highlanders.
Some key subtractions in Jahii Carson (Romania) and Doug Herring Jr. (Indonesia) have decimated the Magic's momentum as it now finds itself in a dog fight for first place alongside the surging Highlanders.
Doug Herring has decided to leave the team for a contract with the CLS Knights of the ASEAN Basketball League. We wish him well with the move and thank him for being a professional during his time in Moncton. @NBLCanada pic.twitter.com/ln7DA4OPzN— The Moncton Magic (@TheMonctonMagic) December 23, 2018
After Moncton's spell of utter domination for weeks on end, week seven should perhaps best be remembered as when the mystery of the Magic was no more.
1. Moncton Magic (11-3)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 1-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @The Island, @London, @Windsor, @Kitchener-Waterloo
With Carson (14.8 points per game) and Herring Jr. (14.5 points per game) now permanently out of the picture, the Magic's already modest attack has essentially grinded to a halt when it comes to 'winning time'.
During the club's current 1-3 streak Moncton has been outscored 30.5 – 18.75 in fourth quarters with the team mustering just 22 points and 10 points in the final frame in its pair of losses this past week to the Highlanders (113 -101) and the Edge (98 – 86).
The squad did take care of the league's habitual underachievers , the Island Storm, in a 116 -102 win on Dec. 28 but still offense – and having enough energy and firepower to close games - must remain a concern against better competition.
With all that being said, the Magic have earned the right to remain No.1 for one more week despite the recent slide.
A six-game road trip waits with four matches going this week.
Just how much confidence remains intact sans Carson and Herring Jr. could be revealed come week eight.
2. Cape Breton Highlanders (9-4)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 3-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax, St. John's, The Island (Twice)
Two consecutive double-digit victories against the top-seeded Magic, a seven-game win streak and an upcoming four-game home stand: there isn't much to not like right now for the Highlanders.
Bruce Massey (Germantown, Md.) continued his recent tear as the league's third-leading scorer went for 30-plus points in back-to-back outings against the Magic (113 -101 win) and the Halifax Hurricanes (106 – 93 win).
For the week the American averaged 26 points (56 per cent field goal shooting), 8.6 rebounds and 6.33 assists in the team's trio of victories
With Massey emerging as the unequivocal go-to-scorer, the club's relentless offensive attack consistently putting opposing squad's in foul trouble and the Highlanders holding its opponents to just 97 points during its current winning stretch, head coach Bernardo Fitz-Gonzalez's tough-nosed vision may finally be coming together.
A favourable home schedule and a showdown with vastly improved Edge is on the horizon – opportunities that could vault the Highlanders into the top spot.
3. St. John's Edge (7-6)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton, @Saint John (Twice), @The Island
It almost doesn't seem fair that a team that has won six of its last seven games can actually slide down a spot in this week's power rankings but that is how impressive the Magic start was and how hot the Highlanders have been of late.
The Edge – who played without Carl English for its third and fourth straight game this past week – saw its six-game win streak vanish in the tail end of its back-to-back via a 108-100 road loss to the Hurricanes on Dec.30.
With St. John's mounting a monstrous 21-point comeback win the day before against the Magic, fatigue may have played a factor against the Hurricanes as Halifax was able to play a relatively uninterrupted floor game (28 assists to nine turnovers) and wore out the Edge with a 56 -34 points in the paint advantage.
Despite the loss the fact that St. John's has been able to excel without its unquestioned leader, English, says a lot about just how tough and talented this group is.
That notion will be tested even further in the coming weeks as St. John's plays six road games in nine nights; not returning to Mile One Centre until Jan.19.
4. KW Titans (6-5)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Windsor, Moncton
Make it three in a row for the KW Titans as they dispatched the Sudbury Five in a 132 – 114 win on Dec. 29 for its lone game of the week.
In the clash of the league's two most dynamic offensive teams, the Titans simply outgunned the Five at their own game.
KW's offensive masterpiece included season-highs in points (132), field goals made (52) and three-pointers made (18) while also adding 28 assists for good measure.
The Titans have simply been in another stratosphere when it comes buckets in its three-game win-streak as the club is averaging 128.33 points per game (51.4 per cent field goal shooting), 15.3 three-pointers made (47.4 per cent) and 33 assists.
One can't help but feel like those numbers will eventually regress back to earth sooner rather than later but then again KW hasn't scored below 114 points since the integration of Joel Friesen to the line up six games ago.
5. London Lightning (6-7)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton, @Sudbury, Sudbury
Losers of five of its last seven, it's been a tough go for the Lightning of late.
The team did save some face however by splitting this past week's games and coming through in its most recent outing – a 105 -103 road win against Sudbury on Dec.30 – to snap its season-high three-game losing streak.
Even with the tough spell, London does appear to be showing some signs of life again.
In the past five matches the team is 2-3 with each loss coming within single digits.
The recent signing of NBLC veteran Alex Johnson should bode well for the squad to help settle down a roster laden with key rotational newcomers.
It is a long campaign and the Lightning's penchant to go all in is well known.
One can't help but think that more signings are on the horizon.
But until then – and until the Lightning start to consistently win again – they must lag in the middle to bottom half of the rankings.
6. Halifax Hurricanes (7-8)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 1-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton, @Saint John
Consistency remains an issue for the 'Canes following a 1-2 week that saw the club suffer a pair of bad losses before beating one of the hottest teams in the league in the Edge.
After coming up just short in its fourth-quarter rally to the lowly Riptide, Halifax's legs went lifeless in the final frame the next night against the Highlanders as Cape Breton outscored coach Mike Leslie's boys 32-22, securing a 106 -93 defeat on Dec.28.
Two nights later a refreshed 'Canes squad halted the Edge's six-game win streak – so go figure.
With newcomer Jordan Washington (15.3 points per game) and veteran Tyrone Watson (10 points per game) effectively fulfilling their roles off the bench, Halifax has a unique element off the pine that it must exploit.
The key for team success will be the starters however – they must play better.
If one is to take out the rare start given to Washington (just his second of the year) against the Highlanders, then Halifax was outscored 133 – 101 by the opposing team's starting five in its pair of losses.
7. Sudbury Five (8-8)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: London, @London
After a gripping 3-0 start for the inaugural franchise that captured league-wide attention, the Five have steadily been going off the rails.
This past week the club racked up two more losses against the Titans (132 -114) and Lightning (105 -103), making it four losses in the past five games.
From the start this power ranking has questioned the sustainability of the Five's iso-centric (last in league assists) offensive system that lacks defensive balance (second-last in points allowed).
The disappearance of Jaylen Bland within head coach Logan Stutz' offensive schemes – in both minutes and points production – have done a number on the Five's success as the league's fifth-leading scorer was held to single-digits for the second consecutive game before sitting out against London.
He had only missed that mark once in his previous nine matches.
The good news?
With a home-and-home series set with the Lightning, the Five have a legitimate shot at stringing together its first two-game win streak since mid-December as each game between the clubs has been decided by five or less points.
8. Windsor Express (4-7)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton, @Kitchener-Waterloo
Building off its best defensive performance of the year last week, the Express put forth a strong opening quarter against the Lighting by limiting London to just 23 points while netting 31 of its own.
The club never looked back leading the rest of the way and taking it 108 – 100 on Dec.28 for its only game of the week.
New addition Chris Jones played an integral part off the bench in just his second game with the Express, pouring in 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting along with four steals.
Beyond Jones it was a total team effort as Windsor's bench mob put up 60 points in comparison to London's 32.
The Express are beginning to find ways to win games even when some of its hallmark traits falter – as was the case against London with Windsor shooting just 27.6 per cent shooting from deep.
After starting the season 1-6, the Express have now won three of its last four and are in prime position to make up even more ground this week with the reeling Magic and a defensively absent minded Titans' roster on the slate.
9. Saint John Riptide (3-8)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Halifax, St. John's (Twice)
Two solid defensive efforts kept the league's worst offensive team afloat as the Saint John Riptide split a pair of tightly contested contests this past week against the Hurricanes (91-88 win) and Highlanders (97–94 loss).
A balanced attack that saw all five Riptide starters hit double-figures in both games (except for Jeremiah Mordi versus the Hurricanes) was the theme of the week with Saint John – despite the loss – putting forth one of its best efforts of the season against a streaking Highlanders club.
In that match the Riptide set a season-high in steals (14) while also tying its season-best mark in assists (26).
If Saint John can receive more contributions from its reserves (only 19 points per game this past week), continue to play its trademark lockdown defense and see consistent double-digit production from its starters outside of Frank Bartley and Chris Early then the team could steal a couple more games moving forward.
10. Island Storm (2-7)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton, @Cape Breton (Twice), St. John's
The Island's spiral into the bowels of NBLC hell continued this past week as it conceded its sixth straight game in a 116 -102 road loss to the Magic on Dec.28.
For a club that ranks dead-last in the league in terms of overall record, the Island still holds a formidable offensive attack standing fourth in points scored.
Unfortunately for the Storm that failed them against Moncton as the Island's starting five each shot below 50 per cent for the game, combining for 27-of-69 (39.13 per cent) from the floor.
As a whole the Storm were outscored 63 -52 for the second half.
Four games against the league's three best teams this week doesn't brighten the forecast.