Club puts together first three-game win streak in over two months
By José Colorado
The Sudbury Five aren't ready to be an afterthought just yet.
In a period of inactivity for two of the league's top dogs in the St. John's Edge and the Moncton Magic, it was the Five who resurfaced following weeks of inconsistency by stringing together its first three-game win streak in over two months.
In professional sports road trips have often been lauded as one of the best environments for clubs to bond and detach themselves from the pressures and distractions rampant at home.
Perhaps then it shouldn't come as a total surprise that the Five were able to pull off its trio of victories while in the midst of a six-game voyage spanning across Southern Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
Regardless, coach Logan Stutz must be hoping his club's consistency travels back home as the Five are only 6-6 (win-loss) thus far on their home court.
Sudbury makes the largest leap in week 11.
1. St. John's Edge (12-7)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: N/A | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax (Twice)
The most exciting thing coming out of St. John's recently was a Glen Davis basketball camp as the club had its second bye week in January.
It's been quite an uneventful period for the squad as Doug Plumb's roster has only played in two games in the past 22 days – and will only suit up in eight matches for the month overall.
Nonetheless with the Edge playing well prior to its long layoff, Cape Breton tanking this past week and no other team making an ascension deemed worthy – they regain No.1 through default.
February sees the team playing 11 games in 21 days.
2. Moncton Magic (14-7)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: N/A | Upcoming Schedule: Saint John, London
Similar to the Edge, the Magic found itself in a down week as it had no games to report in a 10-day rest period, spanning from Jan.19 to Jan.29 when the club takes on the Saint John Riptide at the Avenir Centre.
Beginning next week the Magic will have a fairly friendly schedule heading into February as the club will only partake in seven matches for the upcoming month.
With Moncton receiving plenty of rest and seven of its next nine bouts at home, the circumstances couldn't be any better; its push to solidify home court advantage starts now.
3. Windsor Express (13-9)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 3-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Kitchener-Waterloo
Finishing at 9-2 for the month of January, the Windsor Express handled a gruelling four games in six nights stretch, including three on the road, this past week with an impressive 3-1 record.
The club has played its - bar none - best basketball of the season in the New Year with a renewed aggression towards the paint taking precedence.
In January the Express have upped its free-throw totals per game to 28.27 per outing – from 26.43 in December and just 21.5 in November – and its rebounding mark by 5.1 per match over the previous month.
With the team firing blanks of late (i.e. shooting just 32-of-93 from three-point range this past week), alternative ways to score – and win - are a necessity.
Needless to say it's been quite the impressive run of late but the Express can't let up – five of its next seven games are on the road.
4. Cape Breton Highlanders (14-9)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: London
It was a week of lost opportunities for the Highlanders as the previously top-ranked club went winless in a pair of home games against the Five (116 -106) and Express (107 -103).
A lackadaisical effort out of the halftime break plagued coach Bernardo Fitz-Gonzalez' squad in both matches as his team was outscored by a combined total of 64 – 45 in the third quarter, ultimately playing a big factor in the defeats.
Outside of star player Bruce Massey – who averaged 24.5 points on 44.44 per cent shooting for the week - it was struggle for the Highlanders' starters as the Five manhandled the match-up by a 105 – 40 advantage while the Express blasted Gonzalez's best five by a 88 – 58 edge.
With London rolling into town on Friday and St. John's to follow the next week, a .500 split at Centre 200 is still possible.
And at this point it seems imperative if the Cape is looking to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs; eight of its next nine games are on the road.
5. Sudbury Five (12-12)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 3-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Kitchener-Waterloo (Twice)
Sudbury's week 11 surge can be summed up in three words: the fantastic four.
Jaylen Bland, Braylon Rayson, Cory Dixon and Travis Releford each buoyed the Five to its flawless week with monstrous individual efforts against the Saint John Riptide, Highlanders and London Lightning.
In fact when looking at Sudbury's foursome versus its opponents entire starting five for the week, the former outscored the latter by a whopping 273 – 162.
As good as that is, the flip side is just as ugly however as the Five allowed its opposing team's benches to notch a 155 – 53 advantage over the course of the three games.
In all likelihood such a starter-centric style of play won't be very sustainable in the long haul as fatigue, shot consistency and mental concentration will wane.
But for the time being, the Five's fan base can rejoice in a winning week and a club back at.500 for the first time since Jan.6.
6. London Lightning (11-13)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Moncton, @Cape Breton, @Halifax
A tale of two halves encapsulates week 11 for the Lighting as it split its pair of matches.
Trailing 45 - 41 at the end of the first two quarters versus the Island Storm on Jan.26, the Lightning responded in the home stretch by outscoring its foe 64 -48 in the final two frames for a 105 -93 win.
The next night it was the second half that gave the two-time champs some trouble as it led 57-54 at halftime to only then be outpaced 61-53 in the third and fourth quarters combined.
Much like the Hurricanes (see rant below), the Lightning seem mired in inconsistency and mediocrity with a number of its players regularly performing erratically from night to night.
As was stated last week, London has a number of players capable of exploding of any given night but by the same token it also has many intent on disappearing all too often.
Until that is fixed, London will remain a middling team.
7. Halifax Hurricanes (11-11)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: St. John's (Twice), London
One blowout win, one blowout loss – sounds about right for a team stuck at .500.
The ever-inconsistent 'Canes used a monstrous 42-point fourth quarter to blow away the Express 128 -97 on Jan.25 at Scotiabank Centre.
In that final frame fans caught a glimpse – as they did in the week prior in a 122 – 93 win against the Five on Jan.20 - of the offensive capabilities of Mike Leslie's squad; the club shot an obscene 18-of-26 from the floor to go along with 12 assists.
But as has been the case for the majority of the season, Halifax followed that up with clunker against the Riptide in a lifeless 95 – 78 loss.
In the latter match the 'Canes were held to a season-low in points (78), free-throws made (six), free-throw percentage (31.6 per cent) and posted its third-worst three-point percentage for the year at 16 per cent (four-of-25).
At this point with the Highlanders and Magic both proving themselves to be consistently more formidable, the defending Atlantic Champions simply can't be considered the favourites to come out of the conference despite it's big-game experience.
8. KW Titans (9-10)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Sudbury (Twice), Windsor
Two overtime thrillers against the Express and Storm have the KW Titans coming out of the week at 1-1, including snapping a five-game losing streak.
The results, in all honesty however, must come as a secondary concern for the team as the Titans' second-leading scorer, Joel Friesen, suffered a lower body injury against the Storm forcing him to retire from the match after just 19 minutes.
With KW playing 11 games in the month of February, the squad may have to look for others to assert themselves more regularly on the offensive side in the absence of the sharpshooter.
Luckily for them, Akeem Ellis seems more than capable of filling that niche as the forward returned from a seven-game absence this past week to torture the Storm with 28 points and 13 rebounds in 43 minutes.
9. Saint John Riptide (7-14)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 1-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Moncton, @The Island
A defensive scorching, a second half collapse and a wire-to-wire blowout victory, after winning three of its last four matches heading into the week the Riptide's inconsistency reared its ugly head once more by going 1-2.
The 'Tide got off to a turbulent start as the league's best defensive unit were blasted by the Five in a 108 -101 defeat on Jan.23.
There, Saint John allowed its opponent to shoot 52.6 per cent from the floor, 38.5 per cent from deep and conceded a 37-fourth point quarter.
The next night the Riptide were stellar to begin against the Express by locking them down to just 34 first-half points and building up a 14-point halftime lead in the process.
Nelson Terroba's troops came out flat in the second half however as Saint John was badly outplayed via a 57 – 40 advantage for Windsor, losing 91 – 88 in the end.
Finally there was no mishap to be had against the Hurricanes on Jan.26 as the Riptide closed the week by putting together one of its best all-around efforts, leading from horn-to-horn in a 95 – 78 blowout road win.
Alongside Frank Bartley (18.3 points per game) and Chris Early (13.2 points per game), the club may have found another gem in TJ Maston as the player continued his strong play this past week averaging 24.33 points per game and 8.67 rebounds in his trio of matches.
Yet for as much individual talent that the Riptide may possess, they must show it in front of its home fans.
They are now 1-9 at Harbour Station.
10. Island Storm (4-15)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: Saint John
Despite a poor overall shooting week in which the Storm went 38 per cent from the floor and 21.42 per cent from three (15-of-70), the club hung tough in a pair of respectable losses against the Titans (137 -133) and Lightning (105-93) on Jan.24 and Jan.26.
In particular an overtime defeat to KW must have stung considerably as the Island rallied from a seven-point first quarter deficit, outscoring the Titans 99 – 92 the rest of the way in regulation before conceding defeat in the extra frame –in which they even held a five-point advantage.
Playing without the club's second-leading scorer in Russell Byrd (18 points per game), the short-handed Storm's starting five more than held its own against its opponents as Canadian Guillaume Boucard (22.5 points per game, 11.5 rebounds) filled in admirably.
The difference came down to the pine.
If the Storm is to make up any ground, they must shore up their second unit.
They now have lost four in a row.