Club has won four straight
By José Colorado
The Moncton Magic still have plenty left in the tank.
For as many headline-grabbing moves as the St. John's Edge may have done or the publicity garnered from the improved play from the Cape Breton Highlanders and Windsor Express in recent weeks, it is the Magic who retain the best overall record entering February.
Just a little over a month removed from a difficult losing stretch, it's clear that plenty of fight still resides in Joe Salerno's squad after overcoming a myriad of key roster changes – exemplified this past week in a pair of gut-check wins.
Following five editions off the top of the mountain, Moncton returns in week 12.
1. Moncton Magic (16-7)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Saint John (Home & Away)
The Magic pulled together its first significant win streak since it rattled off 10 straight to start off the 2018 – 2019 campaign by dispatching the Saint John Riptide (91-88) and the London Lightning (119 -112) this past week at the Avenir Centre.
It took two barn burners to get it done but it is the latter match that will be most remembered in week 12 as the Magic and Lightning battled in a double-overtime classic.
The marathon set multiple season-highs for Moncton as the club attempted 41 free throws (making 27), tallied 23 assists and 15 steals and even battled through 25 turnovers – its second worst mark for the year.
Versus the Riptide, Salerno's club had to overcome a different demon as the league's second-worst scoring team shot just 37.6 per cent shooting but were still able to pull out the victory.
In a season of significant peaks and valleys perhaps it is the Magic's recent wherewithal to withstand the not-so-perfect moments that must be most intriguing.
Moncton is finding ways to win games again.
Now whether that translates to the Magic returning to its early season dominance remains to be seen.
But even after a 2-7 (win-loss) streak that spanned across December and January, the Magic are still first in the league record wise - and for that perseverance they move back up to the top Power Ranking spot.
2. St. John's Edge (13-8)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton, @The Island, @Halifax
Sorrow, anger, happiness, excitement or despair -whatever emotion you may think of, it's likely the Edge experienced it in week 12.
The club started off by getting blasted by the Halifax Hurricanes in a 104-70 in front of its home fans at Mile One Centre in the team's worst defeat in franchise history.
In the aftermath of that disgraceful showing Glen Davis was levied a league fine for 'verbal abuse of the officials.'
BREAKING:— NBL Canada (@NBLCanada) January 31, 2019
The National Basketball League of Canada has assessed a fine upon Glen Davis of the St. John's Edge for verbal abuse of officials stemming from a January 29, 2019 game. pic.twitter.com/o7MEnvlPVV
Two nights later however the team – and Davis - bounced back with a 103 – 95 win in the rubber match as Big Baby took out his frustration on his opponents this time with a 30 point showing on 60 per cent shooting.
From there the roller coaster continued as the club announced on Feb. 1 it was sending focal piece Maurice Jones Sr. – who was averaging 15.4 points per game and 6.5 assists - to the Island Storm in exchange for Russell Byrd – a deal that likely comes off the recent play of Edge point guard Junior Cadougan who has played inspired basketball over the past month and a half, making Jones Sr. expendable.
The retooling didn't end there however as St. John's added another well-known Canadian commodity to the mix the very next day.
Needless to say there has rarely been a dull moment in St. John's this season as the club seems intent on going all in for its first championship.
Plenty of opportunities to test out the new pieces await as the Edge plays four road games in nine days.
3. Windsor Express (13-10)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @London (2x), London
Had it not been for one poor foul-shooting quarter the Express likely would have come away with a road win in week 12.
Instead they dropped a 117 -112 decision to the KW Titans on Feb.3.
With Windsor playing its usually tactful floor game with only 10 turnovers and shooting solid percentages from the floor (45.3 per cent) and from long range (37.5 per cent), it was a commonly reliable facet that failed them versus KW: free throws.
Shooting 17-of-25 (68 per cent) from the line, Windsor produced only its third sub-70 per cent foul shooting performance of the year – enough to let the Titans escape with a five-point victory.
As a reference point, the Express rank first in the league at charity stripe efficiency at 78.1 per cent.
When taken together however Windsor has been playing exceptionally well, winning eight of its last ten games despite six of those being on the road.
They hold strong at No.3 this week.
4. Cape Breton Highlanders (14-10)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: St. John's, @Sudbury, @Kitchener-Waterloo
Another winless week has the Cape Breton Highlanders just barely clinging onto the fourth spot as they dropped a 102 -100 decision to the London Lightning on Feb.1 at Centre 200 – making it three losses in a row.
A sporadic start and finish sealed the Atlantic team's fate as the squad only managed 15 points in the first frame – immediately conceding an eight-point deficit.
From there a 36-point third quarter helped Cape Breton gain a 80 – 73 heading into the final quarter,
only to then be outscored 29-20 in the fourth with a buzzer-beater from a series of late-game miscues, including a go-ahead missed free-throw and lay-up from Tanner Giddings, sealing the deal.
Indeed the Highlanders have competed tough of late with three of its last four losses coming within four points or less.
But with the club being one of the heavier hitters in the NBLC, greater things must be expected; a 7-7 home record simply isn't going to cut it for championship aspirations.
5. Sudbury Five (13-13)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Kitchener-Waterloo, Cape Breton
Although it ended in a blowout defeat, week 12 must be considered a success for the Sudbury Five as it saw its first four-game win streak in franchise history take shape.
Playing in a two-game series at the Kitchener Auditorium, the Five opened up the week with its best defensive performance of the year by holding the Titans to 89 points on 31.3 per cent shooting from the floor, taking it 105 -89 in the end.
The game marked the first time Sudbury has held an opponent below 90 points for the season as the Five have been habitually bad defenders, laying claim to the worst defensive rating in the NBLC by over three points.
Unfortunately for head coach Logan Stutz, the avalanche came two nights later when the Titans nearly led from wire-to-wire, hanging 79 points on Sudbury in the first half and leading by as much as 27 at one point.
Regardless the Five's starters seem set on carrying the club to the playoffs as the five some accounted for 176 of the Five's 214 points over the pair of games; continuing week 11's trend.
6. Halifax Hurricanes (13-12)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @The Island, St. John's
Maybe there is some championship pedigree left in the Hurricanes after all.
After lamenting the inconsistent play of the Atlantic division champs last week, Mike Leslie's squad popped its head above .500 again by going 2-1 (win-loss).
A late-game rally resulting in a 103 – 101 win against the Lightning on Feb.2 cemented the club's renewed determination but it was a stunning blowout victory earlier in the week that must garner the most attention.
In a 104-70 annihilation over the Edge, the 'Canes proved that when pitted against the best it can still rise to the occasion.
Halifax had one of its best defensive outings of the season in that match holding St. John's to 30.8 per cent from the floor and 21.9 per cent from three-point range along with a 58-31 advantage on the glass.
In the 14 games Halifax has played against opponents with winning records (i.e. Windsor, Cape Breton, St. John's, Moncton), the Hurricanes are 6 -8 but if factoring out Moncton – who they are 0-5 against – then the 'Canes are 6-3 versus the league's better half.
In other words, although Halifax may be a team consistently hovering around .500, if they are able to snag a team in the playoffs other than the Magic then another long playoff run may not be entirely out of the question upon further inspection.
7. KW Titans (11-11)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Sudbury, @London, Cape Breton
KW bounced from a season-worst shooting night to return to .500 this past week as it concluded a four-game home stand.
In a 105 – 89 drubbing at the hands of the Five on Jan.31, the Titans went a woeful 31.3 per cent from the floor and 17.1 per cent from three-point range.
Cavell Johnson must have lit a postgame fire under his boys however because the Titans were lights out the rest of the week, shooting 48.43 per cent from the field and 45.16 per cent from long distance in a pair of wins versus Sudbury (129 -109) and the Express (117 -112).
With the home friendly portion of the Titans' schedule out of the way, the club must make sure it's league-leading offense travels in February; six of its next nine games are on the road for the month.
8. London Lightning (12-15)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 1-2 | Upcoming Schedule: Windsor (2x), @Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo
A stomach churning week could have seen the Lightning go undefeated or winless as all three matches went down to the wire, including a double-overtime defeat, a buzzer-beating victory and a fourth quarter collapse.
Instead London finished somewhere in between at 1-2.
Had it not been for a loose week with the ball perhaps London could have indeed come away with a winning record but with the club averaging 19 turnovers per match – significantly up from its 14.1 season average – the victories came as tall orders.
Granted a double-overtime game will inflate those numbers a bit but regardless if a team isn't shooting
lights out - as London wasn't at a weekly average of 42.24 per cent - and thus maximizing the most of each possession, it will be tough to come away with victories with such a high turnover ratio.
Things get a little interesting in week 13 for the Lightning as it will have a mini three-game series against the Express, twice seeing them at Budweiser Gardens.
Currently London trails the season series at 1-2 but each game has been decided by eight points or less – promising for another week of eventful basketball for the club.
9. Saint John Riptide (7-16)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton, The Island, @Moncton
Not even the Riptide's unequivocal best performance of the year last week could help the team break through its issues of inconsistency as it went winless in two hard-fought matches.
Saint John's long range futility proved too much to overcome in its first outing – a 91 – 88 loss to the Magic - as the club went five-of-24 from the three, committing 17 turnovers in the process.
And while Nelson Terroba's squad found the touch three nights later on the Island by way of a season-high 13 three-pointers on 54.2 per cent shooting, it was the other end of the ball that let them down as the Storm rallied from a 13-point second half deficit for a 115 -111 win.
There, the league's second-best defensive unit got torched in the fourth as Saint John conceded 35 points in the final period.
At this point, retaining the services of TJ Maston for next season must be one of the primary concerns of the organization as the newcomer has been a Godsend since his arrival 11 games ago.
In his most recent pair of matches he averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds on 56 per cent shooting from the floor.
10. Island Storm (5-15)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: St. John's, @Saint John, Halifax
The Island had a seven day lay-off to prepare for its lone game of the week and it showed as it took down the Riptide 115 -111, snapping a four-game losing streak.
With the extended days of recovery, the league's worst shooting team looked refreshed as it set season-highs in field goal (51.2), three-point (44.4) and free-throw (88.2) percentages while setting a new season-best in assists (31).
A number of new additions paid dividends as Malik Story (28 points, six rebounds) and Terrell Carter II (10 points, four rebounds) both had stellar debuts.
Of the Storm's five wins thus far, two have come against the Riptide with the Island pacing the season-series 2-1.
That bodes well for Friday as the two square off for a fourth time this season but an exceedingly difficult schedule looms – the Storm play in a back-to-back-to-back from Thursday through Saturday.
A 1-2 showing would have to be considered a success – and may even move the Storm ahead of the Riptide come week 13.