Club sweeps three-game home stand
Photo Credit: Philip Matusiewicz
If three-and-a-half months of frustrations could be manifested into a trio of basketball games, it's likely you'd see what went down at the EastLink Centre in week 16.
The NBLC's perennial punching bag, the Island Storm, finally fought back in the sixteenth Power Rankings as the club obliterated its opponents to pick up its first three-game win streak of the year.
With the squad being so far back in the Atlantic standings at 8-22 (win-loss), it's highly unlikely the roster can catch the Saint John Riptide (14-20) for the final playoff spot.
But if nothing else, for one week NBLC onlookers were collectively sidetracked from its respective teams' intense playoff positioning to marvel at the sudden revival of the franchise.
1. Moncton Magic (21-11)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Saint John
With newcomer Trey Kell (seven points per game, five turnovers, one game played) coming back to earth in week 16, it was time for others to step up and that they did as the Moncton Magic split 1-1 in a home and away match.
Following a season-low 76 points in a 20-point loss to the Riptide on March 1, five Magic players hit double-digits as Moncton pulled out a 120 -108 win over the KW Titans two nights later.
Corey Allmond again proved himself to be the anchor but more importantly the Magic took care of the ball in its latter match as it only had 12 miscues in comparison to its 24 give-aways against the Riptide while also making shots (17-of-38 on three-pointers).
2. Halifax Hurricanes (19-13)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Windsor, @London, @Kitchener-Waterloo
LW rank: LW record: Upcoming schedule:
Whether it was overconfidence or simply 'one of those nights', the Halifax Hurricanes saw their season-high seven-game win streak come to a screeching halt in a 129 -105 debacle against the last-placed Storm in week 16.
Embarking on a five-game road trip spanning across Atlantic Canada and Southern Ontario, the 'Canes handily took care of its first voyage via a 98 -82 thrashing of the Riptide on Feb.27.
The win punctuated a flawless February that saw Mike Leslie's club go 7-0 (win-loss), worthy for Coach of the Month Honours.
Unfortunately on the same day of that announcement (March 3), Halifax was busy getting drubbed on the Island by a 60-39 rebounding deficit alongside 24 turnovers as the club trailed by as many as 39 points.
Given how stellar the 'Canes have been of late, some leeway can be given.
Eight games remain for Halifax – more than enough for the club to overtake the Magic – but much depends on how the squad finishes out its remaining road swing.
3. London Lightning (18-16)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: Bye Week | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax
Rest, rest and more rest must be on the minds of the London Lightning as the team had a bye for week 16.
In fact, following the conclusion of the Bolts' last game on Feb.21, London only plays two matches in a 20-day stretch allowing for plenty of recovery, fine tuning and practice time heading into the playoffs.
With such a favourable schedule in hand, the Lightning along with the St. John's Edge (eight consecutive home games) are two teams who genuinely can be deciders of their outcome come April.
4. St. John's Edge (18-15)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Cape Breton
Plush and comfort awaits the Edge the rest of the way – and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Having lost seven straight road games, including a 116 -111 decision to the Sudbury Five in week 16, the club won't move from Mile One Centre the rest of the way as the squad enjoys an eight-match home stand to finish out the regular season.
That got off on the right foot on March 3 when the Edge dismantled the Cape Breton Highlanders 105 – 84 with St. John's stifling its opponent to just 32.5 per cent shooting while outpacing Cape Breton's bench 53-21.
One key element contributing to that disparity was newcomer, Murphy Burnatowski, who provided 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks in just 22 minutes off the pine.
While the Edge hold an 8-4 record at home, it is unlikely the club will catch Moncton in terms of overall record.
That means should the two teams meet in the NBLC Finals St. John's must concede home court to the Magic.
The next best thing: securing the Mile One Centre advantage until then.
5. Sudbury Five (18-16)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton
The Five may have went 2-0 (win-loss) but week 16 will undoubtedly be remembered as the moment Braylon Rayson put a stamp on his bid for the 2019 NBLC MVP.
Sans Sudbury's second-leading scorer - Jaylen Bland who missed his fifth consecutive game – Rayson had to go into overdrive to simply keep the Five afloat as he averaged 33.5 points per game and seven rebounds on 45.28 per cent shooting.
With the five-foot-nine dynamo shouldering such a heavy offensive burden and Bland's health remaining questionable, one must wonder whether the former will run out of steam come playoff time.
However that is a 'good problem' for the Five to have at the moment as the Central remains crowded with no team above or below .500 by more than three games.
6. Windsor Express (16-15)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax
The Windsor Express' downward spiral continued in week 16 as the club dropped a 126 – 123 decision to the Five on Feb.28, making it seven losses in the club's past 11 outings.
In a battle between the league's top two offensive units , it was unsurprisingly an explosive barrage that defined the game's outcome as the Express conceded a 43-37 deficit in the final frame.
While Windsor certainly was filling it up in the fourth with 14 made field goals on 61 per cent shooting, the Rose City just couldn't stop the string music from happening on the other end as Sudbury connected on six three-pointers, nine free throws and 14 field goals of its own.
Having given up 116.36 points per game during its current 4-9 (win-loss) stretch, defense must be a primary concern moving into the final month.
Luckily plenty of action – and potential movement within the standings – awaits the Express as the club plays nine games in March.
7. Saint John Riptide (14-20)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 1-2 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton
The Riptide experienced its first losing week in February as it had put together at least two wins to a single loss in every other seven-day period of the month.
After rare consecutive 100-plus point games (only occurred three times this season for Saint John) in week 15, a woeful shooting night got the better of the club as it dropped an ugly 98 - 82 loss to the Hurricanes on Feb.27.
In that match head coach Nelson Terroba's squad hit just 39.5 per cent from the floor and 27.8 per cent from long range, registering its second-lowest point total of the season.
As has been the case throughout the latter half of the season, the roster bounced back with an impressive 96 -76 win over the Magic – a key 'confidence' victory given the two teams will likely match up in the first round of the Atlantic division playoffs.
And while a five-of-20 three-point shooting night sealed the club's fate against the Titans (99-94 loss) on March 2, taken together Riptide fans can't complain too much given its team's resurgence.
With only five games remaining in a 25-day span, Saint John should be well-rested to make a serious push at the third spot especially when considering how poorly Cape Breton has been playing of late.
8. KW Titans (15-18)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 1-3 | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax
The Titans playoff hopes aren't officially over but they look even bleaker following week 16 as the club went 1-3 in a four-game road trip.
Injuries have simply decimated the club's once promising season as key contributors Joel Friesen and Greg Morrow continue to be sidelined.
Luckily Canadian standout Ashton Smith did return to the team following a five-game absence in the squad's latest match – a 120 -108 loss to the Magic on March 3.
But even so, the guard was limited to just eight minutes off the bench as he works his way back.
With the Titans not playing again until Sunday there will be six more days of crucial recovery with Friesen recently hinting at a possible comeback.
But even so, it will be tough; KW plays four of its remaining seven games on the road – all against clubs with winning records.
It is all but certain the Storm will miss out on the postseason in the Atlantic division.
The Titans seem destined to be that unfortunate culprit in the Central.
9. Cape Breton Highlanders (16-17)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 1-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @St. John's, Sudbury
Another sub .500 week has the Highlanders holding a losing record for the first time since week four as the club went 1-2 in a pair of road losses and a single home game.
The fall of the Cape has truly been something to behold as the club held the top spot in the Power Rankings just six editions ago.
They are now 2-10 in their last 12.
And indeed while the club did snap its two-game skid in a 112 – 108 win over the Titans in week 16, one can't help but think that head coach Bernardo Fitz – Gonzalez was not too happy by the week's end.
Consider that the Highlanders blew a nine-point fourth quarter lead in its 123 -115 loss to the Storm on March 1 by conceding a 43 -26 disparity in the final frame.
Follow that up with the fact that two nights later it was nearly a wire-to-wire blowout defeat to the Edge (105 -84) and it isn't hard to see why it's difficult to get excited about the Highlanders currently.
10. Island Storm (8-22)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 3-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Bye Week
It's too little too late for the Storm but it's likely the fans, organization and players could care less at this point.
The club snapped a seven-game losing skid and put together a trio of wins – and that's all that matters for now.
Bolstered by an offensive explosion, week 16 must be considered the best week of the Island's 2018 -2019 campaign as the club bounced back following a pair of fourth-quarter collapses in the previous Power Rankings edition.
Averaging 129 points per game for the week – in comparison to its seasonal mark of 105.9, Tim Kendrick's squad continued its recent offensive tear as it has now hit 120-plus points in four consecutive outings.
Had the Island only grabbed its opening win – a 135 – 96 victory over the Titans on Feb.28– it's likely week 16 would have been noted a success.
Simply consider that in said match the team set a new season-best in margin of victory (39), shot above 50 per cent for just the fourth time and racked up its highest point total of the year.
Although the sudden winning outburst comes unexpected and in a highly impressive manner, the Island have to go undefeated to even have a shot at the final playoff spot.