London currently holds divisional lead
By José Colorado
With two weeks to go in the NBLC regular season there is still plenty to play for.
While the four playoff teams in the Atlantic division seem all but set with the Island Storm too far behind at 10-23 (win-loss), the Central is anything but a sure thing.
In fact even when considering the divisional leader, the London Lightning (20-17), all five teams remain separated by just three games, meaning anything is possible by the month's end.
Should it get to that point NBLC officials should have a doozy of a time untangling the tiebreaker process as the league's parity has been at an all-time high in year eight.
For many Central teams then the playoffs don't begin in April; they've already begun.
1. Moncton Magic (24-12)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Windsor, @Sudbury, @Kitchener-Waterloo, @Windsor
Another week means another record for the Moncton Magic.
Joe Salerno's trot to home court advantage throughout the NBLC playoffs is all but complete following a 2-1 showing in week 18.
With Moncton's current record in hand and the club set to partake in four matches for week 19, they need only win two more games to solidify the Avenir Centre until the end of April.
Having won four of its last five outings it certainly seems as if the club is primed for just that and more as even the once ailing offense has found its groove, averaging 116.8 points during that same span – significantly up from its 103.5 seasonal average.
And with the defense continuing to be flourish (100.1 points per game allowed – second best in the league), it truly does seem like it is theirs to lose.
The Magic have simply been the best in the NBLC this season.
2. London Lightning (20-17)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Sudbury
The streak is dead.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Lightning were finally downed in week 18 via a 129 -125 loss to the KW Titans on March 16.
While the season-best winning run comes highly impressive, the signs of slowing had been showing as the Bolts managed to only squeak out its last two victories by single-digits after having won the previous five by an average of 19 points per game.
In its most recent defeat the defensive side of the ball lagged in particular as London conceded a 45-point third quarter to the Titans and allowed 120-plus points for the first time in eight games.
Nonetheless with the St. John's Edge struggling mightily and the Central Division having no one dominant force, the Lightning remain in the driving seat for its division.
3. Halifax Hurricanes (20-15)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: N/A | Upcoming Schedule: The Island, Windsor, @Cape Breton, Cape Breton
At 20-15 and the only other Atlantic-division club currently with a winning record, it's almost a foregone conclusion the Halifax Hurricanes will finish in the top half of the 2018 – 2019 Power Rankings.
Five games remain – with four of them to be played this week – following a seven-day period of inactivity.
That means the club should come refreshed and refocused after a 1-4 stretch to begin March.
Until that is proven on the hardwood however they remain behind London.
4. Sudbury Five (19-18)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton, London
The magic number is two.
Should the Sudbury Five win two of its remaining three games the inaugural franchise will have booked its first-ever postseason appearance regardless of the other teams' outcomes.
In other words, Logan Stutz's club controls its own destiny especially when considering the squad's remaining three outings will be at home where the Five are 10-7 on the year.
Aside from the enticing playoff possibility, week 18 was more of the same for Sudbury: one loss and one win; the Five have played .500 basketball over its last 10 outings.
Nonetheless the offense has been clicking of late with Sudbury posting a 130-plus points against the league's second-best defensive team to help them take a 136 -128 decision over the Magic on March 12.
In fact when looking at just March, the club has put up a staggering 129.3 points per game on 49 per cent shooting and 37 shooting from long range – numbers that should be more than enough to buoy the club to the finish line.
5. Saint John Riptide (16-21)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: The Island
It was ugly, physical and slowed basketball – and that's likely exactly how the Saint John Riptide wanted it.
In a two-game series at the Mile One Centre, Nelson Terroba's club came away with impressive back-to-back victories after stifling the St. John's Edge to consecutive sub 90-point outings.
Despite shooting below 41 per cent from the field themselves in both games, the Riptide leaned on a pair of stellar defensive efforts as it held its opponent to 42 per cent shooting.
However more importantly the 'Tide negated the league's second-most three-heavy offense to just 15-of-59 shooting (25.42 per cent) while connecting on 27-of-66 (41 per cent) of its own.
Don't look now but Saint John may be the toughest lower-seeded match up at the moment.
6. St. John's Edge (20-18)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 1-3 | Upcoming Schedule: The Island (Twice)
What was meant to be the saving grace in the St. John's Edge's schedule has turned into a living hell as the club went 1-3 at One Mile Centre in week 18, making it 3-3 thus far on the team's eight-game home stand.
In particular two ugly losses to the Riptide in which the club was held to 82 and 89 points must sting as the club went ice cold from long distance (15-of-59 for 25.42 per cent) and created minimal opportunities at the charity stripe (30 attempts).
What makes matters worse for the Edge – who failed to crack 90 points in back-to-back games for the first time all season – is the plethora of talent the club possesses.
Junior Cadougan (8.2 points on 33.33 per cent shooting in March), Russell Byrd (5.5 points on 29.3 per cent shooting) and Shaquille Keith (3.2 points on 26.7 per cent shooting) have all grossly underperformed over the past month.
Needless to say it may be a welcomed sight to see the league's worst team, the Island Storm, roll into town on Saturday and Sunday.
But even then the perennial bottom-dweller has been playing very well of late, making for no cakewalks and the potential scenario of St. John's losing home court advantage in the first round.
7. KW Titans (17-20)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Windsor, Moncton
Two titanic wins in week 18, including a 123 -109 road win versus the Edge and a 129 -125 victory over the streaking Lightning has the Titans clinging onto its playoff hopes.
The Titans' offense – which had only hit above 50 per cent once in its past 16 games leading into the week - regained its footing as Cavell Johnson's team connected on 50-plus per cent shooting in its pair of victories while hitting 44 per cent on three-pointers.
Indeed the club busted out of an offensive slump of sorts as the squad hadn't eclipsed 120-plus points in 13 games leading into the trio of matches.
And that resurgence couldn't have come at a better time.
With three games remaining there is little room for error.
There are a number of scenarios that could be explained ad nauseam especially when considering the Titans play the Five in their last match with the season series currently at 5-4 in Sudbury's favour.
But just know this: KW must be thinking sweep to even give itself a fighting chance.
8. Cape Breton Highlanders (17-19)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Halifax, @Halifax
A cold shooting night did the Cape Breton Highlanders in as they were trounced 117 -93 against the Magic on March 16.
Hitting just 37 per cent from the floor and five-of-20 (25 per cent) from three-point range, the Cape had just two players make more shots than they missed in an embarrassing home loss.
With the season-series concluding at 3-4 in the Magic's favour, it's possible Moncton was intent on sending a message to its potential first round match up.
Beyond the subliminals however an alarmingly evident trend has occurred to the Cape as the club has been held to single digit scoring in six of its last 11 outings after having achieved that mark just five times in its first 25 affairs.
For a team that remains in the middle of the pack for defense, that spells disaster for head coach Bernardo Fitz-Gonzalez come playoff time with heightened scouting reports, physicality and pressure.
Cape Breton is now 3-7 in its last 10.
9. Windsor Express (17-17)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Moncton, @Halifax, Kitchener-Waterloo, Moncton
Despite putting off its most impressive win of the season in week 17, the Windsor Express failed to duplicate that focused effort this time around as it went winless against the Lightning (115 -106) and the Storm (137 -118).
A key determinant in that outcome was the battle on the glass as Windsor was outboarded 115 – 90 in the pair of matches.
The Express were outscored 108 – 52 in bench points.
With the pine failing to produce and nearly each Rose City starter logging 40 minutes per game, it's fair to say fatigue was a factor as Windsor had either its worst defensive or offensive quarter in the second half of each game.
Things won't get much easier as the club plays four games in six nights starting Tuesday.
And with the squad now 3-7 in its last 10 matches, it isn't a hyperbole to say that the Express could potentially miss out on the postseason if it doesn't get its act together.
10. Island Storm (10-23)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Halifax, @Saint John, @St. John's (Twice)
Maybe it wasn't a flash in the pan after all.
Following a stunning week 16 in which the Storm pulled together its first three-game win streak of the year, head coach Tim Kendrick's squad duplicated its success with a 2-1 showing including an impressive 137 -118 blowout win against the Windsor Express.
Canadians Alex Campbell and Guillaume Boucard buoyed the club to success as the pair averaged 25.33 and 19 points per game, respectively.
In a season mired by poor shooting (42.6 per cent field goal percentage and 32.4 per cent three-point percentage), the Island 's sudden success can be largely attributed to the club finally hitting at some respectable rates.
Over the past six games the Storm have shot 47 per cent from the floor and 39.34 per cent from three-point range.
Not by coincidence, during that same stretch the Storm have set two new season-highs in points.
And while the playoffs may be out of reach the team has already secured its best month yet.