NBLC Power Rankings Week 17: Magic Cements Top Spot With Stirring Comeback Win

NBLC Power Rankings Week 17: Magic Cements Top Spot With Stirring Comeback Win

Club trailed by 22 heading into fourth quarter

By José Colorado

The Year of Moncton continues.

After having pieced together a historic win streak and becoming the first team to clinch a NBLC postseason berth, the Moncton Magic now hold claim to the Comeback of the Year following a 104 -100  victory against the Saint John Riptide in week 17.

With a few weeks remaining in the regular season it certainly seems as if the Atlantic club is destined for great things in the postseason as the squad has overcome much adversity thus far in the 2018 -2019 campaign.

1. Moncton Magic (22-11)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: The Island, Sudbury, @Cape Breton

Trailing 77 - 55 heading into the fourth quarter, the Magic rattled off an absurd 49 points to the Riptide's 23 to stun Harbour Station in a wild come-from-behind effort on March 6.

For the final frame, the numbers read: 17-of-23 from the field (73.9 per cent), eight-of-10 from three-point range (80 per cent), seven-of-nine from the free-throw line (77.8 per cent) and 10 assists to go along with five forced turnovers.

Even more remarkable was the fact that five Magic players went the entire fourth quarter, overcoming fatigue and a game-long complacency.

After having started the season off on such a high note to only then plummet in the standings because of a plethora of unexpected mid-season roster changes (i.e. Jahii Carson and Doug Herring Jr. signing elsewhere), it's obvious that Joe Salerno's club possesses some serious moxie.

The club has repeatedly bounced back from adversity and pushed through any obstacle with week 17 being no exception.

That resiliency will likely be rewarded come the next Power Rankings as the squad has the opportunity to reach yet another milestone in what has become a historic season for the franchise.

2. London Lightning (19-16)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Windsor, @Kitchener-Waterloo

It took everything the London Lightning had but the club got the job done at Budweiser Gardens to clinch its seventh straight victory.

Domination has been the theme of the Bolts' current winning streak as only two games have been within single digits.

That wasn't the case however in the squad's most recent 100 - 99 win versus the Halifax Hurricanes on March 7 as the Bolts nearly squandered a 24-point first half lead.

It was a game of spurts as London slowed Halifax to two sub-20 point quarters on 38 per cent shooting in the first half – enough for them to hold on in the final couple of periods.

However with bench members Xavier Moon and AJ Gaines – who are both averaging 15.75 points per game in their last four outings - coming to life of late, the Bolts again outscored the opposing team's pine (49-33).

And with the Lightning heading out on a four-game road swing, it will be interesting to see whether the winning act travels as the club is just 7-9 (win-loss) away from Budweiser Gardens this season with its seven-game win streak all coming at home.

3. St. John's Edge (19-15)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Kitchener-Waterloo (Twice), Saint John (Twice)

The home cooking is well underway in St. John's as the Edge won its second consecutive home game by double-digits in a 105 - 92 victory over the Cape Breton Highlanders on March 4 at Mile One Centre.

Buoyed by an excellent opening (30-16) and closing quarter (32-20), the Edge outpaced its opponent through superb ball movement (27 assists, 11 turnovers) and doubling up in made three-pointers (16 to eight).

As noted last week in Canada's Court, the addition of forward Murphy Burnatowski has simply opened another dimension to the club.

The forward has provided scoring (16 points per game) and defense (four blocks per game) in his pair of matches but it is the latter that must really get head coach Doug Plumb excited.

With Burnatowski in the line up the Edge are conceding just 88 points per game – well below its 102 seasonal mark.

And at six-foot-eight and 235 pounds the swingman provides invaluable switching options, length and agility against opposing guards and forwards.

Granted it has been a small sample size since his addition but things are definitely looking much better on The Rock than in weeks past.

A pivotal round of games lies ahead however as St. John's plays four games in six nights – a span that could largely determine whether they are the Central's No.1 seed heading into the playoffs.

4. Halifax Hurricanes (20-15)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 1-2 | Upcoming Schedule: Bye Week

Maybe there are some kinks to work out before playoff time after all.

Following the conclusion of the 'Canes seven-game win streak on March 3, the club started off week 17 with a pair of losses, including an embarrassing 147 -124 thrashing at the hands of the Windsor Express.

The team did get back on track by blasting the KW Titans with 12 three-pointers and a sizzling 56 per cent shooting night in a 136 -108 blowout win on March 10.

But even so, head coach Mike Leslie can't be too pleased with his team's lack of defensive focus recently as Halifax has conceded 113.2 points per game over its last five outings – well above its 101.8 mark on the year.

Perhaps not by coincidence, all of those games came on the road where the 'Canes are just 9-10 on the year.

While it's evident the offense may fluctuate on the road given the change in rims, playing surfaces, lighting conditions and bevy of other factors, Halifax must make certain its defensive intensity remains undeterred as it is a key element to its success (NBLC's third-best defensive team).

5. Windsor Express (17-15)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: London, @The Island

The Express' inconsistency headlined February but its most recent showing might be the breakthrough it has longed for.

In a 147 -124 demolition of the Hurricanes on March 6, the Rose City led by as many as 27 points as the club connected on a season-high 19 three-pointers en route to 27 team assists.

Ryan Anderson and Chris Jones both had gigantic efforts against the league's (then) second-best defensive unit with the latter leading the way at 38 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Yet it was Anderson who ultimately grabbed the headlines with his long-distance act.

Windsor has a solid test to see whether it has truly taken a step in the right direction with the streaking Lightning coming to town Wednesday.

6. Sudbury Five (18-17)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Moncton, @The Island

A 138 – 133 loss to the Cape Breton Highlanders didn't help the Sudbury Five's playoff chances but it didn't hurt them either as the KW Titans were unable to make up any ground in the Central.

In a wild shoot-em-up affair, the Northern Ontario boys were defeated despite putting up a season-high in points (133), field goals made (50), three-pointers made (22) and assists (28).

A large part of that offensive explosion comes from the re-emergence of shooting guard Jaylen Bland who returned following a five-game absence.

A large part of that offensive explosion comes from the re-emergence of shooting guard Jaylen Bland who returned following a five-game absence.

Indeed Bland's blistering offensive return reflects the current state of affairs in Sudbury as Logan Stutz's club has found its stroke the past couple of matches, averaging 129.5 points per game as a team.

That spells good news come the postseason because at this point it's evident – especially following week 17 – that Sudbury won't be beating any teams with its defensive prowess; they're ranked dead-last in points given up per game at 114.5.

7. Cape Breton Highlanders (17-18)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton

Despite the addition of Devin Sweetney, it has been anything but sweet results for the Highlanders.

Sure, the forwards' numbers have been spectacular at 27.8 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 48.7 per cent shooting but that hasn't translated to team success as the club has gone 1-3 since his acquisition with two (nearly three) of those defeats being by double-digits.

Indeed the club did pick up a win to conclude week 17 in a high-scoring 138 -133 game on March 10 versus the Five but it took the best scoring night of the season for Cape Breton to barely squeeze away the victory.

Simply put, the defense has been awful of late, particularly when it comes to closing out shooters.

In its last four outings the Cape has given up 116.5 points per game with its opponent hitting an average of 15.25 triples per outing on 38 per cent shooting.

That would make the club the second-worst defensive unit at guarding the three-point line, just a few ticks behind the Sudbury at 38.2 per cent.

With five games against Atlantic rivals to close out the regular season, head coach Bernardo Fitz-Gonzalez will have one last look at each team to strategize for an upset come playoff time.

8. Saint John Riptide (14-21)
LW RANK: 7| LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @St. John's (Twice)

Anger, shock, frustration or embarrassment – whatever turbulent emotion you may think of, it's likely the Riptide experienced it and then some following a monumental week 17 meltdown.

The details of the fourth quarter collapse are well-documented (see Moncton's section).

But what must sting most for the Riptide faithful is the fact that Saint John – the league's worst scoring team at 95.5 points per game - wasted one of its best offensive nights of the year.

In the match the club shot above 50 per cent from the field and three-point range for just the second time all season while dishing out a season-high 32 assists.

The loss comes at an even more inopportune time as the club is currently making a push for the third seed in the Atlantic postseason.

However when diving deeper into the numbers, the Riptide have actually played both top-seeded teams (i.e. Moncton and Halifax) very tough in their respective season-series and really should have no preference for the playoffs.

In fact versus the Magic the Riptide went 2-4 with only one loss coming by double-digits.

Against the Hurricanes the season series went 2-5 with, again, just a single defeat being decided by 10 points or more.

In other words it's likely the organization could care less about who they are playing against but more about its quality of play to ensure choke jobs such as that in week 17 are eliminated in a few weeks' time.

9. KW Titans (15-19)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @St. John's (Twice), London

Even the threat of its playoff hopes being imminently dashed away couldn't spur the KW Titans to play inspired basketball as it went limp in a disastrous 136 -108 home loss to the Hurricanes on March 10.

The Titans gave up 41 first quarter points and couldn't recover the rest of the way as KW's offense lagged (four-of-19 from three-point range) while its defense couldn't muster up enough stops, conceding 73 points in the second half on 68.42 per cent shooting.

In a season mired with key players missing chunks of time, the club was dealt yet another blow just prior to tip-off.

With the loss, KW isn't officially eliminated from the playoff chase but it will be pretty darn tough; four of its next six games are on the road and all are against teams with winning records.

There was some good news however that came out of week 17 as formerly starting point guard Ashton Smith – playing above 20 minutes for the first time since Feb.17 – dropped 16 points, four rebounds and five assists off the bench.

If only the club could get Joel Friesen (out since Jan.31) back, then the team may actually have a chance at making a serious push.

10. Island Storm (8-22)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: N/A | Upcoming Schedule: @Moncton, Sudbury, Windsor

An unfortunate weather situation couldn't have come at a worse time for the Island Storm riding high off a colossal trio of victories in week 17.

With the club's momentum momentarily stalled, the Island have seven days to prepare for the Magic on Monday.

Indeed that should mean a more nuisance game plan but it also signifies a sizable 'cool-off' period between matches.

And given the team's consistent struggles throughout the 2018 -2019 campaign, one must think that rest is not the solution at this point.

Rather simply fortifying and bottling up its week 16 success as quickly and as repeatedly as possible could do wonders from a confidence standpoint.

Luckily for head coach Tim Kendrick and company, the Storm still have nine games to end the season on a high-note.

The goal must be to make March its first winning month of the season.