© Guardian Photo By Jason Malloy
Island Storm forward Antonio Ballard works on his dribbling Tuesday during the team’s practice at UPEI.
It’s beginning to look a lot like crunch time in the National Basketball League of Canada and the Island Storm is gearing up for the critical point.
The Storm (13-13) has 14 games remaining before playoffs begin, two of those games are Atlantic Division battles.
The first one is versus the surging Moncton Miracles (9-18) tonight at 7 p.m. at Eastlink Centre and the second one is Friday in Saint John against the division-leading Mill Rats (16-10).
Moncton has been a thorn in the Storm’s side this season, winning four of the seven meetings.
But the Storm won Sunday in Moncton and snapped a three-game losing skid against the Miracles.
Storm head coach Joe Salerno said this bodes well for the Storm over the next few weeks.
“Basically, it’s the first time we managed to have the advantage on the glass,” Salerno said Wednesday. “With the moves Moncton made to get bigger and more physical, we matched the physicality.
“We’re starting to gel now. The last three games we’ve averaged something like 26 assists per game. We’re starting to learn to play together.”
The Storm has spent much of season tweaking its lineup for a long playoff- run formula.
Only four of the current 12-man roster remain from opening day in early November.
Bilal Dixon, a six-foot-nine, 245-pound centre is the latest addition.
The Jersey City, N.J., native, replaces recently-acquired big man Phil Jones, who was released.
Salerno said he likes Dixon’s athleticism and physical defence for his sqaud as the other NBL teams rev up for the post-season.
“I think he can step in quickly. We were looking for guy to bring some help rebounding. I think he can be kind of an enforcer inside.”
But for tonight, the Strom will have to do without him.
A winter storm Wednesday delayed Dixon’s flight from Newark, N.J., and if he does arrive today he won’t play.
Salerno hopes to have Dixon in the lineup for Friday’s game.
Storm point guard Al Stewart is out with an injured knee so the team is down to 10 relatively healthy players against Moncton.
“We have couple of nicks and dings that are nagging,” said Salerno, “but our 10 guys will be ready to go. I’m pretty well comfortable with our depth going into (Thursday).”
A few statistical leaders for the Island Storm and Moncton Miracles:
u Scoring (points per game) - Moncton: Johnny Mayhane, 19.89; Storm:Antonio Ballard, 21.92.
u Field Goal Percentage - Moncton: Jermaine Dailey, .540; Storm: Antonio Ballard, .526.
u Total Rebounds (per game) - Moncton: Stanley Robinson, 8.15; Storm: Antonio Ballard, 9.12.
u Steals (per game) - Moncton: Johnny Mayhane, 1.56; Storm: Al Stewart, 2.50.
u Assists (per game) - Moncton: Oliver McNally, 5.05; Storm: Al Stewart, 6.21.