Storm forecasting tough series against Rainmen

Charles Reid
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Island Storm forward Dwayne Smith, right, hits teammate Casey Love with a bounce pass during Tuesday’s practice at UPEI.

NBL of Canada playoff series begins tonight in Charlottetown

There’s only one way to describe the Island Storm-Halifax Rainmen division final and Storm head coach Joe Salerno has the honours.

“It’s going to be a tough series all the way around. Even though we went 7-3 against Halifax in the season series, it doesn’t reflect how Halifax is playing,” said Salerno. “The series will be highly competitive.”

Game 1 of the best-of-seven Atlantic Division final is tonight at 7 p.m. at Eastlink Centre. Game 2 is Sunday at 2 p.m.  also in Charlottetown.

Games 3 and 4 of the National Basketball League of Canada matchup go in  Halifax on March 20 and March 23.

The Storm (22-18) finished second in the division and defeated Moncton in four games in the league quarter-finals. The last-place Rainmen (11-29) knocked off the division-winning Saint John Mill Rats in four games.

But the Rainmen were hardy down the stretch and gave division opponents fits as they ramped up their game, particularly inside where centres Tim Parham (10.84 rebounds per game) and Raven Barber (11.07 points per game) were a stout combo and eventually wore out the perimeter-minded Mill Rats.

“I predicted Halifax would win that series,” said Salerno. “Halifax has very good bigs in Parham and Barber. Saint John has a tendency to play small ball. It’s something we’re aware of.”

Steve Tchiengang, Doug McKinney and Casey Love, brought in to replace the injured Nick Evans, are the main big bodies for the Storm. But forwards Jeremy Williams, Ed Jones and Dwayne Smith will get calls to go inside when needed.

“Williams has been playing very good. (He) and Ed Jones and Dwayne Smith are all versatile guys and they’ll be asked to play big for us. I like how we match up,” said Salerno, who guided the Storm to last year’s league final.

The Storm is mainly healthy. Point guard Al Stewart is playing more as his twisted knee gets back into shape and guard Shawn Vanzant’s ailing back is as “good as it gets,” said Salerno.

Either way, the bench and home-court advantage is a major coup in this series for Salerno. The Storm spent much of the season jigging and re-jigging the lineup and so far it’s paid off.

“We’re so deep. For instance, (point guard) Adrian Moss didn’t play the last 18 minutes in Game 4 against Moncton because Al Stewart was playing so well. The guys that’s going is the guy that gets the minutes. It’s a nice problem to have,” said Salerno.

“Having Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 at home is big. We’re 18-4 at the Eastlink Centre. We feed off the crowd’s energy. We still have to take care of business, but having Game 5 is a significant advantage.”

Games 5 to 7 will be announced at a later date, if needed.

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A look at the head-to-head meetings this season between the Island Storm and the Halifax Rainmen.

u Dec. 8

Storm 108 at Rainmen 107

u Dec. 14

Storm 82 at Rainmen 84

u Dec. 26

Rainmen 98 at Storm 106

u Dec. 31

Rainmen 95 at Storm 107

u Jan. 12

Storm 88 at Rainmen 96

u Feb. 4

Rainmen 75 at Storm 103

u Feb. 7

Rainmen 105 at Storm 114

u Feb. 11

Rainmen 111 at Storm 117

u Feb. 26

Storm 96 at Rainmen 108

u Feb. 27

Storm 113 at Rainmen 104

Organizations: Eastlink Centre, Island Storm-Halifax Rainmen division, National Basketball League of Canada

Geographic location: Halifax, Moncton, Canada Charlottetown Parham Saint John

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