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Let the games begin.
The championship of the National Basketball League of Canada, that is.
It starts Friday when the Windsor Express, winner of the Central Division, host the Island Storm, champion of the Atlantic Division, is Game 1 of the best-of-seven final. Game time is 8 p.m. AT.
And the teams are well-acquainted with each other after splitting the season series 1-1 this year and the Storm besting the Express in a Game 5 decider in last year's semifinals.
The Storm, then based in Summerside, lost to the London Lightning in the final. This year, Windsor needed seven semifinal games against London to reach the final.
So it sets up what could be a dandy matchup as both franchises are aiming for its first NBL crown.
“It’s a good one. It’s going to be extremely competitive. (I’m expecting) a very physical series, real aggressive,” said Joe Salerno, Storm head coach, on Wednesday from Moncton while the team waited for its flight to Ontario. “A great backcourt. (Centre) DeAndre (Thomas) will be tough to deal with. They’re very talented, maybe the best starting five in the league, but I don’t think they are a deep as we are. I think we match up better with them than London.”
Windsor is a powerhouse. It finished first overall with a 36-14 record and swept the Mississauga Power 3-0 in the Central Division semis.
The Express features guards Stefan Bonneau and Darren Duncan, averaging 22 and 16 points, respectively, and forwards Chris Commons (18 points per game) and Thomas (12 points per game).
All four were in last year’s league semis versus the Storm.
The Island squad returns Al Stewart, who’s recovered from an ankle injury suffered last month and is back in the lineup, leading scorer and rebounder Antonio Ballard (22.3 points, 10 rebounds per game), and Charlottetown native Doug McKinney.
This year, the Storm juggled its lineup for much of the year adding Jeremy Williams and Adrian Moss from last year’s Lightning title team, and guard Nick Okorie from Mississauga.
And it’s paid off as Moss, who had his first playoff triple-double in a Game 5 win over the Halifax Rainmen at Eastlink Centre, and Okorie (18.2 points per game) have been money in the backcourt, while Williams’ defensive play and clutch shooting has solidified the Storm front court.
The Storm added guard Shawn Vanzant and centre Steve Tchiengang, both with championship final basketball experience.
Vanzant was twice in the NCAA Final Four title game with Butler and Tchiengang played for the Vanderbilt University squad that won the 2012 SEC championship.
That and tough Atlantic Conference series’ wins against the Moncton Miracles in the division semis, a 3-1 result, and the Rainmen 4-2 in the final has Salerno feeling optimistics.
When They Play
Schedule for the NBL of Canada final (all times Atlantic):
Game 1, Friday, 8 p.m., in Windsor.
Game 2, Sunday, 3 p.m., in Windsor.
Game 3, Wednesday, April 9, 7 p.m., Eastlink Centre.
Game 4, Friday, April 11, 7 p.m., Eastlink Centre.
Game 5, Saturday, April 12, 7 p.m., Eastlink Centre, if necessary.
Game 6, Tuesday, April 15, 8 p.m., in Windsor, if necessary.
Game 7, Thursday, April 17, 8 p.m., in Windsor, if necessary.
A quick look at the Windsor Express-Island Storm regular season series:
Record - Series tied 1-1.
Windsor 90 Island Storm 86, Nov. 21, in Windsor, Ont.
Leading Scorers - Windsor: Chris Commons, 21; Island Storm: Greg Plummer, 22 (no longer with team).
Leading Rebounders - Windsor: Stefan Bonneau, 9; Island Storm: Antonio Ballard, 14.
Leading 3-Point Shooters - Windsor: Chris Commons, 3-of-6; Island Storm: Amani Daanish, 3-of-5 (no longer with team).
Island Storm 103 Windsor 91, Dec. 16, in Charlottetown.
Leading Scorers - Windsor: Stefan Bonneau, 23; Island Storm: Antonio Ballard, 26 points.
Leading Rebounders - Windsor: DeAndre Thomas, 8; Island Storm: Antonio Ballard, Greg Plummer, 7.
Leading 3-Point Shooters - Windsor: Stefan Bonneau, 3-of-5; Island Storm: Greg Plummer, 2-of-3 (no longer with team).