The London Lightning might have beat the short staffed Montreal Jazz 138-125 on Sunday (Jan. 20) at Budweiser Gardens, but add a few more players to the away team’s bench and there might have been a different score.
With just seven players dressed compared to the 12 suited up for the Lightning, the Jazz trailed London by 24 points headed into the fourth quarter, but almost made a game of it when they managed to come within eight.
Call it a small Jazz team, that had little room to tinker with, getting into a rhythm or the Lightning forgetting to play defence, but the matchup shouldn’t have been as close as it was between polar opposite teams in the National Basketball League of Canada’s ranking.
The 125 points given up by London is the most an opponent has put on the scoreboard in the team’s two short years. On the other end, the mass baskets is the second-highest put up by a Montreal team that averages 91.61 points a game — a league worst.
“I felt like we should have finished a lot stronger,” said Lightning forward Jeremy Williams, who tied Tim Ellis with a team-high 23 points in the game. “We got sort of lackadaisical around the fourth quarter, so we could have finished a lot stronger.”
Despite the highlight reel dunks from players like Williams or Marvin Phillips, the game probably won’t leave a lasting impression on Lightning fans that won’t see their team return to Budweiser Gardens until Feb. 10.
Of the 15 games remaining in the season, London will be hitting the road for 11 of them.
The Lightning have been a nightmare for opposing teams looking to get an edge on the league’s top squad by playing them in their home gym.
London’s only two losses came at Budweiser Gardens, while they’ve been flawless away with a 9-0 record.
“On the road we have to go into a different mindset, it’s like us against the world,” Williams said.
The Lightning’s visiting victories are a bit of an anomaly compared to the rest of the league.
At home, every team in the league except for Montreal has a winning record and even the lowly Jazz’s only two victories of the year came at the Centre Pierre-Charbonneau.
Other than London, only the Windsor Express and Summerside Storm are over the .500 mark for winning away games and both those teams squeak by at 7-6
Excluding the Lightning, the combined home record of all teams in the NBL-C is 54-30 (64 percent victories), while the road games have a nasty tally of 29-60 (33 percent).
London isn’t doing anything different on the road. They score a little less, but they don’t allow as many baskets, which translates to about the same scoring margin.
“We’re going to each game with a game plan and we’re executing it,” said Lightning veteran forward Rodney Buford. “A lot of these teams are out for themselves and they want stats and numbers, we’re trying to win a championship. We all got the same goal. You have to take that attitude at home and on the road.”
It’s always sweet to beat another team in their gym, maybe even more so in London where the fans yell alongside Lightning head coach Michael Ray Richardson when they think the refs made a bad call and cheer with the players when the team pulls off a nice basket.
The fanfare isn’t the same across the league though, so it might be sweeter for the Lightning to beat some of the out of conference teams where the fans are most like home. Six of London's 11 final road games are against Eastern Conference teams, where the Halifax Rainmen boast a league leading 2,412 average attendance every home game to the division’s least packed gym of 1,626 per game at the Moncton Coliseum of the Miracles.
London averages 2,337 every time out at Budweiser Gardens, while the rest of the Central Conference greatly lags behind with Windsor getting 721 people, Montreal seeing 487 and the Oshawa Power needing a big boost with just 440 fans.
“We practice in front of no one, so what’s the difference?” Buford said. “As long as we can come in and stay focused, we don’t care who’s in the stands (during road games).”
According to coach Richardson, shooting guard Morgan Lewis is expected to be taken off the injured reserved list Monday (Jan. 21) after sitting out for more than a month with a knee injury.
With Lewis’ return the Lightning will have too many players on the roster and someone will have to be pushed off.
“D’Andre Thomas, he’s out,” Richardson said, about the Lightning’s biggest man on the squad standing in at 6-foot-8. “It’s a guards league and we need another guard.
“We’re probably just going to send (Thomas) home.”
London will travel to Prince Edward Island to take on Summerside on Thursday (Jan. 24), then travel to New Brunswick to play Moncton on Friday (Jan. 25) and wrap up the week in Windsor on Sunday (Jan. 27).