Plymouth Raiders coach Gavin Love upbeat ahead of clashes with Eagles and Riders
WHO'D be a BBL basketball coach? You have no games for three weeks and then have five in just over a week.
That is what is awaiting Marjon Plymouth Raiders chief Gavin Love and his high-flying side, who last played a BBL Championship game on February 22.
On that Friday night, Raiders won an edge-of-the-seat thriller with Durham Wildcats – 104-100 – but since then, the basketball fixture fairy has been conspicuous by her absence.
But she's returned with a vengeance as not only do Raiders have five fixtures flung at them between today and Sunday week, but four are away, starting with Newcastle Eagles tonight (7.30pm) and form-horses Leicester Riders on Sunday (4pm).
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Sixth-placed Plymouth then are back on the road for a clash with surprise BBL Trophy winners Sheffield Sharks on Wednesday, before a brief stopover at the Pavilions with opponents Mersey Tigers two days' later and then it's fire up the Audi for a trip back north where Cheshire Jets await on Sunday-week.
But for Love, who has lost guard Rod Brown to London in the interim, it's a matter of 'not letting it get to you and getting back to doing what you love', albeit in a wham-bam format.
Love admitted having the BBL's top two first up is not ideal but insisted his players are 'more than ready'.
"It's going to be a tough nine days, especially when four games are on the road," said Love.
"It's never easy to play so many games in such a short period, but that's what it is.
"We're going to do our best to win as many games as possible.
"There's no disguising it's a tremendously difficult week, starting with Newcastle and quickly followed by Leicester.
"They are one and two for a reason. That's because they're good teams and this season have been the most consistent.
"A long lay-off doesn't help and is difficult to overcome.
"But the guys are just gagging to get back on the court and play some games.
"We've chosen two tough games to come back into it, but there's no pressure on us because we're not expected to win those matches.
"We're going to be playing without any pressure whatsover and just enjoy ourselves playing basketball again."
Newcastle are second and boast a 20-4 record, one win behind leaders Leicester and having played one game more.
Fab Flournoy's team will be looking to keep up the pressure as they defend their title.
For Love's Raiders, who have 16 wins from 24 games, they could move up to third if they win their games in hand.
"We've enjoyed some great games with Newcastle and we're looking forward to tonight," said Love.
"How will we do? A lot will depend on how Newcastle shoot the ball – they rely heavily on their shooters.
"If we can deal with that side of their game and make tough shots ourselves. I think we have a good chance.
"Our defence is improving and as you know they (Newcastle) run an extremely effective defence and will be looking to get a bit of momentum going.
"They have lost more games this season at home than they'd have wanted and as Surrey showed last weekend, Newcastle are not unbeatable.
"As long as we're focused and we're concentrating then we are more than capable of getting a win."
Love has just one injury concern ahead of the Eagles game, and that's over guard Michael Ojo.
"Aside from Michael who has only trained once in the last 10 days, the guys are all good and ready to go," said Love.
"Michael's carrying an injury but he will play a part tonight.
"We know what to expect from Newcastle and they'll be expecting a tough game from us – and our goal is to give them that – a hard game."
Eagles will aim to complete a clean sweep in regular season meetings with Raiders having won contrasting games 73-70 and 96-79 in their two visits to the Pavilions.
Newcastle also enjoyed a big win at the Pavilions – 107-90 – when the teams met in the BBL Cup semi-finals.
But, a remarkable second leg display by Raiders on Tyneside, saw Love's team up by 17 to level the score at the end of regulation time.
However, it was not to be for Raiders, as Eagles cut the eventual margin to 91-83 in overtime and made it through to the final.
Coach Flournoy has a fair idea what to expect from the Raiders but concedes Love's side have a different line-up every time they meet.
He said: "We know Raiders quite well. We have played them four times now although it does seem like every time we play them they have a different squad.
"I don't think I can remember a situation where a contending team has made so many changes during the season.
"So far this year the away team has won all the games and we really want to change that dynamic.
"They (Raiders) are talented one through seven but I really like the consistency of play that Drew Lasker and Matt Schneck have brought them this year.
"They tend to make the plays that aren't immediately apparent but really help knit the team together."
Eagles' guard Joe Chapman is also ready for a tough battle and said: "We need the right mind-set. We've lost three games at home in succession.
"I think it's the first time it's happened in Fab's career here, so we need the win.
"We have new guys and injury problems, but that can't be an excuse.
"Matt Scheck in the middle for them is capable of dominating, so we need to pay attention to him. Colin O'Reilly and Mike Ojo are really good.
"Ojo's having his best year, while Drew Lasker is a steady hand running the point and capable of scoring."
FOR report from tonight's game visit www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/plymouthraiders soon after the final buzzer