Raiders told to be ruthless against the Heat and Eagles
GAVIN LOVE wants Marjon Plymouth Raiders to rediscover a ruthless streak in back-to-back contests this weekend.
Raiders entertain Surrey Heat at the Pavilions in the BBL Championship tonight (7.30pm) before defending champions Newcastle Eagles visit tomorrow (4pm).
Tonight's game is a potentially pivotal fifth versus fourth match-up, with 14-7 Raiders aiming to leapfrog 14-6 Heat, who impressively prevailed 95-78 the last time they visited Plymouth in late October.
Eagles, meanwhile, are in the thick of a fierce two-horse title race with Leicester Riders.
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There is a lot at stake.
"Newcastle will certainly want to hand it to us tomorrow," said Raiders boss Love, whose Raiders are 1-2 against Eagles in all competitions this season.
"I'm really looking forward to both games. It's going to be a great weekend of basketball and hopefully a great weekend for the fans."
Raiders are coming off a 94-84 loss at 15-8 and third-placed Glasgow Rocks last Sunday.
More importantly, Raiders are desperately trying to hit a rich vein of form and build some momentum for the BBL play-offs in April.
Love said: "We've got to learn to kick on in games.
"We've gone up by say eight points but then not kicked on. We haven't been able to get on a real run, which has been our signature."
Of tomorrow, Love said: "We're capable of beating Newcastle, but when they get going they're a phenomenal unit.
"If we play to our strengths, I think we'll be fine, but we have to make shots from outside. We haven't shot well from outside the last few games."
Guard Michael Ojo has hit an excellent 7/9 three-pointers across Raiders' last two contests, but, together, everyone else has shot a woeful 1/15.
Raiders were not any better when they lost 73-70 at home in the league the last time they faced Eagles in early December.
Raiders led by as many as 11 points, 51-40 that day against Eagles, who were minus their leading scorer, forward Charles Smith – but could not kill them off and paid the price in a bitter loss.
Eagles did not sweep all four BBL titles for no reason last season.
In brief, if Raiders do not take their chances tomorrow, a defeat is almost inevitable.
Raiders veteran point-guard Rod Brown said: "(Eagles player-boss) Fab Flournoy will have them well prepared – his preparation is outstanding. Hopefully we can shock them.
"But our intensity has to be high from the first minute to the 40th. We have to have our thinking caps on the whole game. "
Love said of that loss in December: "The last time we played Newcastle we had so many chances, so many open looks to win it was painful.
"I've watched that game-tape back many times and we missed wide open shots we would normally make in our sleep."
Brown's career – which peaked from 2006-08 with two seasons at the highest level in Europe in Spain and Greece – has come full circle.
The American from Dallas, Texas began life in professional basketball from 2000-05 in the BBL.
He left Britain for Spain's division two in the summer of 2005 just when Eagles were beginning to dominate.
They won two of the four BBL titles up for grabs every year that season before sweeping all four 12 stellar months later.
Eagles have not stopped winning since and ruled basketball in Britain.
Brown said: "I can't believe guys like Fab and Charles Smith are still going so strong! It will be good to see some familiar faces and battle against them tomorrow."
Brown added: "We need to set a standard on defence, because we can win a lot of games on pure talent.
"But in the most important games, when you need a little bit extra, we won't be able to pull those wins out of the bag.
"It all starts in practice. If you do it in practice, it will carry over into games."
Love added of bench player Jamal Williams' performance in practice this week: "Jamal has played really well in practice this week and brought that defensive intensity we need."
Of tonight's visitors to the Pavilions, Love said: "Surrey are having a stellar season and have great team chemistry.
"They pass the ball well, are really unselfish and work hard for each other.
"(Guard) Chavis Holmes is the key for them. He's a league MVP candidate.
"He's excellent, he passes, he's athletic and runs their team to perfection. I enjoy watching him play.
"Inside, Frank Holmes and Sam Cricelli are having their best seasons to date.
"Sam has found his niche with them and he's tough to contain because his movement off the ball is excellent.
"Surrey are a good team, get up and down the floor well and play hard."