'Scary' trip to Lions' den awaits on-song Raiders
GAVIN LOVE is wary of Marjon Plymouth Raiders getting into a high-scoring shoot-out at London Lions tonight (7.30pm).
Raiders hit the road and bid to go 9-3 in the BBL Championship before Sunday's big game back at the Pavilions against defending champions Newcastle Eagles (4pm).
It is a potentially pivotal three weeks for Raiders coach Love and his players, who can establish themselves as legitimate contenders in the title race or they can fall away.
In short, Raiders could be 10-3 come Sunday night; or they could be 8-5. The difference is huge.
Raiders centre Matt Schneck, who is leading the league in rebounding in 2012/13, said: "We have confidence, so as long as we play with energy tonight and understand the importance of this month for us, I think we'll be alright."
Love said: "We value every win this season – every one is massive. I'll be ecstatic if we win tonight. But we have to play a really good game to get out of there with a win."
Lions, impressively, are 6-2 on their court at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre this season.
Only the BBL's top two, Leicester Riders and Eagles, have won there.
Raiders have already met Lions twice this campaign in two contests they largely controlled at the Pavilions.
Raiders prevailed 108-86 against Lions in September and three weeks ago won 108-98.
Raiders enjoyed leads as large as 27 and 23 points respectively in the victories, while across all 80 minutes Lions have only led by as many as four points. But home advantage is big for a Lions team who are 1-6 on the road this season.
Lions boss Vince Macaulay said: "I think we've played about one half of basketball in our two encounters with Plymouth.
"We pressed them and finished well in the second half last time, but they'll be ready for that. We'll move to a different strategy."
Shooting-guard Orlan Jackman, leading Lions in scoring, rebounds and assists this season, said simply: "We finally get to play Plymouth at our place."
Love, whose team are coming off back-to-back wins last weekend, said: "London are vastly improved from the first time we played them. They're a good team; I like the way they play – they play to their strengths."
He added: "They use their athleticism and speed. Yes, they turn the ball over a lot but they force opponents to turn the ball over a lot. We had 20 turnovers the last time we played them.
"We just have to take care of the ball. If we take care of the ball, I think we win the game, but London are a scary prospect, especially at their place."
Only 0-12 Mersey Tigers have turned the ball over more this season than Lions, who average 18.5 turnovers per game. Raiders average a second-lowest 13.8 turnovers a contest.
Jackman, who is supported by Lions' other main scorer, forward Tayo Ogedengbe's 17.1 points per game, almost alone encapsulates erratic Lions – a lot of good things mixed with a few bad.
"Jackman turns the ball over too much, but he can really score," said Love. "He's very hungry and that's key for them – they have hungry players.
"I think tonight London will press full-court, man-to-man on defence and try and take us out of our gameplan.
"On offence, they will run and run and run. It's the only way they know how to play, but it works for them, so why not?
"We have to be smart, handle their defensive pressure and make good decisions.
"Yes, we like to play uptempo but London are probably the one team we don't want to try and play uptempo against, otherwise the score might be 130-120."
Schneck said: "We have to understand tonight could be a trap game for us against an athletic team who are in form.
"London have had some big wins and have some confidence."
Raiders are being led in scoring this season by their backcourt, guards Jeremy Bell and Michael Ojo, who are averaging 20.7 and 20.8 points per game respectively.
On the wing, small-forward Colin O'Reilly is contributing 16.5 points per game, while up front Schneck is adding 14.8 points and 11.4 rebounds a night.
In support, rookie forward Javarris Barnett and back-up guard Drew Lasker are averaging 11.5 points and 9.0 points a game respectively.
Forward Jamal Williams and back-up centre Liam Potter complete an eight-strong rotation.
Love's new-look line-up are 10-4 in all competitions this season and include five new faces alongside Bell, Ojo and Williams.
Interestingly, Love said: "I think we're there or thereabouts. We're not the most consistent team, but when Javarris Barnett and Liam Potter play well, we're really tough.
"Those two have been inconsistent, but they have showed they can really play.
"Liam can come into the game and block shots. He played great last weekend at Newcastle (Raiders won 91-83 in overtime).
"Liam gave us a presence we needed inside and was rebounding the ball. Liam's definitely improving, as is Javarris."
Barnett led Raiders with a game-high 24 points on 9/15 shooting in a 87-65 win over Worcester Wolves at the Pavilions last Sunday.
Barnett, who struggled in the opening weeks of the campaign and seemed to shoot the ball with no belief, got hot in a crucial phase of the contest in the middle of the third quarter.
Barnett scored 10 of 12 Raiders points, including two three-pointers, which allowed Raiders to take the lead for the first time in the game and go on and win it.
Schneck said: "On Sunday we definitely saw what Javarris is capable of. We have guys like Jeremy and Mike Ojo, who are established scorers in the league, but guys like Javarris are capable of stepping up to that level.
"Liam can be a big defensive presence for us and when those two step up, it certainly makes life easier when we go eight-deep and everyone's playing well."
Potter is averaging 3.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13 minutes per game this season.