As the St. John’s Edge enter the stretch run of their first-ever NBL Canada regular season, chalking up wins can be identified as the most obvious goal — maintaining, even adding to, a record that will give them give them home-court advantage when the playoffs begin next month.
But it is too simple to say that record-improving victories are the No. 1 focus over the next 11 games, says Jeff Dunlap., head coach and GM of the Edge (18-11), who have already clinched a post-season berth.
“I want this team to learn how to win,” said Dunlap, whose team opens a six-game homestand tonight at Mile One Centre against the KW Titans (5-24).
“I think we’re OK there, but we are not great. We’ve won more than we lost, obviously, and we’ve won some tight ones, but we’ve given up at least a couple we should have had.
“We need to really learn how to get the grit, the moxie, the swag that’s involved in winning games.
“In these 11 games in 30 days, that’s my No. 1 goal: closing out games, limit turnovers, make you free throws, execute your offence.
“Those things have to become vividly sharp.”
The set-up of the remaining schedule should help in that regard.
The first three-quarter of the season have been marked by frantic stretches of games in short periods interspaced by long periods of inactivity. The remaining 11 games, beginning with tonight’s matchup, will come at a more regular pace. What’s more, eight of them are at Mile One.
“We need to really learn how to get the grit, the moxie, the swag that’s involved in winning games.”
And while downtime is always good, there can be too much of a good thing, says forward Charles Hinkle, who is second in scoring on the Edge (behind Carl English) and third overall in the league.
“We’ve had some long breaks,” noted Hinkle, who is averaging better than 22 points per game, “and I’ve noticed we always have a sluggish start that first game after a long break.
“Given that we are going to have more of a routine, mostly with just a couple of days off between games, should help (counter that).
“Practice is important, but to be in game shape, you need to play games. If you’re just practising all the time, you lose that edge.
“It will be nice to be in the flow of things for a whole month.”
They didn’t make any announcements Thursday, but look for the Edge to make a move or two today in order to activate one or both of center Anthony Stover and forward Xavier Ford, acquired at least week’s trade deadline.
They each need to get into six games with St. John’s in order to be playoff-eligible.
Stover and Ford have been part of a fairly extensive roster makeover for the Edge in recent weeks and that has Hinkle suggesting cohesiveness should be a key stretch-run goal for the team.
“We have a lot of new guys. In the last month, I feel like half our roster has changed,” said Hinkle. “The biggest thing is coming together, knowing the plays, knowing each other and what the other guy is good at.
“We’ve got good team chemistry. When you put in tough stretches in the schedule like we’ve had or when things aren’t going your way, that’s when you depend on team chemistry and we are good there.
“I think a lot of that came from what we’ve been through so far. We always feel like we have one of the most talented teams in the league, but we need to keep that chemistry, too.”
When asked if complacency was a concern, especially where a playoff spot is already guaranteed, Dunlap said he had been, but after watching his team in the last few days, was feeling much better in that regard.
“I think we have been a little bit (complacent) in the last couple weeks, maybe. Not bad, but there have been times where we’ve taken the foot off the gas,” said Dunlap, whose team is 4-4 its last eight games.
“But I felt this week it was ramped right back up.
Dunlap says some of that couple because the roster is at its limit, with 14 players. But only 12 can be activated at a time, fewer than that if the team deactivates one of its five Canadians.
“The players pay attention to that. I think it makes them more focused,” said Dunlap. “They want to play.”