The London Lightning have what the St. John’s Edge want.
And it’s not just a National Basketball League of Canada title
“When they step onto the floor, they’re going to have a swagger,” said St. John’s head coach Jeff Dunlap about the Lightning, who will host the Edge in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Central Division final tonight (8:30 p.m. NT) in London.
“They’ll have the look of champions because that’s what they are … and they earned it. That’s what we want to look like. We don’t have that look quite yet, but we can earn it, too, starting (tonight).
“We’re a confident group and we’re playing well. I’m not saying we’re intimidated or outmatched. Far from it. It’s the knowing what it takes to win a championship, to continue ramp up to the next series in a playoff run.
“They’re very familiar with that and our guys aren’t.”
The defending champion Lightning, who were first in the division and second overall in the league with a 27-13 regular-season record, downed the Niagara River Lions 3-1 in a best-of-five first-round series. The Edge (25-15), who were third overall in 10-team NBL Canada, swept the Windsor Express in the other divisional semifinal.
In other words, this is a matchup that makes sense.
“I thought we were the two best teams on our side (of the league) all season, said. Dunlap. “Windsor was a credible threat and if (the Express) had been firing on all cylinders and we weren’t, they could have tripped us up,” said Dunlap. “But we scooted by them pretty easily.”
He’s not expecting any scoot-by against the defending champion Lightning.
Dunlap acknowledges his team “will have our work cut out for us” against London, which he sees as having “pound-for-pound… the most talent in the league.
“That main nucleus of Royce (White) and Ryan Anderson, Kyle Johnson, (Garrett) Williamson, (Moe) Bolden and (Doug) Herring is very, very good. That’s the core group that’s been there all along.
“What we have to be is the best team, the most cohesive,” he said. “Not individual pieces like they have, but a collective group that is on a mission.
“I hope that’s our mantra going into this.”
The team’s played a seven-game regular-season series, with the Lightning coming out on top with four wins. It could have easily been the other way around, if only St. John’s hadn’t unraveled in a mid-January game in London, surrendering a 17-point lead in the last four minutes of regulation before losing in overtime.
“That was a hard one. That was a heartbreaker,” said Dunlap. “But it also was an important lesson for us, too.
“They (the Lightning) kept playing that game like knew they were going to win. That’s the swagger I was speaking of. And as hard as that lesson was, we now understand that’s the way they’re going to be in this series and that will have to be the way we need to be
“We are confident we can play with them, but we need to establish we can beat them here (in London).”
The easy way to sell this series, which will continue with Game 2 Thursday night in London, is as a head-to-head matchup between the league’s two leading scorers and most recent MVPs, centre-forward White of the Lightning, the former NBA first-round draft pick, and shooting guard Carl English of the Express.
Dunlap knows that, but is hoping fans look at the big picture, too.
“They both bring scoring, obviously. They’re veterans who know what it takes to win, but they’re at totally different positions. It’s not like they’re going against each other, guarding each other.
“Royce is an enforcer. He’s a bruiser and he takes care of the paint. Carl brings all these intangibles… and ways to change a game.
“They’re both great players, but they’re entirely different players who happen to be on very good teams.
“This should be a great series.”