Newcastle Eagles are fighting to keep their campaign alive despite suffering the latest in a long line of cruel setbacks this season.
That’s the defiant message from head coach Ian MacLeod after it was confirmed that Wesley Person Jr will miss this week’s BBL action.
Newcastle travelled to London for tonight’s clash against the Lions without one of their key scorers.
And Person Jr will also sit out Friday’s Sky Sports clash against champions elect Leicester Riders after he was struck down with a virus.
“Wes has a non-Covid illness and he’s been told to rest for the foreseeable future,” explained MacLeod.
“He’s been guaranteeing us 15-20 points per game since the turn of the year and he’s really turned things around.
“We always knew that he could score and he’s been a key part if our offence for weeks now.
“He’s been far more physical and it’s a huge shame to lose him at this stage of the season.
“As far as our offence is concerned this week it means Corey [Johnson] will have to play more of a ‘two’ role.
“And I’ll be looking for Themba [Yabantu] and Kyle [Williams] to come off the bench and take more responsibility in terms of handling the ball for us.”
Person Jr’s absence is another hammer blow to a roster ravaged by illness and injury all season.
And it comes at a time when Newcastle’s season hangs in the balance following three defeats on the bounce.
Person Jr was clearly missed as the Eagles managed just 53 points at Sheffield last Friday.
But MacLeod insisted: “We’re still fighting.
“A lot of guys in this team have won silverware before and they want to win again. It’s about staying confident but nothing breeds confidence like wins.
“The crazy thing is we did our job defensively against Sheffield.
“Our big focus in the last few weeks has been to improve defensively and we kept the Sharks to a below-par score last week.
“We’ve been shooting in the high 80s during the last 10 games but at Sheffield we scored 53 on a very low shooting percentage.
“It just seemed like the lid was on the basket but there was some poor shot selection and, of course, Wes’s absence impacted on our offence.
“For as long as he’s out it will mean different roles for different players and the chemistry changes a bit. But we know what we need to do this week.
“With London it’s about defending the three-point line. We can’t afford to let them get out to a quick start again and for us to be playing catch-up.”
London lead this season’s series 2-1 following back-to-back wins against Newcastle within the space of nine days during January.
But as recently as December 3 the Eagles showed their true colours with a thumping 96-84 win against the pre-season title favourites live on Sky Sports.
That sparkling performance stands out as one of the best of the season by the men in black but much has changed since that heady night on Tyneside.
And the Eagles head to the Copper Box Arena clinging on the eighth place in the BBL Championship with a resurgent Glasgow Rocks breathing down their necks.
Nevertheless, just eight points separate second from eighth in a congested league table and MacLeod added: “You look at London and you look at us — I think every team’s under pressure to win games right now.
“You have Leicester out in front and then everyone else. It’s been a crazy season so far.
“Manchester were looking great a few weeks back. Cheshire looked like they were making a move but they have 11 losses now.
“All of us are in a scrap for the playoff places and it’s insane when you look at the league table.
“The Riders are the one team that’s been consistently excellent — not just this season but for a few seasons now.
“Everyone else is fighting hard behind them and it’s the most wide open season for years.
“If any one of the teams below Leicester goes on a three-game winning streak it can completely change the look of the league table.”
Newcastle tip off at the Lions from 7.30pm with the action streamed live and free via the BBL Player.
Meanwhile the final few tickets for this Friday’s home game at the Vertu Motors Arena against Leicester Riders are selling fast on the box office.