With the regular season done and dusted it’s in to the benecos BBL Play-Offs this weekend for Esh Group Eagles Newcastle, writes Jeff King. After securing a third-place finish in the league, the Eagles will match-up against the sixth-placed Sheffield Sharks over two legs tonight and tomorrow.
The first leg tonight will be at the EIS Sheffield tipping-off at 5:30pm and the second leg will be played at The Eagles Community Arena on Sunday afternoon at 5:00pm. The winner on aggregate over the two-legs will advance to next weekend’s semi-final stage.
For Newcastle it’s been a nearly season and the Play-Offs represent the last chance to land silverware this season. The team will need to be up to the challenge of facing a Sheffield side that actually beat them in all three league games during the regular season.
Eagles veteran guard Drew Lasker has been there, seen it and done it at this stage of the season for his side and he feels that the Play-Offs take on a different mentality to the regular season schedule.
“You have to have a little bit more of a sense of urgency at this time of the year because if you don’t win your season is over. You could tell that this week in camp as there was a lot more attention to detail. It’s been a really great week and we’re just paying the little things that bit more detail.”
“During the course of the season it’s a long year and it’s kind of hard to keep ten guys or twelve guys just locked in at all times during that. But this week we’ve had everyone locked in during all of our phases of practice. Whether it’s been on the court or in the film room it’s been real quality this week.”
The Eagles go in to the weekend’s double-header with a lot of players who have experienced the play-offs and have been around The BBL long enough to know what they mean. Lasker feels that experience can work in his side’s favour.
“To a certain extent it can help and in particular with it being an aggregate score. That’s a bit of a different wrinkle and if you’ve never played that before it can be hard to grasp. You have to look at it as eight quarters and knowing that can give you a slight edge but at the end of the day it’s about coming out and trying to win the games.”
The Eagles have as has been said have been beaten in all three games against Sheffield with the last two being in the latter stages of the season when in many respects Newcastle were under-par and under-strength. But Lasker knows they are a tough side.
“They’re tough. Obviously, they swept us this year and although it always seemed to be bad timing for us when we played them. But, hat’s off to them they took care of business. So, from that standpoint it kind of puts the pressure on them because as we always say it’s difficult to beat a side three or four times in a year.”
The strategy of two-legged ties always appears to be something that concerns those off the court more than those on it who tend to see things in a simpler way as Lasker explained.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. The coaching staff is real particular about it being eight quarters and finishing off the quarters and executing in those last forty-five seconds of a quarter and looking to build on that.”
“Me as a player I look to keep it really simple and say let’s just win two games. Win both games then all of that other stuff goes out the window about looking at scores and how much you might be up or down by. If you win both games you win regardless of the score and that’s my approach just win both.”
Eagles have been hampered by injuries over the last few weeks of the season and have almost limped across the final finish line in league play but now it’s the Play-Offs there’s a different outlook.
“No-one on our team or even in the league is at a 100%. This time of the year you’ve just got to strap up and get on with it. It’s not ideal but it is what it is you’ve just got to get out there. You get plenty of time to rest up in the summer. So, we’ll all be strapping up and going out there and giving our best.”
“I’m very confident in this team and our guys. Before we got our injuries, I felt we were peaking. If we can get back to that form and rhythm then I’m sure we’ll be alright.”