Attention has already turned to the next challenge after Newcastle Eagles secured the BBL Championship title for the seventh time in 10 years. Wednesday’s 107-97 success against Manchester Giants ensured Fab Flournoy’s side retained their crown, and carry the number one seed into the BBL Play-offs.
But it came at a cost.
Eagles’ continued success has been all the more impressive when you consider the series of injuries they have suffered. Their midweek exertions did not help that cause, however, and this could be reflected in the team that hosts Cheshire Phoenix on Friday.
“We are just trying to find a way to win every game with what we have. Rotations will happen as they happen,” said Flournoy.
“It will be tough because we simply don’t know who will be suiting up. We picked up a couple more injuries on Wednesday night as well. Cheshire have a very talented squad and will undoubtedly by dangerous in the Play-offs.”
The Play-offs might be dangerous to Flournoy himself too.
The achilles tear suffered by the 41-year-old in last month’s BBL Trophy Final kept him away from the court for the first week of his recovery, and continues to inhibit his movement on the sidelines, increasing the load on assistant coaches Dave Forrester and Ian MacLeod.
“My mobility is severely restricted and for the first 10 days I basically had to turn it over to Dave and Ian to coach,” admitted Flournoy.
“I am gradually getting back into it but do need to be careful with sudden movements, which is not ideal when coaching a basketball game.”
Last time they met:
Newcastle Eagles 119 Cheshire Phoenix 92 (BBL Championship, Sport Central, 13 Mar 2015)
What they say:
Phoenix coach John Coffino: “They are so deep that we can’t take anything for granted.It’s a long trip to Newcastle, they are tough at home, they are a veteran club. There is a reason they are in first place, they have still won games with six players suited up.”
“It’s going to be another battle. We are looking forward to it. It’s going to be a Play-off-type atmosphere and we will see what happens.”
Heading into the BBL Play-offs as healthy as possible is the goal for Leicester Riders during the final weekend of the league season. Facing Worcester Wolves on Friday before hosting Newcastle Eagles on Saturday, there could have been a very different focus.
But Eagles’ capture of a seventh BBL Championship title in 10 years on Wednesday means the post-season will take priority for Riders coach Rob Paternostro. Perhaps most importantly, Neil Watson could be afforded the extended opportunity to regain full fitness, having sat out Tuesday’s victory against Wolves with a toe injury, which is rated as ‘day-to-day’.
“We feel like there will be guys that can use the game action,” said Paternostro.
“We want to have everybody one through 12, ready to roll once the Play-offs come. Some guys have played heavier minutes in the recent weeks. We will see, when we get closer to the game, then we will make the decision.”
Eagles themselves were forced to run with a roster of just six for Wednesday’s pivotal meeting with Manchester Giants.
There appear to be few options for injured player-coach Fab Flournoy in terms of rotation, however, the champions have won all three meetings between these teams this season, the most recent a BBL Trophy Final success.
But Paternostro does not feel a win this time around would hand his side any psychological advantage ahead of a potential Play-off meeting.
“I never buy into all that,” said the Riders coach.
“I think it’s about who performs on the day. Throughout the season you learn about particular teams and what is the best way to play them but at this stage we know where we are going to finish and getting ourselves as healthy as we can for the Play-offs is the most important thing.”
Last time they met:
Newcastle Eagles 96 Leicester Riders 90 (BBL Trophy Final, Emirates Arena, 22 Mar 2015)
What they say:
Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy: “It looks like both teams have secured their Play-off positions so I imagine the first priority for both teams will be to avoid picking up injuries.We know how good they are, their recent run has been phenomenal and I am sure if we meet them in the Play-offs it will be another classic.”