The Lightning kick off their season on Saturday with a visit to their familiar foes, the Niagara River Lions. The matchup will be the twentieth time that these two teams have met, with London leading the series 15-4.
London heads into the 2017-18 campaign after a very successful pre-season, beating the Raptors 905 of the G-League and the Windsor Express in their two preparation games.
The team returns many of the key faces who led the squad to their third NBLC Championship, including league MVP Royce White, and Finals MVP Ryan Anderson. Also returning are key figures like Joel Friesen, Marcus Capers, Mo Bolden and Garrett Williamson. London also added Yohanny Dalembert, who looks to play a significant role in the front court, and former Bolt DeAndre Thomas.
The game will also be a significant one for Lightning coach Keith Vassell and newcomer Kirk Williams Jr., as both were members of the River Lions last season.
After a rocky start to the season, Vassell was named coach around the midway point of the season for Niagara, and was a big part of the team nearly sneaking into the playoffs. Williams Jr. led the River Lions in points and rebounds last year.
Niagara will be looking to get back on track this year after a disappointing end to last season, narrowly missing the playoffs. The River Lions return two key figures in their front court, with Sam Muldrow and Carl Hall.
The River Lions also added a familiar face in Omar Strong. Fans might remember him from the 2014-15 season where, as a member of the Mississauga Power, he twice scored over 40 points in a game en route to winning 6th man of the year. He also held the record for most three pointers made in a game, until it was broken by London’s Anderson last year.
While it’s very early, and difficult to tell what these two teams are going to look like this season, one thing is clear; both teams have put a premium on having three point shooters throughout the lineup. It was a formula that worked to perfection for London last season, with their shooters keeping defences honest. This gave White space to operate in the post; and if teams tried to double team him, the shooters could make them pay.
As for Niagara, look for Hall to play this interior role. He averaged 15 points and 6 rebounds in a similar role last year, but that came off the bench. The new year gives him the chance for more minutes. Defending him (and the interior in general) will likely fall to White. That leaves Muldrow; whose height and ability to stretch the floor will make him a difficult assignment, potentially a job for Dalembert. As for Strong, coverage will likely be handled collectively by their long armed wing players.
Tip-off is Saturday November 18th at 7:00 pm in St. Catharines. The game can be seen on YouTube, or you can stay up to date at the London Lightning Twitter page.
At A Glance
All-Time Head to Head: Lightning 15-4
Last Season: Lightning 7-1
2016-17 Points Per Game: London 114.64 | Niagara 100.75
2016-17 Rebounds Per Game: London: 48.93 | Niagara: 48.55
2016-17 Assists Per Game: London: 26.40 | Niagara: 22.55
Last Matchup: Lightning 127 | Niagara 119
Lightning: R.White: 22, M.Phillips: 21
River Lions: M.Lewis: 20, T.Murray: 18
– by Chris Croucher