LONDON, Ont. — The London Lightning are proving once again why they are the best team in the NBL Canada.
Last season, they won their third league title in convincing fashion. They had a talented roster that was led by Royce White, Garrett Williamson, Ryan Anderson, and others. In the off-season, head coach Kyle Julius took a job overseas, and several key players went different routes. It left more questions than answers coming into this season.
Just when it looked as though they couldn’t get any better, they somehow did.
One could make the case that this year’s edition of the team has more talent and offensive weapons than the team that won it all a season ago. They are getting scoring from everyone on the roster, and they aren’t even at full health. Marcus Capers and Kyle Johnson are both nursing injuries, but are due back in the near future.
From the outset of Wednesday, it was destined to be a good day for the London Lightning.
The Lightning hosted “Be a Champ” day inside the Budweiser Gardens, an event for the Thames Valley District School Board. Lightning guard Ryan Anderson showcased his talents for the audience, putting together a spectacular singing performance and showing that he is much more than just a sharp-shooter from long distance.
Then, in the pre-game ceremonies, the Lightning Dance Pack aided in a wedding proposal that had everyone in a good mood before the game started. NBL Canada ambassador Saidat was surprised by her partner as the dancers did a performance to Bruno Mars’ ‘Marry You’.
She said yes, and the night was already off to a good start.
London was looking for one more win on their home court before heading off on a week-long road trip to the East Coast. They were taking on a Niagara River Lions team who was on a bit of a roll, going 9-5 since their coaching change that saw them promote Grace Lokole from assistant to head coach.
Wednesday night’s tilt between the visiting Niagara River Lions and the host London Lightning was a signature event for both sides.
For the hometown Lightning, they honoured one of the top athletes in the world to come out of London when they hosted Damian Warner night inside Budweiser Gardens. Warner is one of the marquee names in the world of decathlons, and looks like a top threat to win a gold medal come Rio 2016.
On the flip side, the River Lions were being led by a new head coach on the bench. Grâce Lokole was named the interim head coach after Ken Murray was relieved of his duties just days earlier. Lokole has an extensive background in the game of basketball, but coaching his first professional game surely brought some nerves, even if he didn’t show them.
His first task was against the best team in the league, but he made sure his team came ready to play.
It was a back-and-forth affair from the outset. Both teams took their own large lead during the game, but it came down to the wire. Niagara had the lead in the closing minutes, and it looked as though the Lightning were on the verge of taking the lead for themselves. Niagara bent, but never broke, and spoiled Damian Warner night while securing Lokole’s first win as the head coach of the River Lions.
London Lightning forward Akeem Wright missed the team’s previous two games to be with his family as they welcomed his second son into the world. After taking some much-needed time away, Wright said that everyone was doing well, and he made his return to the hardwood.
On Wednesday night, Wright was a welcome addition back into the lineup as the Lightning took on the visiting Niagara River Lions on a snowy night in London, ON. Akeem showed a bit of rust early on, but shook it off as the game moved along.
It was a back-and-forth affair for 45 minutes, before London pulled away as the game wound down. A 7-0 run broke a 113-all tie, and sent them to their league-leading 14th victory of the season.
The 2015-16 NBL Canada season isn’t even a month old, and Thursday night marked the third meeting of the season between the visiting Niagara River Lions and the host London Lightning.
Coming into the night, the teams were coming off different outcomes in their last outings. London used a big comeback on the weekend to take down the Orangeville A’s on the road, while the River Lions faltered down the stretch in their loss to the Windsor Express. Both teams were looking to put together a complete 48-minute performance on Thursday, and come away with a momentum-building win.
It was back and forth to open the first quarter, but London started to gain momentum as the first quarter came to a close. Once London took the lead, they held down their home court with a firm grip, not letting the River Lions back in front throughout the game.
The London Lightning and the Niagara River Lions are both heading into their 7th game in the young 2015-16 season in the NBL Canada, but the occasion marks the third meeting between the two teams in the early parts of the year.
They took part in a home-and-home series to open the year, with each team winning in their respective home openers. London took the first game of the season, 122-109, but the River Lions would get their revenge the next night.
In the home opener for the expansion River Lions, a buzzer-beating three sent Niagara to their first win in the league, a 106-104 win over the Lightning. It sent the crowd into a frenzy at the Meridian Center, and showed that the team was for real.
Thursday night provides each team with an opportunity for some more momentum as the season moves along. London is looking to win their second straight contest, while the River Lions are looking to bounce back from a loss to the Windsor Express in their last outing.
A stop in London is the second stop for the River Lions on their four-game road swing, and they’re looking for a win before they head out East for the first time this season.