D1: Rockets must be defused if Derby are to reach Championship Final
For the second weekend in succession, Derby Trailblazers must a ‘refuse to lose’ mentality if they want to extend their season and book their place in the 2016 Championship Final at Manchester’s prestigious new National Basketball Performance Centre in Belle Vue.
As NBL division one runners up, the Trailblazers have home advantage over third placed Reading Rockets, as both sides seek to extend their season and create an opportunity to contest the final piece of silverware on offer, in two weeks time.
This will be the third meeting between Derby and Reading this season, with each team having won on their respective home courts. That’s a particularly reassuring situation for Derby, whose home form has been nothing short of remarkable this season.
The Trailblazers have won eighteen out of their twenty home games in all competitions, including all thirteen league matches and of course last weekend’s 91-61 quarter-final victory over Lancashire Spinners.
However, Derby’s Assistant Coach Steve Baxter is warning against complacency as the Trailblazers face Reading in their final home game of their extended season:
“Reading always put up a tough fight. They are a good squad with a lot of experience and we know they will be very well prepared by their coaching team. Two weeks ago when we face them at their place, we didn’t play very well and lost by nine points, but that game means absolutely nothing now its playoff time.
“The match was played on a very small court which made it virtually impossible to shoot from the corners due to lack of space, so being at home does mean we can play more of our natural game.
“Of course playing at home is hugely important for us. We’ve won all but two of our home games in all competitions against Division one opponents and we were unbeaten in the league, so we are very much more comfortable in front of our own fans.
“Against Lancashire last weekend, we produced some of our best basketball of the season in two second half spells that literally blew the game apart. They both came on the back of our defensive pressure being ramped up a couple of gears.
“Throughout the season, we’ve maintained that our best offence comes from our defence and that remains one of our focal points. It starts through the pressure we can apply to their ball handlers and shooters, but it’s also about how we rebound the ball on missed shots.
“Last weekend we were fantastic, but against Reading two weeks ago we conceded far too many points off second chance opportunities. Wayne Yeboah and Antonio Robinson were two individuals that particularly hurt us in that respect, but Reading rebound well throughout the team.
“We need to try and slow D’Montre Edwards down as much as possible because he’s averaged over twenty-five points in the two games against us, which is too many from our perspective. Also Danny Carter is one of the best and most consistent big men in the league, so we need to do a good job on him too.
“We also need to produce another stellar defensive performance. We haven’t conceded seventy or more at home since before Christmas and our defence has to be the blueprint to that success. Reading are capable of scoring in bunches as they proved with a massive forty-point fourth quarter in last weekend’s quarter-final victory over against Essex Leopards.
“Defensively, I thought Kayne King and Chris Taylor in particular performed excellently off the bench for us against Lancashire. They added energy and hustle and ensured that we did not miss a beat when the starters were out. In the first half against Lancashire, it seemed as if we couldn’t get a shot to fall, yet we still went into halftime leading due to the strength of our defence,” he said.
As for Reading, their Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces is confident of his own side’s ability, but wary of the threats Derby may pose:
“I feel we are in a good moment, but this week it is important to work harder than ever to prepare thoroughly for one of the toughest games of the season.
“Despite beating Derby two weeks ago, they are unbeaten at home and have had a really good season under the guidance of Coach Matt (Shaw) who will no doubt have his team ready with both teams having a chance of making the final and claiming the final piece of silverware of the season.
“The Watts brothers have been the standouts for Derby all season, but what we like about their team is the depth and roles of their squad and the way they work hard and play for each other.
“Sydney Donaldson has been impressive throughout the campaign but they have always had different players score, defend, rebound, and do the important things that made them this year’s runners-up,” he said.
The final word goes to Derby’s Assistant Coach Steve Baxter, who says everyone in the club is on a high at present and rightly so:
“We are confident we can go further in the playoffs but we have to earn that right. The crowd were phenomenal against Spinners and we need more of the same this weekend. They were exceptionally loud from the start and that spurred us on.
“This is our last home game of the season so hopefully we can send our fans home with a smile on their faces.
“Our captain Dan Watts sat out the latter part of the Spinners game but that fortunately appears to be nothing more than a nasty case of cramp, so Reiss [Harwood] remains our only long-term concern. Consequently, we’re raring to go and hope the fans are too,” he said.
Derby’s under 18 Men and under 16 Boys also have play-off action this weekend, away to Peckham Pride (Saturday, 2pm) and home to Leicester Dynamite (Sunday, 4pm) respectively.
U18 Coach Simon Fisher says he is immensely proud of what his side has achieved:
“We started the season 0 & 3 and also went 5 & 6 just after Christmas. However, we believed in the process of getting better and improving and that led to a 10 & 1 winning run which secured our playoff berth and I believe that’s fully justified.
“The opportunity for us to play against the top team in the south is a challenge, but we have faced many already this season. We will meet this one knowing we are on the back of some good form, finishing the season strong. The players and staff have grown together as a family, learning more and more every game.
“Peckham are an excellent team, well coached and full of great players. They are fully deserving of their number one seeding. However, we go there with hope, knowing we can beat anyone as long as we execute the fundamentals of the game properly,” he said.
Meanwhile, U16 Coach Colin Henderson is a little disappointed to be facing his side’s arch rivals so early in the play-offs:
“It’s a shame the two East Midlands sides aren’t meeting in the final, but let’s not harp on about that. The season series between Derby and Leicester is tied at one-all, so this promises to be a cracking tie if everyone plays to their potential.
“The players are in good mood and anticipating a tough game. We have one player who may not make the game through injury, but a full squad on the day always gives the coach that pleasant problem of “WHO” and “WHEN”, commented Coach Colin Henderson.
“I would urge people to come along and give these young men some moral support. They have achieved a remarkable turnaround over the last twelve months and if I’m honest, they’ve exceeded everybody’s expectations,” he said.
The Men’s Division One play-off semi-final is a 7:30pm tip-off on Saturday, while the U16’s home quarter-final tie tips at 4pm on Sunday afternoon. Both games are at the Clarence Wiggins Sports Hall, Noel-Baker School in Alvaston. The U18’s will tip in Peckham at 2pm on Saturday afternoon.
Live updates for most games can be found by following www.facebook.com/derbytrailblazersclub or @derbyblazers on Twitter. All the latest news is also online at www.derbytrailblazers.com
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