Love demands response against leaders Leicester
GAVIN LOVE wants Marjon Plymouth Raiders to bounce back to winning ways in convincing style against leaders Leicester Riders at the Pavilions on Sunday (4pm).
Love's fourth-placed Raiders suffered successive losses last weekend and subsequently lost ground in the BBL Championship title race.
In fact, coach Love claims Raiders' chances of winning the league have all but gone, believing the city side has too much ground to make up.
Nevertheless, Love said he will not be giving up the title fight, and has requested pre-Christmas wins from his talented squad to give what he feels will be a true reflection of his team's qualities.
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However, Raiders will need to inflict only a second league defeat on Sunday's visitors, who will include former Plymouth captain Anthony Rowe.
The 27-year-old will be making his 100th BBL Championship appearance at the Pavilions on Sunday, with 97 coming in Raiders' colours.
But Love played down the Rowe-factor, claiming it was not an unusual occurrence for players to return to former clubs.
He also praised Riders, saying on current form they were potential title winners.
He said: "I'm not going to get bogged down in Anthony (Rowe) coming back.
"Anthony Martin has played against us at the Pavilions. I believe he played more times for Raiders than Anthony Rowe did.
"It's not a big deal for me – I'm not going to make a lot out of it. If others do, great, but it doesn't matter to me."
Love added of Raiders' league title chances: "I don't think it's impossible, but I don't think we can win the league – losing five games is a lot.
"Losing two games is the gap between fourth and third places if you look at the table.
"Can we claw it back? Yes, of course, but we've made it very difficult for ourselves.
"But I've never known people talk about us being champions before, so that's an indication of how far we've come in the three years I've been here.
"We can beat the top teams. We've proved that but we have to do it on a consistent basis and stop letting ourselves be bullied out of matches.
"It's up to the players now to respond to a poor weekend.
"We need to improve our home form which in the past has been rock solid.
"I'm confident we can turn things around – it's early days, really."
Raiders will be scaling the standings over the next seven days as following the clash with Riders they head north for Friday's opponents, bottom-placed Mersey.
Plymouth are 8-5 going into round 14 of this season's BBL Championship campaign against 12-1 Riders, who lead all comers including Newcastle Eagles, whom they meet in the final of next month's BBL Cup.
Love's players came close to ousting holders Eagles from the cup in the semis, but just came up short after the two legs.
Raiders have also been beaten by Riders this season – 83-80 – in the east Midlands, but the feeling is that had Plymouth been at full-strength, they would have come back with a win.
Adding more chilli pepper to the blistering sauce, there is the other factor of a returning Rowe, already fired up form-wise and eager to make a point against his home-town club, whom he left one month ago today.
As if Sunday's game did not have enough resting on it, turning up the heat further is the fact Raiders have lost their last two matches and with an, unusually for them, under-whelming home record of 5-4 in all competitions.
So, no pressure then for The Herald's Team of the Year as Love calls for consistency and a more focused and ruthless approach from his players.
Narrow defeats last weekend at London Lions (95-91) and home to Eagles (70-73) has dented Raiders' title aspirations.
"We're definitely looking forward to the game. We need to start winning," said Love.
"We're looking forward to getting out on the floor and giving our all and have a win.
"We've shown we can beat anybody but at the same time can lose to anyone also.
"Clearly, we're not as consistent as we would want to be.
"We can't rely on size to overpower opposition – we're not that sort of team any more.
"We're more guard orientated and we have to shoot the ball well to win, which we have done this year overall.
"Okay, we don't rebound the ball as well as we did, but we're a very good team and have two games to re-balance the books.
"If we can get both of them we'll be 10-5, which will give us something to build on in the new year.
"If we were to lose both it wouldn't be disastrous. Winning one and losing one wouldn't be great but two wins and we'll be moving forward."
Love added: "Leicester are playing good basketball at the moment, but so are we. People forget how close a three-point margin is in this sport.
"We lost by three to Leicester and Newcastle and by four to London, which is frustrating. It's a sliding door situation – a good weekend and everything's fine; have a bad one and it's doom and gloom.
"But this is what the BBL's like – very, very competitive.
"It went a little wrong for us last week. We were lackadaisical in London and quite frankly had a great opportunity to beat Newcastle.
"We've spent a lot of time looking at the game-tapes this week and we know we let them (Newcastle) get away with it really.
"We missed shot after shot and lay-up after lay-up, fast-break opportunities – things we should had made in our sleep.
"The result is our record now is disappointing at 8-5.
"There's no need to panic. There is a long way to go, but we have got to learn to finish games.
"That comes down to players being focused in the final minutes.
"But we still have a good team and our expectations are high. I think we put ourselves under too much pressure sometimes because of that."
Love highlighted the influence Great Britain forward Drew Sullivan has on Leicester, while admitting Riders had an abundance of quality in their squad.
"Sullivan is the guy who keeps them together," said Love.
"Without him, they are not as effective – he provides the sparks for the rookies in the team.
"They (Leicester) have the deepest roster in the league and as well as youngsters have plenty of experience, too."
Raiders' Matt Schneck is having a fabulous season and goes into Sunday's game needing 12 points to chalk up 1,000 in BBL Championship games.
Team-mate Drew Lasker is five assists away from the 500 mark.
None of these statistics were lost on Love's opposite number, Rob Paternostro who believes Riders are in for a difficult game.
Riders boss Paternostro said: "Plymouth are an explosive team. They have players that like to get out and run, and have shown the ability to put points on the board in a hurry.
"It will be important for us to play good transition defence and not allow them any easy opportunities.
"They are made up of veterans. Jeremy Bell, Matt Schneck, Drew Lasker and Colin O'Reilly are all guys who have been successful in the league. They understand what it takes to put wins on the board."