AFTER a difficult start to the year that has seen them clock up plenty of miles on the motorway, Durham Wildcats are hoping to get their play-off push back on track when they return to their home court at Newton Aycliffe Leisure Centre this evening.
Durham have been on the road since the turn of the year, with defeats to Worcester and Plymouth having followed hot on the heels of a comfortable win over Surrey United at the start of the month.
Surrey provide the opposition once again tonight, and given that Wildcats' only away wins all season have come against United, another victory is surely essential if they are to keep their end-of-season play-off hopes alive.
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Paul Elderkin should return for Durham after recovering from an ankle injury, while former Newcastle Eagle Joel Madourie is back in training and itching to get on court for his new team.
Surrey recorded their first win of the season when they saw off Manchester Giants earlier this week, but Durham will still start as favourites as they look to complete a hat-trick of wins over the BBL basement boys.
Player-assistant coach Ralph Bucci said: “We have to be winning these games if we are to be in contention for the play-offs come April. The team remain in high spirits despite our recent dip in form, and we are confident that we can get the job done in front of our home fans.
“They (Surrey) have a roster that can cause any team problems on their day. They are continually growing, both on and off the court, and I'm sure they will cause some upsets between now and the end of the season. We must remain focused throughout all four quarters if we are to get the result required.”
Tonight's game marks the start of a busy weekend for Wildcats, who will head down the M1 to take on London Lions in the Copper Box at the Olympic Park on Sunday night.
London have been in good form of late, and caused a huge upset in the East Midlands last weekend when they beat reigning BBL champions Leicester Riders.
Durham claimed an 83-73 win when the sides met at Newton Aycliffe in October, but Wildcats play caller Lee Davie is expecting a much tougher test in the capital.
Davie said: “They have a fantastic home record this season, so we're expecting a very tough, physical game on Sunday. They have a very deep squad which coach (Vince) Macauley has been maximising really well.
“They have the veteran leadership experience of Rod Brown, Mike Martin and Julius Joseph, while Chez Marks looks like he and the other imports have fitted in well. They're all in a good rhythm and have collected some impressive wins.”
London are four places ahead of Durham in the table, but their defeat at Newton Aycliffe provided a reminder of how far the Wildcats have come since Davie replaced Dave Elderkin in the summer.
They passed the turn of the year with a realistic hope of making the play-offs, and London boss Macauley has been impressed with their progress this season, even if he is determined to avenge his side's defeat from earlier in the campaign.
Macauley said: “Mike Allison had a career performance against us that day and, with full respect to Durham, we were absolutely awful that game.
“We had no Americans in and we were very short handed, but credit to Durham for the win. They've certainly made huge strides from last season.”