LA Confidential: Fireballs 2-1 in Pre-season Dance

  • By Jron Magcale, Day 1, 2024

The Fireballs went on to test the new lineup in JBL preseason play and went on to finish 2-1, splitting the road with a win vs Blizzards and a lose vs Lightning and ending the preseason on a high note with a win at home vs the new look Vipers. The Fireballs tested the new system of Coach Alton Wilkes Run and Gun in which looks like a balanced run of Pick and Roll, Transition and Spot up mixed with the occasional LaCruz Iso. The team chose to be on the road on the 1st 2 games and ending their pre-season at home. "We are pleased on how our offense was run during the pre-season. It is slightly different to Coach O's run and gun system as we are incorporating pick and roll a little bit more and hitting some of our perimeter shots to open up the attacking lanes. The team is getting the hang of it and I think that the boys are ready." Coach Wilkes told the media.

Fireballs Escaped Blizzards in Minneapolis

Blizzards - 113
Fireballs - 126 W

The Fireballs opens up the preseason games as they visited the Blizzards in Minneapolis. 2023 Season MVP Chris LaCruz quicly went to work as he scored 33 points (13/25 FG, 5/7 3FG, 2/2 FT) putting work against the bigger Deleon Slay (6'8" PG). LaCruz made his damage by smartly using the pick and roll scoring 14 out of his 33 points on it. He also finished with 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks rounding up the night. New additions guard Jamaine Curry and pivot James Spencer drops 23 points a piece. Spencer had a double-double adding 10 rebounds while shooting 9/15 on the floor. Curry was disruptive in the perimeter as he recorded 5 steals while grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing 2 assists. We had a glimpsed of the LaCruz-Curry transition as 14 out of the team's 18 transition points are from the run and gun duo. Randall Dozier and Tez Ellison had an off night as Doze was only able to score 6 points (2/14 FG, 0/2 3FG, 2/4 FT) but did grab 10 boards and was a factor in the defensive side swatting 2 shots and recording 2 steals. He did showed his effectiveness in the pick and roll recording 6 screen assists and was active defensively contesting 12 shots and deflecting the ball twice. Tez Ellison shot 4/12 FG (2/7 3FG) but did facilitated well as he recorded 9 assists, he snag 4 rebounds and had 2 thefts. The team's 6th man Rahmond "TRex" Thompson was efficient scoring 13 points on 5/7 FG and 3/3 FT. He also contributed 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal in 24 minutes. Quin "Ziggy" Dziagwa the 2nd round pick of the Fireballs also contributed with 8 points (3/4 FG, 2/3 3FG), 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 11 minutes.

The Fireballs comes out firing early as they outscored the Blizzards 63-47 in the 1st half. The Blizzards tried to bounce back as they scored 66 in the 2nd half however the Fireballs paced them by scoring 63 points which is enough to seal the win. The Blizzards had an all around effort for high flying wing Donovan Mobley who recorded 12 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists but also turnover the ball 6 times. Blizz got majority of their scoring from Donovan Galloway who went on and scored 29 points on 12/20 FG and had 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal. Sharpshooter wing Donnell Wallace was the 2nd leading scorer for the Blizzards with 17 points on 7/17 FG including 3/8 3FG. Deleon Slay has his hands full guarding Chris LaCruz but was active defensively registering 4 blocks and 2 steals. Offensively he had a quiet night 10 points on 5/11 FG and dishing 5 dimes. Rookie Colin Webster played 25 minutes as the starter and was perfect 6/6 FG including 1/1 from the 3 point area for 13 points, another rookie with a perfect shooting night for the Blizz is Blaze Funderburk who scored 10 points on 4/4 FG and 2/2 FT. "It was a good game for us to test out our new system which is from the run and gun base we had before. The Blizzards are fast and athletic and have size for their backcourt. So, it is a good test run for us and we were able to identify some of the areas we need adjusting." Coach Alton Wilkes said after the game.


Lightning Struck the Fireballs in OT

Lightning - 124 W
Fireballs - 119

The Fireballs visited the Lightning in Houston and was in for a test. The Lightning were ready as both young forwards Jarrell Harrison and Keiron Worthington both scored 26 and 25 points respectively. Veteran center Antoine Hall was limited only to 17 minutes but was able to contribute 13 points and 9 rebounds. The Fireballs didn't have no shortage of scoring with their star PG dropping 44 points on 17/31 FG, 5/9 3FG and 5/5 FT, he also grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 6 dimes, blocked 2 shots and had a steal. Helping him with scoring is Tez Ellison who bounced back from a slow night at Minneapolis by scoring 24 points (8/17 FG, 2/7 3FG and 6/8 FT) he also recorded 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Randall Dozier who also had a bad shooting night bounced back scoring 19 points on 7/13 FG (1/3 3FG and 4/6 FT) while registering 11 boards, 2 assists and a steal. This time Jamaine Curry and James Spencer had bad nights scoring Curry with 7 points (3/13 FG, 1/5 FT) while Spencer shooting 3/9 FG scored only 8 points. Spencer did snag 10 boards but was not having a good night overall as he recorded 8 turnovers. Curry while sour in his shooting did well defending with 4 steals contested 8 shots and deflected the ball twice. LaCruz was unstoppable playing against a young backcourt of the Lightning as he run circles on his match up scoring 15 points on Pick and Roll, 9 points on 7 Iso and 10 points in 4 transition.

The Lightning went to work early as they scored 70 1st half points and caught Fireballs lacking scoring only 57 points. The 2nd half the Fireballs decided to play defense and as they got Lightning scoring on 15 points in the 4th quarter while they scored 29 to force OT. Lightning outscoring the Fireballs inside 68-46 and never fell behind the Fireballs. The Lightning bench also was active scoring 41 points to Fireballs 19. Houston also took care of turnovers as they scored 23 points (from 16 turnovers) of it and Fireballs didn't convert any points out of 10 turnovers they forced. The Lightning Bash brother Jarrell Harrison and Keiron "K-Worth" Worthington who combined for 51 points showed potential. Harrison who scored 26 points (12/17 FG, 2/3 3FG) also grabbed 10 boards had 4 dimes, blocks the ball 4 times and had a steal. K-Worth scored 25 points (12/24 FG, 0/4 3FG, 1/1 FT) also had 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 1 block. But the story of the night was late 2nd round pick starting PG Darryl Caldbeck who was 0/7 on the floor including 0/3 3FG was able to manage the game by dishing out 17 assists with 0 turnovers he also was able to grab 6 rebounds and had 2 steals. He matched up against Chris LaCruz the whole game too. The Lightning employing a small backcourt lineup had 17 points from DeAndre Buie at the SG position as he scored 17 points on 8/20 FG. Their bench was also a factor as they got 14 points from Derrick Poole, 11 points from Carter Barlow and 10 points and 11 rebounds from Eric Dawson. "They came in active, those little guards they have was running all around jacking up shots but it was their forwards who did damage early. They were efficient and knows how to use the block. It was a tale of 2 forwards K-Worth was solid as the roll man while Harrison did damage on spot ups. We're impressed really. We had our chance but it wasn't for us. Overall it's good development for us, we are starting to see what works and what isn't and we'll try to work on them as we move on." Coach Alton Wilkes addressed the media after the game.


Fireballs Close Out Pre-season with a Win vs Vipers

Fireballs - 101 W
Vipers - 96

The Fireballs last pre-season game was against the defensive minded Pittsburgh Vipers which they hosted at home. It is a good change of pace for the Fireballs as they were forced to play the Vipers Grit and Grind pace (Game Pace was at 85 and previous 2 games at 105). Chris LaCruz lead all scorers with 31 points (14/23 FG, 1/3 3FG, 2/3 FT) and also recorded 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 steal. The Vipers did good by not allowing Fireballs to set up the pick and roll that much with LaCruz (he only ran it 9 times for 8 points) but he did a balance attack scoring 6 points off 3 iso plays and 8 points on 8 transition plays en route for a 31 point night. Vipers Tyler Davis was bodying LaCruz up whole game but LaCruz 6'6" and 208 lbs was too much for Davis' 6'5" 185 lbs frame. Jamaine Curry had a good day shooting the basketball as he didn't miss in the field going 7/7 FG (2/2 3FG) but he did miss 1 FT (1/2 FT) for 17 points, James Spencer also scored 17 points (5/11 FG, 1/1 3FG, 4/6 FT) and grabbed 12 rebounds while swatting 5 shots. Tez Ellison scored 12 points (4/7 FG, 2/5 3FG, 2/7 FT) in 23 minutes as he was in foul trouble Randall Dozier scored 11 points (4/9 FG, 0/1 3FG, 3/4 FT) had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a block. The slow paced game put the Fireballs offbeat but was able to take care of business at the end of the game. Spencer and Doze were able to play their part in the defense as they contested shots actively Spencer with 15 contested shots while Dozier with 13, Doze also forced a charge and forced a loose ball. LaCruz in his part contested 7 shots, deflected 3 times and forced loose balls 3 times as well.

Fireballs was in their usual strength early on scoring 58 in the 1st half to Vipers 52. Fireballs were able to maintain the lead as they scored 43 points in the 2nd half exactly the same with the Vipers to come away with the win. Vipers defense prevented the Fireballs outside shooting as the Fireballs were only able to convert 7/17 from the outside but they themselves had a bad night from the 3 ball as they shot 5/26 3FG. Treyvon Miller had a big game with 29 points and 8 rebounds doing damage in the post as he scores 18 points in 13 possessions under the basket. He also added 8 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. Rookie wing Eric "Eazy E" Greely played 29 minutes but was able to score 20 points (8/17 FG, 3/9 3FG, 1/2 FT) while also grabbing 6 boards, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal. Veteran big Marcus Wright also contributed in double figures with 13 points (3/5 FG, 7/7 FT) also recorded 8 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists. The Fireballs wasn't able to push the ball like they normally do and was forced to play in the Vipers' pace thanks to head coach Jerry Miller's grit and grind pace control. The Fireballs found a way to to score mostly on spot up as they scored 21 points on 17 possessions there, they also scored 12 points on pick and roll on 18 possessions and they ran the transition 13 times but scored only 12 points off of it. Defensively Vipers controlled the game contesting 61 shots to Fireballs 53, deflecting the ball 13 times and drawing charge 3 times. The Fireballs was just able to score despite the defense and came away with the tight win. "This is a good game for us playing a different tempo and pace against the Vipers. We knew we were going to be in a battle defensively against them and we knew if we hit our shots we'll be able to win. It was downrigth grit and grind from the start and it was physical and that is a good test for us. We just need to control the tempo next time around but overall it wasn't ugly, but kudos to the Vipers for showing what grit and grind basketball is all about." Coach Wilkes said in the post-game presser.


The Fireballs will open the season visiting Dallas Predators on Day 3 then will open their homecourt against Houston Lightning on Day 5 before rounding up the week hosting Kansas City Knights on Day 7.