THE distance between Wantirna South and Albury is about four hours but the difference between Knox Raiders hosting a conference grand final or having to travel to the Victorian border could decide who wins the South East Australian Basketball League south conference championship.
The Raiders men host Albury-Wodonga in the SEABL south conference major semi-final at the State Basketball Centre on Saturday night with the winner to host the south conference grand final.
The losing side will host an elimination final the following weekend against the winner of Nunwading and Hobart's elimination semi-final, also this Saturday. With Raiders stars Mick Hill and Lester Strong battling injuries, Raiders star CJ Massingale hit top form last weekend with 45 points against Nunawading in the final round of the regular season. Hill and Strong are expected to suit up for the Albury match.
Massingale said he and the Raiders were mentally ready for the play-offs and would spend this week making sure they were physically right for the game.
"Mick will be right to go, he got a rest on Sunday and has been in good form," Massingale said. "Hopefully, we can get Lester to 75-80 per cent so he can have an impact as well."
Massingale said the key to the game was restricting the Bandits star imports Jazzmar Ferguson, who averages 23 points and five assists per game and big man Mohamed Ntumba, who averages 16 points and 11 rebounds.
"The first time we didn't have Lester and the big guy was pretty good, whereas the second time we played them Lester was healthy and we won the game," Massingale said. "So having a healthy Lester will be a big bonus for us. I know Lester will be up for the challenge."
Massingale said that after moving their home games to the State Basketball Centre midway through the season, the team had continued to shoot well from the three-point line and a growing number of supporters were coming to games.
"We are playing well at the new place and it has certainly been good to me," he said.
"I think as we play more games there we get more personality in the venue and Raider Nation has always been good as far as supporting us in play-off games.
"The incentive for us is that we could finish out the season on our home court as the SEABL grand final is also at the State Basketball Centre; we certainly want to play without having to travel."
The Raiders host Albury-Wodonga at the State Basketball Centre this Saturday at 8pm.