BBL Championship Preview: Riders at Sharks

The Riders will take a short trip north this Friday to face the B. Braun Sheffield Sharks.

Victory for Leicester would give them three wins in a row following positive results against Newcastle and Caledonia, the latter falling to the Riders 84-81 in a tightly contested game.

Riders’ Season So Far

After the aforementioned result at home to the Gladiators, Leicester’s record stands at 18-8.

The Riders sit third in the BBL Championship, six points behind the Bristol Flyers. Friday’s game is one of four that Leicester have in hand over Bristol, giving them the chance to close the gap.

The Riders hope victory over the Sharks will be a little more comfortable than it was against Caledonia. The Gladiators kept the home team honest throughout the game, which turned into a cat-and-mouse affair.

It needed a fourth-quarter takeover by Kimbal Mackenzie to drive the Riders to success, the energetic guard scoring 25 points including a perfect 12 from the line.

Mackenzie is one of the BBL’s most reliable free throw shooters, hitting close to 88% of his attempts.

If the fourth quarter belonged to #1, the second was all about Evan Walshe. The former Surrey Scorcher brought speed and power off the bench and helped the Riders build an early double-digit lead.

The wing ended with 15 crucial points, rewarded for his hard work, especially on the fast break.

Something the Riders will want to clean up on Friday is their shooting percentage after hitting just 35% of their shots against the Gladiators.

Sharks’ Season So Far

The hometown Sheffield Sharks are currently riding high after an exhilarating 82-80 comeback win over the championship-leading London Lions.

Sheffield have beaten the Lions twice this season and their latest triumph continues a winning run that stretches back to March 5. Their current vein of good form has pushed the Sharks into a playoff place with a 13-16 record.

An efficient shooting night of 49.18% and tenacity on the defensive side of the ball contributed to the win, as well as a final quarter that saw Sheffield outscore their opponents 23-12.

The standout performer was Devearl Ramsey, who dropped 22 points in a high-percentage outing. The American guard finished the game with four buckets from three-point range, the most of any player on the court.

Ramsey is currently putting up 11.79 PPG and is one of four players on the Sheffield roster that average double-digits in points.

That group includes 6’6” forward, Kipper Nichols who finished with 15 points and six rebounds versus the Lions.

A solid scoring night from both Ramsey and Nichols will be important if Sheffield hope to topple a Riders team that averages 14 points per game more than them.

Key Matchup

In a game where crisp passing and limiting turnovers is going to be essential, all eyes will be on the tussle between Kimbal Mackenzie and Sheffield’s top scorer, Sa’eed Nelson.

Nelson, who is currently on a three-game run averaging less than 10 PPG, will have something to prove matching up against one of the BBL’s in-form guards.

The 6’2” scorer has been prolific around the rim since his college days playing for the American Eagles basketball team. He holds the school’s all-time scoring record with 2,116 points and has carried that scoring touch with him to the BBL.

Nelson leads the Sharks knocking down 13.33 PPG, supplementing this with over five assists per game. His aggressive drives to the basket create floor space for the Sharks’ long-range shooters, so keeping Nelson out of the paint is essential.

Potentially going bucket-for-bucket with Nelson will be Leicester’s Canadian-born #1, Mackenzie.

The Ontario native has been in sensational form during the back stretch of the season, scoring more than 12 points in all-but-one game since December 23. This lucrative run includes a 31-point night in Chester and the 25-point performance last Friday.

Much like his cross-court rival, Mackenzie is devastating when given a lane, so look for the Sharks to close in on him on every possession.

The enigmatic combo guard possesses another string to his bow: an accurate three-point shot.

Mackenzie is currently draining 36.11% of his shots from deep and will be looking to improve that percentage further following an uncharacteristic 1-7 performance against Caledonia.

The last time the teams met. Mackenzie shot for 15 points and dished six assists in a single-point loss. He may need to surpass those numbers if the Riders are to halt Sheffield’s winning run.

Where to watch

The game will be streamed live on the British Basketball game, starting at 7:15 pm ready for a 7:30 pm tip-off.