The Riders are a game away from retaining their BBL Cup title as they take on the London Lions in a highly anticipated clash!
Rivals meet again
“It’s definitely a rivalry game,” said Riders’ veteran point guard Conner Washington, previewing this fixture. The two sides were last season’s premier outfits in the BBL, and this year seems no different.
They met in last year’s BBL Playoff final, in a game where the Riders sealed the treble on the game’s final possession. But the Lions have won both meetings between the sides this season, including Leicester’s only home loss.
“We haven’t beaten them yet this season, but we’re going to be aggressive and come out swinging punches,” said Washington.
Head coach Rob Paternostro seconded this notion: “The two times we’ve played them, they’ve really jumped on us early. We have to find a way to avoid a huge deficit early. They’re as good as it gets in this league, so we’ve got to figure out a way to slow them down.”
The Lions have earned their reputation as the top dogs this season. They sit top of the BBL Championship table with a 16-2 record and became the first British team to record five Euro Cup wins, recently beating Italian side Trento.
But the Riders, led by star trio of Marc Loving, Zach Jackson and Patrick Whelan, led by 16.6 points per game from Loving, will back themselves to go blow for blow with London.
Since their last outing, the Riders have added talented point guard Carrington Love to their roster. Love will make his Riders debut in the Cup final, as the 29-year-old looks to get the Riders over the edge in this one.
This fixture was previewed in late December, and the Lions took home an 81-75 win from Leicester. The game was closely contested late, but London had enough to hang onto their lead until the buzzer.
After falling down 19 by halftime, the Riders rallied back into the game in the second half. Kimbal Mackenzie led a fourth-quarter charge, scoring nine points to cut the deficit to four. But Sam Dekker’s free throws with 20 seconds remaining sealed the win for the visitors.
The Riders will take encouragement from their second-half efforts, where they scored 47 points against the BBL’s best defence. Should the Riders start off better in this one, they will have every chance of lifting the Cup.
This game is a clash between the BBL’s top two offences. Per 100 possesions, the Riders have outscored the Lions 112.9 to 111.8 this season, and both rank in the top two in effective field goal percentage, the Riders leading the league shooting 56%.
On the other end, the Lions boast the BBL’s best offence, holding teams to just 93.5 points per 100 possessions. They hold their opponents to the worst field goal percentage, 39%, while the Riders rank second in this category, holding their opponents to 43.3%.
The Riders will highlight former NBA forward Sam Dekker as the main danger man. He led the Lions in the previous meeting between these teams with 21 points, and will look for a similar effort in this one.
Dekker is dominating the paint this season, shooting a league-best 80% from in close. He spent last season in Turkey’s top division with Bahcesehir, following six years in the NBA.
The Wisconsin native was drafted in 2015 by the Houston Rockets, putting up 6.5 points per game in his second pro season. Seven years on, Dekker is in his physical prime and is proving a force in the paint.
Dekker ranks second in the BBL in usage rate, so is, therefore, vital to the Lions’ success. Charged with the task of slowing him down is Riders’ star wing, Zach Jackson.
The Omaha graduate averaged 10 points per game last season, shooting 49% from the field while playing elite defence on the other end.
Throughout his second Riders’ season, Jackson showcased his ability to take over games, scoring 10 straight points in the playoff quarter-final to see the Riders progress to the semis.
Expect a battle throughput between two of the best wings the BBL has to offer.
Where to watch
The game, taking place at Utilita Arena Birmingham, tips off at 3:30 pm on Sunday, January 29. It will be televised live on Sky Sports and streamed live on the Sky Sports Youtube channel.
Before the game, the WBBL Cup Final takes place between the Riders and Lions, tipping off at 12 pm.