Sunday afternoon sees the Riders continue their tough run of fixtures as they travel to London to face the Lions in Round 13 of the British Basketball League Championship.
The trip to the Copper Box arena is only nine days removed from a 89-79 victory for the Lions over Rob Paternostro’s squad.
Leicester Riders @ London Lions
Copper Box Arena, London
Sunday, December 10, 4:30pm
A Four Quarter Game
The Riders came agonisingly close to claiming a statement win in Cheshire last Sunday after three-quarters of excellent basketball.
The away side, playing the second of a two-game doubleheader, went into the final ten minutes boasting a 13-point lead, but a cold fourth quarter on offence gave the hometown Phoenix the opportunity to stage a comeback for the win.
Fatigue will certainly have been a large factor in the Riders’ late-game troubles, but with a full week of rest behind them, Paternostro will be expecting a 40-minute performance from his squad.
The squad saw an exciting new addition in the week, as reigning CEBL MVP Teddy Allen joined the Riders’ ranks. He will bolster the Riders backcourt with his elite scoring ability which saw him break several CEBL single-game scoring records in the summer.
But as Riders’ fans have experienced first-hand, the Lions have unmatched squad depth, demonstrated by the seven players who have put up double-digit games against Leicester in just two meetings.
The production of the second unit will be crucial. Riders’ bench only dropped 16 points on the Phoenix last weekend – a rarity this season – so that number must improve if they are to have a chance at besting the league leaders.
Playmaking two-guard Sesan Russell and strong big man Samuel Idowu will be the players to watch, as they must step up against a London squad playing it’s fourth game in a week.
The Lions could well use the squad’s full depth, giving fringe members more playing time than usual. The Riders’ must take advantage.
Defeats at Home
The British Basketball League Championship leaders go into the weekend having won just two of their last eight games across all competitions.
Victory at the Morningside Arena and a home win in Europe are the only triumphs for a Lions squad that has struggled during the second half of November.
With the expected fixture congestion that comes with European competition, London’s squad has been stretched, culminating in two home losses on the bounce in the League.
However, the ballers of the capital still sit comfortably clear at the top of the standings with a 15-3 record and have had the better of the Riders in their two clashes so far.
Key to the Lions’ success against Leicester is the double-digit scoring from across the roster. If one star has a bad game, another has stepped up to take his place.
In the tilt on December 1, experienced point guard Jordan Taylor failed to get on the scoring sheet, going 0-4 from the field and league top scorer Matt Morgan was held to just five points – his lowest total of the season.
The scoring was taken up by forwards Sam Dekker, Conor Morgan and Dante Grantham, all of whom scored in double-digits, with Morgan netting 19.
The Lions have also dropped 83 points from the bench on the Riders so far this season.
If the road team can stifle that production, they could replicate the feats of both Newcastle and Caledonia with a win in the Copper Box.
The contest to watch on Sunday afternoon is one between permitter men with swathes of experience: Jordan Taylor and Kimbal Mackenzie.
34-year-old Taylor has seen it all outside of the NBA. The veteran has competed in Italy, Israel, Turkey, France and (more recently) Japan.
While he hasn’t posted knockout scoring numbers this season – about six points per game – Taylor is a quintessential floor general.
He is the perfect player to have orchestrating the offence and attempting to dish the ball to the right shooter.
The former Wisconsin Badger has performed well against the Riders, laying on 13 assists so far in two games.
Attempting to throw Taylor off rhythm will be Riders’ captain Mackenzie.
Leicester’s talisman has, once again, been a standout player in Paternostro’s squad this season.
Coming off the bench for the first quarter of the season before stepping up to a starting role, the Canadian has been a storm of energy and effort anytime he takes to the court.
Mackenzie can do it all. Drive to the rim, stop on a dime and fire up a pop shot, lay on a nasty pass to an open teammate.
He has the full package, shown with his 12.6 points per game total as well as an assist number that sits at 4.1.
Both players are vitally important to their team’s chances. Whoever has the better performance on the night could decide the fate of this game.
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