Sunday evening sees the Riders travelling northwest to take on the 7-4 Cheshire Phoenix in the British Basketball League Championship.
It will be the second game of the weekend for Rob Paternostro’s squad after they fell 102-95 to the league-leading London Lions in an epic clash on Friday night.
Leicester Riders @ Cheshire Phoenix
Ellesmere Port Sports Village, Cheshire Oaks
Sunday, November 12, 6:00pm
Close to Victory
The Riders may have been defeated by the Lions on Friday night, but there was plenty of evidence that this squad can beat anyone on their day.
The home side bettered their opponents in several categories, including three-point percentage, points in the paint and rebounds. Victory looked possible, especially during a sustained period in the third quarter which saw the Riders holding onto a narrow lead.
However, what makes the Lions special is the ability to keep the scoreboard ticking over. They very rarely waste a possession, and even as the Riders’ defence forced several missed shots, London’s knack of getting to the foul line told in the final score.
The visitors – who claimed their thirteenth win in fourteen British Basketball League Championship games on Friday – hit 26 points from the free throw line at a clip of 86%, nine more than the Riders who knocked down 16 at an uncharacteristically low 72%.
A major positive for the Riders was the play of shooting guard Caleb Asberry.
The 6’3” Texan balled out on both ends of the court, tormenting the opposition big men with fast hands-on defence, knocking down 16 points on offence and leading the Riders with nine rebounds for good measure.
As Friday’s game went on, the energy of the Morningside Arena grew, and Asberry’s tenacity grew with it.
The in-form Jaren Holmes also had a nice showing, flashing his skills as a playmaker to dish eight assists to go with 18 points for a near double-double.
Leicester scored 95 points on a defence that gives up only 79.5 points per game, but it wasn’t quite enough.
Cheshire is another team that can score the ball, averaging an impressive 88.5 points per game, so the Riders may find themselves needing another total within touching distance of three figures to take victory on the road.
The Surprise Package of the Season
Judging on whispers throughout the pre-season, few around the BBL were predicting the Phoenix to have a hot 7-4 start.
Ben Thomas’ team sit third in the standings on 14 points, playing consistent basketball predicated on a solid defence and dominance on the boards.
The Phoenix are currently pulling down 40.9 rebounds per game and sit second in total rebounds percentage with 54.3% – just behind the 8-4 Bristol Flyers.
That hustle to get to missed shots allows Cheshire to be the most prolific team in the league when on the fast break, hitting 17.9 fast break points each night. The Riders have been susceptible to giving up fast break points this season, so this is sure to be an area of focus for Coach Paternostro.
Top scorer for the Phoenix is guard Maceo Jack, the second-year American having an excellent sophomore season, dropping 18.7 points per night to become one of the most prolific scorers in the league.
Jack is ably supported by big men Aaryn Rai and Skylar White who put up double-digits in points on most outings.
Rai, who has only played in six of the Nix’s 11 games this season, is a 6’6” forward with an eye for a pass. Should he play on Sunday, expect him to be a large part of Cheshire’s offense.
Sunday’s key matchup is between two players who bring high-quality minutes from the bench – Cam Christon and Riders’ captain, Kimbal Mackenzie.
Christon, a rookie who joined the BBL this season from the Grambling State Tigers, stands at 6’6” and uses his combination of speed and length to slice inside and finish effectively in the paint.
The Texan has scored close to 20 points on several occasions this season despite second-unit minutes, even dropping 21 points in 23 minutes on the Patriots in an October win.
Riders’ fans may be somewhat familiar with Christon’s ability to score in bunches as he knocked down 16 in just ten minutes on opening day.
A player Riders’ supporters will certainly be familiar with is energetic point guard, Mackenzie. The Leicester veteran is often brought off the bench to galvanise the team when the opposition is on a run or to hit clutch shots in the waning moments of a game.
#1’s presence was felt yet again on Friday night, as he bolted around the court and involved himself in everything positive the Riders produced.
Mackenzie finished the night with 17 points, five assists and managed to draw four trips to the charity stripe.
It is going to be interesting to see when and how both coaches decide to use their second-unit weapons. The player who brings the best from the bench could prove to be the one that wins this game for their team.
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