The Riders begin December basketball on Friday night by welcoming the London Lions to the Morningside Arena in Round 12 of the British Basketball League Championship.
It will be the second meeting between the two sides, the first a high-scoring 102-95 victory for the league leaders.
Leicester Riders vs London Lions
Morningside Arena, Leicester
Friday, December 1, 7:45pm
Back on Track
After a tricky run of results and significant changes in personnel, the 7-7 Riders jumped back to winning ways with a 94-79 defeat of the Manchester Giants.
Coach Rob Paternostro’s team completely outplayed their opponents, most pleasingly restricting Manchester to just less than 80 points.
A commanding first-quarter lead and accuracy from three-point range – led by the experienced Connor Washington – made the difference. Washington went four of seven from deep, leading the bench with 14 points in a show of effective ‘shoot first’ point guard play.
The starters also had impressive nights, most notably the versatile TJ Lall, who ended the game just shy of a 16-point double-double.
The Lions should be a much stiffer test and, as the Riders’ faithful discovered in early November, have game-winners throughout their roster.
However, a packed European schedule has forced London to manage playing time and the 102-80 loss to a surging Newcastle shows potential vulnerability in the BBL Championship.
There’s no doubt that the Lions will bring their best to Leicester come Friday, but on the back of a refreshing victory over the Giants, the Riders may well replicate the feat of the Eagles.
The championship leaders may have an eight-point advantage in the British Basketball League with a 14-2 record, but it is their performance in Europe which demonstrates the quality of this roster.
The Lions are 7-2 in EuroCup play and sit second in Group A having beaten top European competition at home and on the road.
Star players like Matt Morgan and Donte Grantham have elevated London to a new level this season, but last Thursday’s loss in the Copper Box to Newcastle shows that teams can rise to meet them.
The Eagles hurt the Lions with their guard play. Jordan Johnson and Larry Austin Jr both having impressive nights, scoring 25 and 14 points respectively.
Austin Jr backed up his scoring with seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. The Riders have players who can fill the stat sheet like Austin. It will be needed on Friday.
London also suffered at the hands of bench shooter Josh Ward-Hibbert, who drained five three balls at a high clip. Riders’ fans should look for rangy big man Samuel Idowu, or the deadly accurate Washington to provide points in bunches from the second unit.
Morgan, his namesake Conor Morgan, Grantham and Gabe Olaseni all troubled Leicester in the previous clash between these two teams.
Continuing the three-ball shooting accuracy from the win over Manchester and restricting these four to limited points could be the recipe to hand London their third domestic loss of the season.
The crucial battle on Friday may develop between two players who do everything well – the previously mentioned TJ Lall and Conor Morgan.
Morgan, a 6’9” Irish Canadian forward, came to the UK this season with a fine pedigree after seasons spent in the top tiers of Spain, Poland and Turkey.
The big man has shown that he can do it all in the League, mixing his offensive output up with smooth skills inside and an ability to shoot efficiently from beyond the arc.
Among forwards, Morgan has one of the best jump shots in the league and is often the outlet after the Lions drive into the lane, demonstrated by eight contests scoring double-digit points.
The former Joventut player has also shown hustle around the rim and an eye for an assist in his 13 games with the Lions.
Lall may not have the height of his counterpart – standing at 6’7” – but he makes up for it with physicality and sheer determination.
The Canadian, a former first-overall pick in the CEBL draft, predicates his game on hard work on both sides of the court.
Due to minor injury, Lall has only suited up 10 times for the Riders this season, but each time he has taken to the court, opposition players and fans alike can feel his impact.
The forward’s best game came last week versus the Giants with 16 points and eight rebounds. As Lall earns more minutes, expect those numbers to become a regularity.