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Championship Preview: Riders vs Sharks

Basketball returns to the Mattioli Arena this Friday as the in-form Riders host a B. Braun Sheffield Sharks squad that have only won once in 2024.

Rob Paternostro’s team have recently pushed beyond .500 after carrying their strong British Basketball League Trophy form into the League Championship and sit comfortably in the top half of the standings.

Fixture Information

Leicester Riders vs B. Braun Sheffield Sharks

Mattioli Arena, Leicester

Friday, February 16, 7:45pm

Get tickets here!

Huge Away Win

The Riders enter Round 19 of Championship play brimming with confidence after claiming one of the most impressive wins of the season – a 97-93 defeat of the high-flying Caledonia Gladiators on their home court.

Success for the Riders was crucial to maintain their current momentum and to avenge an agonising one-point loss in Glasgow towards the end of October.

As predicted, Leicester had to put in a strong performance for the entire 40 minutes to bag a 12th win of the season, coming through in the clutch after the home side took a narrow lead with less than a minute left on the clock.

Kimbal Mackenzie put in a captain’s performance, going 8-12 from the field for a total of 21 points – including six down the stretch – and dishing out five assists on the night.

The powerful Jaren Holmes also had a nice night, making his presence felt all over the court to the tune of 15 points and nine rebounds for a near double-double.

The most eye-catching plays, however, came from the palms of Teddy ‘Buckets’ Allen, who delved deeply into his box of tricks to drain 28 points on the Gladiators, including four deep balls, two of which were taken from a different postcode.

The standout performances from the Riders’ backcourt trio allowed the rest of the squad to play solid team basketball, and Sunday’s victory over a good opponent demonstrates how far this team has come.

More strong opposition presents itself this Friday in the form of Sheffield. Riders’ fans won’t know which trio will take the game by the scruff this time but should be confident that every player on the roster has the skills to shape victory.

Struggles in the New Year

The Sheffield Sharks currently sit in strong playoff contention in the League Championship with an 11-13 record and well clear of the bottom two.

An impressive November saw Friday’s visitors go five of six, including a 91-84 home win over the Riders where they utilised the fast break to great effect.

The Sharks boast a league-leading defence, conceding just 79.1 points per game while holding opposing teams to under 32% from three-point range.

A large contingent of Sheffield’s roster possesses fast hands on defence, especially American guard Terrell Allen and dunk artist Jalon Pipkins. The aggressive defenders 1.4 and 1.3 steals per game respectively, forcing teams to think twice about taking them on the dribble.

However, tenacious defence does have its drawbacks, and for the Sharks, it comes in the form of opposition free throws.

Earlier in the season, Atiba Lyons’ charges were getting away with giving up the ninth-most free shots in the League Championship, but a 2024 littered with tight losses has magnified the consequences of not matching the opponent at the line.

The Riders are the second most accurate charity stripe shooting team in the league – hitting at a cool 77.3% – and get to the line nearly 21 times a game.

The Sharks’ recent losses average a losing margin of ten points. This could be flipped on its head if Sheffield can figure out a way to avoid fouls while defending determinedly.

Key Matchup

A large number of matchups catch the eye this Friday as one of the league’s most prolific offenses battles against the league’s stringiest defence, but the key matchup will be between guards, Jaren Holmes and Jalon Pipkins.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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#5 Pipkins is a true entertainer of the league. The American’s most desirable trick is his ability to almost levitate in the air before jamming home a satisfying dunk. The guard has serious hops.

Pipkins experienced a short stint of play in Finland after graduating from the Fort Wayne Mastodons and found his eventual home in Sheffield last season.

The high-flyer is having a decent season, averaging 11.8 points per game and going nearly 60% from inside the arc.

The true test for Holmes will be to penetrate Pipkins’ defence which is some of the best the British Basketball League has to offer.

The Leicester man has mostly been excellent this season and uses his size and strength excellent to get the better of both smaller and bigger opponents.

A star of the Big-12 NCAA conference, Holmes’ rookie campaign with the Riders sings to the tune of 13.3 points per game – second on the roster – 4.3 boards each night and a couple of assists to boot.

Riders’ fans will know that despite being a primary offensive weapon, Holmes is also good on the defensive side of the ball, snagging 1.2 steals per game.

The back-and-forth contest between these two athletic guards should be fun to watch. One thing is for certain – win or lose, Holmes and Pipkins will create more than a few highlights along the way.