The newly crowned back-to-back league champions travel to London Sunday afternoon in the BBL.
The London Lions will be looking for a victory to go alongside a good performance Friday in a close-fought loss to the form side of the BBL Worcester Wolves. The Riders head to the Copper Box after an eventually comfortable win against the Plymouth Raiders by 30 points, after a tight first half.
Sunday’s encounter promises to be a close affair with both sides entering in good form and having their last matches going to overtime, both being own by the Riders. Of the 3 fixtures in all competitions this season the Riders have a 2-1 lead, so the Lions will be looking to even up the series and take a big scalp before heading to the playoffs.
Zaire Taylor will be looking for a good scoring day as he is close to 500 field goals and 2,000 career points in the BBL, two enormous personal records for the 2013/14 MVP.
The Lions will need to play with a high tempo and maintain their focus across all 40 minutes as the Riders utilise their famously deep bench more than anybody else in the league. On Friday their bench was responsible for 48 points, whereas the Lions’ bench contributed only 9 points.
The Lions are looking at this fixture as an opportunity to tune up for the playoffs with what they hope to be a playoff atmosphere in the Copper Box. Taylor, who prides himself on his defending, will need to be on top form guarding Connor Washington and Tyler Bernardini, who have been in great form over the last few weeks. Pierre Hampton will be another key player for the Riders. The 6’7″ forward has three point range and is an excellent mid-range scorer, watching Navid Niktash battle with him will be a highlight of the game.
The match-up of former Lions Drew Sullivan with Rashad Hassan will be another entertaining duel. Hassan has plus defence in the paint but Sullivan is one of the best forwards in the league on both ends of the ball and will battle with everything he has every time he steps on the floor.
Keys to victory
The Lions will need to play disciplined basketball for 40 minutes. The Riders are experts at getting foul calls and the Lions can get themselves in foul trouble easily. If the Lions hope to win, they need to limit the Rider’s visits to the line.
The Lions will need their bench to contribute with significant points. The Lions do not rely on their bench for scoring but they will need to today. The Riders rotate their floor five frequently maintaining a consistently high effort level throughout the game. The Lions bench will be expected to play more minutes than usual and will need to contribute more on both ends of the court.
The Lions will need to capitalise on any Riders shooting slumps. The Riders have excellent but streaky scorers, especially from 3 point range. The Lions, who have great scorers themselves, will need to punish any misses from the Riders with points. If they can run up a lead, they will put themselves in a good position to win, even when the Riders start making their shots.
The Riders will need to capitalise on turnovers and loose passes from the Lions. Points on turnovers can be a big issue for the London side, something the Riders excel at the scoring on. The Riders are able to create mismatches on offense with ball movement and screens. The Lions can have defensive breakdowns in transition and the Riders will look to take full advantage of these moments.
This should be a fantastic game of basketball. A clash of styles as the starter focused, Iso ball playing Lions face off against the deep roster and quick transition style of the Riders. The match should be close, with the Lions having a fire underneath them following a narrow loss on Friday and the Riders, jubilant after their championship win.
Prediction: On paper the Riders should get the win, but the Lions will throw everything they have at them and play above themselves in a playoff style. London to edge it by less than 4 points.