The London Lions host the Leicester Riders on Friday night in the British Basketball League Playoff semi final first leg in the Copper Box.
The Riders have a 7-3 advantage in the last 10 meetings, but the Lions took the win the last time they met in the league 111-81 against a rotated Riders side. The Riders have beaten the Lions in their other two league meetings, but it took overtime on both occasions, which the Lions take a lot of encouragement from that they have enough to make it to the final.
The Lions made their way to the Semis after getting past the Glasgow Rocks across two legs. London gained a 21 point lead after an incredibly exciting game Friday night which carried them through the tense away leg in Glasgow which they lost 71-62. The Lions will be looking to build on their Friday night performance, but without the second quarter collapse if they have any hope of making it to the o2 next weekend.
The Leicester Riders route to the semis was via Surrey. A tie on the road in game one 73-73 set up what could have been a tense return leg, but the league champions dispatched the Scorchers 94-58 a 36 point demolition. The Lions should be a tougher tie for the Riders, but they will enter the tie looking to bring that form into the games, knowing that Friday will require their best as the Lions are very tough at home.
The whole Lions roster has been playing excellent basketball, with Kai Williams catching fire from the 3 point line with a 27 point game on Friday night. Zaire Taylor is having an excellent playoffs, with a 20 point and 9 rebound game Sunday night, but on Friday night he set the tone for the team with his aggressive attacks on the rim, excellent passing and diving for loose balls to keep plays alive. Alex Owumi and Andre Lockhart have played serious minutes in the playoffs, with Lockhart playing 26 minutes on Sunday, exhibiting fantastic defence, especially Lockhart whose on-ball defence will be invaluable tonight against the Riders.
The Riders and their 11 man roster have also been playing excellent team-first basketball. The Riders are unique in the BBL in the strength and depth of their roster and Coach Paternostro is famous for his willingness to use his bench early in games. The Riders had five players in double points scoring on Sunday with Connor Washington and Tyler Bernardini top scoring with 14 points. Washington, one of the best British players and in the conversation for all team honours, will be a key man for the Riders tonight and will require Taylor and Lockhart to be on the top of their game defensively. Taylor King will also need to be locked down by the Lions defensively as the former Duke player is an excellent big man with three-point range which needs to be defended closely at all times.
The Lions are confident going into tonight but will need to play near perfect basketball to keep stride with the Riders. The Riders are the best team in the country and their depth means they will have energy and personal fouls to give up late in the game. The Lions need to keep themselves out of foul trouble and keep the Riders off the scoreboard as much as possible.
The Riders are the best team in the league and will be looking to make their final home game of the season as comfortable as possible on Sunday with a big win tonight but this is the BBL, and anybody can beat anybody. The Lions could take the win tonight, given how closely they have played the Riders all season and they will be wanting to give their home fans a final game to remember.