London Lions pre match preview

By Juma Ngqobongwana

The fight for the final BBL Playoff spot will go right down to the wire as the Manchester Giants play host to the London Lions this Friday at Wright Robinson Sports College in their final home game of the regular season. The Giants currently occupy the 9th spot in the league table with the visiting Lions two points ahead of them in that all important 8th position.

This will be the third meeting between the sides this season with both teams winning on their home floor. The Giants celebrated their return to the BBL with a nail-biting 85-84 victory on opening night and the Lions returned the favour with an 81-64 win in front of a packed Crystal Palace Centre in February.

The Lions have struggled to find their form since that victory with only one win in the month of March and face a tough home game against the Leicester Riders before their final regular season matchup against the Giants. They go into Friday’s game knowing that their Playoff destiny lies firmly in their own hands. A win will assure them of a spot in the “second season” whereas a loss will leave them hoping for a favour from the Durham Wildcats who the Giants visit on Sunday afternoon.

The visitors boast an impressive front-line attack of Orlan Jackman, Tayo Ogedengbe and Adrien Sturt who combine to average 46 of the Lions 83 points per game. All three have been extremely durable throughout the season and are candidates to put up a double-double on any given night.

The Giants have endured a series of different emotions in their return to the BBL. They started off brightly with victory in their opening two games, endured a seven game losing streak in November and have come agonising close to a couple of upsets like their double overtime defeat to Plymouth back in January or the recent heart-wrenching home loss to the Riders in overtime just a fortnight ago. The Giants supporters will hope their side can put it all together for a full 40 minutes as they look to make it to the postseason.

They go into Friday’s contest on the heels of a comfortable road victory over the Mersey Tigers thanks to 24 points from James Jones and 19 points and 12 rebounds for Ben Eaves – his eight double-double of the season.

They can also expect to receive plenty of support from the home-crowd in what is sure to be a full house alongside the Sky Sports camera crew.

The last time these two sides met Sturt torched the Giants for 31 points as he showcased his inside-outside game knocking down three from long distance and adding five rebounds and a blocked shot for good measure. He and Ogedengbe combined to score 53 points while the whole Giants team only managed 64 as they shot 39% from the field and were outscored 36-24 in the paint.

The home-side will hope to address that issue by utilising Mike Bernard who logged a season high 36 minutes against the Leicester Riders. He set solid screens throughout that game and will give them an offensive threat on the low block that the Lions will struggle to deal with using single coverage. That should create extra room for the Giants knock-down shooters like David Watts and Stefan Gill who have combined for 135 3-pointers this season.

It promises to be a fascinating affair with a playoff place on offer for the winner and a long off-season to reflect on what could have been for the loser.