LIONS’ hopes of holding onto their British Basketball League play-off place suffered another blow on Saturday as they lost out to bitter rivals Leicester Riders.
Mike New’s men crashed 88 71 at the John Sandford Centre – stretching their dismal run of form to nine defeats in 10 matches, while giving Riders the edge at 4-2 in meetings between the two sides in all competitions this season.
And things don’t get any easier with a trip to champions-elect Newcastle Eagles next on the agenda on Friday night as the city side hope to preserve a play-off spot, with ninth placed Mersey Tigers now level with them on 16 points. However, the main threat comes from Cheshire Jets who are two points adrift but have a game in hand.
They visit the Lions Arena on April 13, but before then New’s men have work to do if they are to avoid the embarrassment of missing out on a top eight place after a second half collapse saw them beaten in Leicester for a third time this campaign.
Lions started the first quarter strongly with Justin Dobbins and Daniel Northern powerful inside while Brad Wierzibicki was prominent for the home side as he rattled off 16 points.
Lions were ahead 10-6 with Carl Josey nailing a pair of long threes, although the Riders responded immediately through Cameron Rundles and Wierzbicki to take the lead back when Rundles hit a triple of his own to cap a quick 7-0 burst,
And they pushed on from there as they finished the quarter with a 10-2 surge to take a 29-18 lead after the first 10 minutes.
Wierzbicki scored the first basket of the second quarter to spark a 9-2 opening as Drew Sullivan scored five in a row to make the score 38-20 to the hosts.
The teams then traded baskets before Lions came back strongly with an 8-0 tear, including seven from Demarius Bolds, as they narrowed to the gap to 40-32 with three minutes to play in the first half.
But three crucial turnovers on the way to a poor 21 in the game cost Lions any chance of taking the lead as the quarter ended 46-37 to Riders.
Lions continued to threaten a strong run early in the third session as Josey and Dobbins moved the scoreboard on. With three minutes until the end of the quarter it was 60-53 to Riders and the home side made what proved to be the decisive run.
They finished the period 10-2 as Ayron Hardy scored eight of those points to help give his side a commanding lead going into the fourth quarter at 70-55.
The fourth period saw Lions try to repel the run, but turnovers again proved costly for them despite Nuno Pedroso draining a pair of threes. Hardy and Sullivan were decisive as Riders ran out 88-71 winners.
Lions can take comfort from the fact that neither Mersey Tigers or Cheshire Jets look capable of stringing a couple of wins together to pose a threat to the top eight places and the situation will become a lot clearer after their visit to the city in a couple of weeks.
Momentum is everything at this stage of the season and Lions have six regular Championship games left to try and pick up their form, with Saturday’s defeat in Leicester their 16th out of 24 this season.
If Lions do hold onto a play-off place then they are likely to face a quarter final trip to Friday’s opponents Newcastle who the city side have lost narrowly to twice this term.
The north east side are on for a clean sweep this year. Having already lifted the BBL Cup, they recently overturned a first leg deficit to win the BBL Trophy, beating Plymouth Raiders on both occasions.