LIONS play their biggest game of the season this Friday night when they tackle play-off rivals Cheshire Jets, and only a win do.
Sitting ninth in the table, the city side are two points adrift of Cheshire who currently occupy the final play-off place, but will leapfrog above them if they can pick up just their second win in 13 BBL Championship games.
Lions’ dismal run continued with a 100-93 defeat at home to Plymouth Raiders last Friday night – stretching their losing run to 11 out of their last 12 in all competitions.
Mike New’s men have games to claw back a play-off position, but they must beat Jets to stand any chance as victory would see them move above the north west side courtesy of having a better head-to-head record.
The teams have won one each of their two meetings so far this season – both in Chester – but it is Jets who currently have the momentum going into Friday’s clash, having won two of their last three to move into the top eight at Lions’ expense.
But they don’t travel well and defeat away at Leicester Riders last time out has left the door wide open to Lions to reclaim a play-off place with a win.
However, they will only do that if they can avoid the sort of collapse that saw them throw a big lead away against Plymouth.
Despite the hosts leading 76-72 going into the final period, Raiders fought back to win their second Championship game of the season between the sides, having also knocked Lions out of the BBL Trophy at the semi final stage.
Lions looked by far the stronger team in the opening stages as the sides traded baskets early on until a Northern ‘and one’ play and Adrien Sturt’s five points put the home side 12-6 to the good following the latter’s three-pointer to cap an 8-1 burst.
They pushed on, with Nuno Pedroso’s three-pointer giving Lions a double-digit lead at 24-13 with three minutes to play in the first period. And after an extremely high-scoring first quarter, Lions led 32-24.
And they soon extended their lead with an 8-4 opening to the second quarter as the high tempo continued – Sturt adding another triple before Pedroso connected once more from beyond the arc to move the score out to 49-33 after four minutes.
And the first half lead peaked soon after that at 55-35 on a pair of Demarius Bolds free-throws. But despite the game looking like it was going only one way, the Raiders stormed back just before half time to give an indication of what would follow.
They finished the second period with a 13-1 run over the last four minutes, allowing their hosts just a solitary free-throw, while Bell scored six as they went into the locker rooms with the deficit reduced to 56-48.
And Raiders scored the first four points of the third quarter, before their run was halted by another Sturt triple.
Lions pushed the lead back out to eight as Carl Josey contributed before a foul was called on Bolds, his third, quickly followed by his fourth through a technical foul.
He left the game before a technical was called on head coach New – all this in the space of a minute as Raiders narrowed the gap to 66-61. The teams traded baskets to set up an exciting finale at 76-72.
Raiders completed their comeback with a 7-0 surge to open the fourth, and that run became 16-6 over the first five minutes.
Lions had it at a one possession game in the final minute as another Sturt three made the score 93-96, but Bell made 4/4 from the line before Gill, Pedroso and Sturt, twice, all missed last gasp three-pointers.
Although defeated, Lions can take heart from an encouraging performance and will fancy their chances of exacted revenge on Plymouth when they visit again on April 18.
After Friday’s visit of Cheshire, Lions go to Mersey Tigers on Sunday before taking on Raiders again. They then conclude the regular season with a trip to bottom side Durham Wildcats on April 21 – on paper at least the perfect game if they still need a win to make sure of a place in the play-offs.