The DBL Sharks Sheffield tackle another double-header weekend as the race for Playoff places well and truly hots-up. Just five games remain in regular season and will prove key in sorting out the post-season seedings. Friday night sees a visit to Champions-elect Leicester, now well out of reach of second placed Newcastle and surely only a matter of time before their league title is confirmed. Sunday sees the Sharks go to the opposite end of the spectrum with a visit over into Lancashire and bottom team Manchester Giants. Whichever end of the table you are focusing on, Coach Atiba Lyons will be looking for a reaction to the poor display in front of the BBC cameras when his side were well-beaten by Glasgow Rocks.
Four wins clear with six games to play, it is only a matter of time before Rob Paternostro’s Leicester team are crowned league champions for 2016-17. Last weekend they saw off the challenge of Plymouth by 88-71 on home territory before inflicting a 71-85 win on the road over Surrey. Both games were very much team wins and the scoring was spread evenly across the floor. Brandon Clark (18) and Taylor King (16) led the way against Plymouth with former GB vet Drew Sullivan (19) just shading King (18) in Surrey on Sunday. The latter part of the season has seen the Riders play some of their best basketball and it is easy to see why they are now so far in front, especially as Newcastle appear to be faltering. No Leicester player figures in the league top 20 for scoring which shows how much of a team affair it has been. Their five starters all put up double figure scoring led by Brandon Clark (13.8 ppg) at a high percentage of conversion. Clark has been assist friendly (5.8 per game) and King continues to show his pedigree with 7.5 boards per game to boot as well. A solid bench is another aspect of the Riders success with Conner Washington (44.6%) and Eric Robertson (41.4%) figuring highly in the three point shooting stats. That they haven’t yet confirmed the title means that their ‘machine’ will plough on relentlessly and it certainly looks another tough game in prospect for the Sharks, especially in Leicester’s home gym.
It has been another frustrating year for Manchester, who sit at the foot of the table with a 4-25 record. They were edged out by Leeds Force (88-80) last weekend and went down 88-96 to London in the Sportsdome the week before. Former Shark Sam Toluwase (15.0 ppg) leads the way in scoring for the Giants, followed by Jerelle Okoro (13.29 ppg) and Callum Jones (12.82 ppg) but unfortunately no other player makes it into double figures. Jones also heads up the rebounding (6.04 pg) followed by Richard Bell (5.67) but this looks to be an area for distinct improvement if the Giants are to rise up the standings any time soon. Giants player-coach Yorick Williams will have to settle for a spell on the sidelines having been ejected in a recent game and serves his match ban against the Sharks. The Giants proved in an early-season spell that they can live with most sides but haven’t been able to keep that intensity going and it looks like another post-season studying the drawing board to see where they can go from here. That said, there is the intangible of cross-county rivalry and it certainly isn’t a game for complacency as a win would be a useful boost to the Sharks’ momentum at a crucial time of the year.
Frustration, embarrassment and displeasure were key factors following the Sharks 55-84 loss to Glasgow last Friday. Post-game both Atiba Lyons and Mike Tuck spoke of the need to bounce back and it was clear that this would take a lot of hard work through the week to achieve. The league table is now extremely tight with Glasgow, the Sharks and Worcester all tied on points but having played different numbers of games. Seventh and eighth look to be the places to avoid finishing as it appears nailed on that Newcastle and Leicester will be the inevitable quarter final opponents. Worcester look to be the form team of those currently sat in 3rd to 6th but there is still a little way to go until the competition gets going in earnest. Will certain teams have the opportunity to run the bench before the end of regular season to keep players fresh and injury free dependent on results? Lots of factors to consider. The main one of course is to win and all the rest becomes irrelevant!
The Sharks get an immediate chance to prove themselves once again in front of the cameras with their game at the Leicester Community Arena being televised by BBC Sport. 7.30pm is the time to go to the BBC Sport website if you are not heading down to Leicester in person. On Sunday, the Sharks make the short journey over to Manchester for a 5pm tip off at the Trafford Sportsdome. Livebasketball.tv is the place to be for this one if you aren’t making the short journey into Lancashire. It’s another huge weekend. Wherever you may be, make sure you are behind your DBL Sharks all the way as we get ready for another Playoff campaign. It’s going to be massive!
Image: BBL Official