With the National Cup Finals now behind us, it's full steam ahead for the end of the NBL regular season. With schedules set to be completed by late March, the number of remaining game weeks is fast decreasing.
Perhaps on the surface an odd choice for game of the week as 2nd place Hemel welcome local rivals and 13th place Essex, but this is a Leopards team that's done an awful lot of changing in the last few weeks.
After beating Westminster 81-77 in week 17 thanks to a 13 point, 14 rebound double-double on debut from former London City Royal Orlan Jackman, Essex have used the National Cup break to sign two other former BBLers from the now defunct Royals. Elvisi Dusha and Aaron Williams have both joined the fold for Coach Baker's team, and this week the Big Cats also announced the signing of 6'7" Lithuanian Osvaldas Gaizaukas who last played for German Regionalliga side SB DJK Rosenheim.
If the additions will be enough to reverse the 116-84 win that Hemel enjoyed when these sides last met in October remains to be seen, but at the very least they should be enough for Essex to begin making a move away from the D1M relegation places.
With a schedule that includes Hemel, Thames Valley, Derby, Reading and Worthing between now and the end of the season, the Leopards will also have the opportunity to impact the playoff seedings of a few teams if they can raise their game. That's something the Storm will have to guard against tomorrow.
Team Solent Kestrels (15-0) captured the National Cup last weekend and return to D1M action tomorrow as they defend their unbeaten record at home against Westminster Warriors (3-14).
In the only D1M action that took place during the National Cup weekend, Thames Valley (12-4) claimed an impressive 131-115 road win against Worthing thanks to a 35 point, 11 rebound, 11 assist triple-double from American Taylor Johnson. The Cavs will look to keep that momentum going tomorrow against Leicester Warriors (7-9).
Also in the Midlands there's a local derby as Nottingham Hoods (5-12) travel to Clarence Wiggins Sports Centre to take on the Derby Trailblazers (10-7). The Trailblazers claimed a 109-93 win in the previous match up between these sides, though Derby have struggled of late, going 1-2 in their last 3 games.
Bottom side Liverpool (2-16) will have home advantage on their side as they entertain Bradford Dragons (8-8), with the visitors looking to fend off Leicester in particular and retain the 8th and final playoff spot.
Loughborough Riders (10-5) are the only team in double-header action this weekend, they're on the road against Worthing Thunder (11-6) on Saturday before returning home on Sunday to face Reading (13-5).
3:00pm - Leicester Warriors v Thames Valley Cavaliers - LIVE STATS
5:30pm - Liverpool v Bradford Dragons - LIVE STATS
6:00pm - Team Solent Kestrels v Westminster Warriors - LIVE STATS
7:00pm - Hemel Storm v Essex & Herts Leopards - LIVE STATS
7:15pm - Derby Trailblazers v Nottingham Hoods - LIVE STATS
7:30pm - Worthing Thunder v Loughborough Riders - LIVE STATS
2:00pm - Loughborough Riders v Reading Rockets - LIVE STATS
Main image credit - Sol Tomlinson