Final weekend of NBL season contains key battles yet to be settled

With just 13 games remaining of the NBL regular season across D1M, D1W and D2M, we’ll bunch our preview up this week and cover all the games together. With the league champions crowned in D1M and D1W, those divisions have also confirmed their relegated teams for the season as well. D2M is a different story though and this weekend will provide us with answers at both ends of the table. Who will take the D2M title? And who will join NASSA for the trip to D3? As always, we’ll provide the score of the previous game that teams have played this season. With the primary tie breaker between two sides being their head to head record (including points difference) between each other over the 2 fixtures in a season, teams are not only looking to win but also secure any potential tiebreakers should two sides be equal on points come the end of the regular season. 

Manchester Magic (20-5) v Reading Rockets (20-5)

The battle for 1st place may be over, but the runner up spot and #2 seed in the post season is still very much up for grabs. With no need for a head to head in this one, winner takes all but both sides will be disappointed that the prospect of a D1M title is now off the table.

Despite a bad weekend at the office last time out, Reading Head Coach Manuel Peña Garcés knows this game still carries a lot more weight than just deciding final league positions, “This is a perfect opportunity for us to bounce back and give ourselves a big lift heading into the post season but we are under no illusion this will be a difficult game, especially away from home, and we will need an improved performance if we are to secure the win.” With the Rockets still missing Joel Keeble and as injuries continue to mount to the likes of Ibu Jassey Demba, it will be another thin Reading roster that takes the trip north tomorrow.

Manchester suffered a shock loss away to Derby last weekend as well, derailing their title aspirations. One side will bounce back here, and one side is going to be entering the post season on the back of a losing streak. Coach Middleton will be hoping that the late season surge in form from American Duane Morgan will help the Magic get the W here. He had 32 points in a win over Hemel 7 days ago.

Previous meeting – Reading Rockets 102 v 92 Manchester Magic

Manchester's Duane Morgan (red kit) will be trying to continue his hot form this weekend to push the Magic into 2nd place - Alan Mousley/AGM Pics

Lancashire Spinners (7-17) v Leicester Warriors (10-15)

Lancashire sealed their D1M survival last weekend with a last gasp winner on Sunday, meaning they can take it easy this weekend and enjoy some basketball after a stressful season. The Spinners can still try to finish as high up the league as possible and 11th will be theirs with a win.

A similar story for Leicester, they have nothing to play for in terms of the post season but safety was confirmed some time ago. 9th place will belong to the Warriors with a win, but again, that’ll just be a moral victory at this stage. This game can be more about building for next season where Leicester can look to retool and push for a playoff place.

Previous meeting – Leicester Warriors 96 v 83 Lancashire Spinners

Worthing Thunder (7-18) v Essex Leopards (5-20)

In what was looking likely to be a potential relegation decider a few weeks ago, the Thunder will be pleased that hasn’t come to fruition and with a game to go their place in D1M next season has been secured. A key win over Derby in early March coupled with a win last weekend over Westminster was enough to get Worthing to safety and Coach Hildreth can sign off his tenure for the South Coast side with the knowledge the team will still be in the top flight next term.

"Having been involved with the club based in Worthing for nearly 30 years now, from floor wiper as a young kid to team manger, player, coach, running the community programmes and just about every other role in the club, the final chapter is this weekend against Essex,” said Hildreth. “As always our goal is to do all we can to win the game, and I have maintained that focus despite the news that I was not required to continue my roles within the club. I'm sure it will be emotional afterwards but I have to leave all that until the final buzzer sounds. It's been an extremely tough year for a number of uncontrollable issues but I'll go out fighting as I always do."

Previous meeting – Essex Leopards 86 v 71 Worthing Thunder 

Hemel Storm (12-13) v Derby Trailblazers (16-8)

As it appears an impossibility that Solent vs Lancashire will be rescheduled at this late stage, Derby are all but confirmed as the 4th seed for the playoffs regardless of the result of their final 2 games this weekend. Unable to catch Manchester in 3rd, the Trailblazers own the head to head with Solent meaning that even if the Kestrels do win their 1 remaining scheduled game, a tie on 32 points will still favour the Midlands side. It’s all about momentum building for Derby this weekend.

For Hemel, their fate is much more complicated but the main thing is that a playoff place is secured. With no way to drop lower than 8th, the Storm can go all out here to try and climb the table if the opportunity presents itself. There are some issues there though since Bradford own the head to head with Hemel, and although Loughborough don’t, the Riders still have 2 games to play this weekend and a win in either of them would mean the Storm can’t catch up. If all 3 sides finished tied on 26 points, Hemel would finish 7th with Bradford in 6th and Loughborough 8th.

Previous meeting – Derby Trailblazers 71 v 76 Hemel Storm

Bradford Dragons (13-12) v London Lituanica (11-14)

9 of Lituanica 14 losses this season have come on the road with an average deficit of 27.6ppg. Nothing suggests this will be a close game as the London side has really finished their season on the ropes after a playoff place was well within their grasp in mid-February. Fortunately, a solid run of form in the opening 6 weeks of 2017 gave the club more than enough points to stay safe from relegation, but there has been a serious lack of consistency this season.

Bradford can still hope for a 6th place finish if Loughborough slip up this weekend. The Dragons own the head to head over the Riders so a win here against Lituanica will mean that Loughborough would have to win both their games this weekend to climb back into 6th. As mentioned above, a 3-way tie also favours the Dragons. Secure victory here and place the pressure on the teams around you. That is the mission for Bradford tomorrow.

Previous meeting – London Lituanica 99 v 86 Bradford Dragons

Rihards Sulcs is having to pick up some slack on offence due to Ricky Fetske's recent struggles with injury - Alex Daniel Photgraphy

Loughborough Student Riders (13-11) v Westminster Warriors (2-23)

Loughborough could still finish 5th if they win out and Solent drop their game against Team Northumbria, so that will be the plan. If Solent win, 5th will be off the table but those 2 wins will still be enough to secure 6th over the Dragons. Getting the 1st victory of the weekend should be relatively straight forward as the Warriors have only won once on the road this season. Westminster are still planning for next season and a place in D2M, so they need to concentrate on building for the future when possible.

Previous meeting – Westminster Warriors 70 v 76 Loughborough Student Riders

Derby Trailblazers (16-8) v Loughborough Student Riders (13-11)

Both these teams conclude their season on Sunday as the only 2 sides on double header duty this weekend. The Trailblazers will hope to have already claimed a win over Hemel on Saturday and will have one last chance to boost their confidence before the playoffs begin. With Matthew Ward-Hibbert struggling with a back problem in recent weeks, the Trailblazers will also be sweating on his fitness as the post season looms.

A surprise win over the Rockets in Reading last time out means that confidence is certainly abundant in Loughborough. However, this Riders team did lose to Derby on their own floor last Saturday so a turnaround result on the road might be a tough 2 points to collect. The motivation of knowing they can improve their playoff seeding with a win should help though.

Previous meeting – Loughborough Student Riders 63 v 74 Derby Trailblazers

Team Northumbria (22-3) v Team Solent Kestrels (15-9)

A triumphant return to their own court, Team Northumbria have spent their last 8 games on the road and with 8 wins on the bounce during that spell, the team thoroughly deserve to be crowned champions. With the opportunity to parade the D1M trophy in front of their own fans, it is a fitting end to the season for the best team in the division.

For Team Solent though, it is all business. Needing a result here to ensure they stay in front of Loughborough, the Kestrels will be hoping that Team Northumbria rest some of their stars ahead of the playoffs in what is a meaningless game for the champions. The North East side have only lost once on their own court this season and that was back in October. This is a tough trip for Solent if Northumbria are at full strength.

Southwark Pride (17-1) v Reading Rockets (6-13)

The Pride will be bitterly disappointed that winning their remaining 2 games on the season won’t offer the side the opportunity to collect the D1W title, but Southwark can still finish the season strong and gain plenty of momentum with the post season on the way. This is still a dangerous side that has beaten Solent twice in the three times that the teams have met this season. That bodes well for the neutral looking for excitement in the playoffs.

Reading know their fate and it is a relatively simple equation. Holding the head to head with Anglia Ruskin, a win here would put the Rockets in 7th place to end the season. A loss would mean the side stays in 8th. Ultimately this side is going to be taking a trip to Southwark or a trip to Solent. It is unlikely that either outcome is all that thrilling for the Rockets but they deserve credit for making the post season never the less.

Previous meeting – Reading Rockets 40 v 50 Southwark Pride

Alimat Onuyemi-Daniel has been a standout for Southwark this season - Mansoor Ahmed/Ahmed photos

Essex Blades (10-9) v Southwark Pride (17-1)

Bringing the curtain down on the D1W regular season, both sides have little to play for in this one. With Southwark staying put in 2nd whatever the result here, Essex are in a similar position. With no team able to catch them in 6th, 5th place Bristol Flyers and 4th place Barking are both out of sight above them. That means that Essex will be heading to Charnwood regardless to start the playoffs but it is always good to sign off with a win.

Previous meeting – Southwark Pride 68 v 39 Essex Blades

Team Newcastle University (19-1) v Kent Crusaders (17-1)

Providing Kent win their game on Saturday, the stage will be set for a winner takes all game at the top of D2M. The head to head between the 2 sides is set at a single point in Newcastle’s favour, so it’s likely that any sort of win by either team would be enough to seal the title. It has been a thrilling end to the season with a fantastic 3-way race throughout. Unfortunately for NBL fans, it must end this weekend. Team Newcastle won 77-65 when these sides met in Hertfordshire for the Patrons Cup Final in February. With home advantage and a win when the sides met originally met in D2M, you have to put the North East side as the favourites in this one.

Previous meeting – Kent Crusaders 107 v 108 Team Newcastle University

RJ Eytle-Rock had 23 points for the Crusaders when they met Newcastle in the Patrons Cup Final - Mansoor Ahmed/Ahmed Photos

Doncaster Danum Eagles (6-15) v London Greenhouse Pioneers (7-14)

D2M fans are spoiled this weekend as there is another huge game on Saturday as Doncaster and Greenhouse go head to head to decide which team will be relegated to D3. If Doncaster win, a 3-way tie between themselves, Liverpool and Greenhouse will see the London side relegated. A win for Greenhouse and they send the Eagles down. It’s a simple proposition, and it’s going to be decided on Saturday afternoon. It should be noted that although the 1st meeting between these sides is recorded as a 20-0 to Doncaster, the Pioneers did win the initial game 97-73. Take away from that what you will.

Previous meeting – London Greenhouse Pioneers 0 v 20 Doncaster Danum Eagles

London Westside (11-10) v Kent Crusaders (17-3)

A fixture that is easy to look past with the other 2 games scheduled for this weekend, but Westside have already beaten Kent once this season back in December and will fancy their chances of doing it again on their own court. A win here would guarantee promotion for Kent going into Sunday’s title decider with Newcastle, where as a 2 loss weekend for Crusaders will mean they miss out on promotion completely.

Westside have their own situation to worry about as they need a victory to secure 4th spot in the standings and lock up a home tie in the 1st round of the playoffs against Ipswich. If they lose, they’ll have to travel to Ipswich and that is a much more difficult match up. Don’t look past this tie, it still carries a lot of implications for D2M and should be a competitive affair.