Basketball: Bullets take title race into final day

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The Independent Online
BIRMINGHAM BULLETS ensured the Budweiser League title will not be decided until tomorrow's final games by defeating Manchester Giants 82-80 at the NEC last night.

To become champions, Bullets must win their final game at London Towers tomorrow and need the title holders Greater London Leopards to lose their final fixture, being played simultaneously against the Sharks at Sheffield Arena.

If the Leopards cap a successful defence of the title at Sheffield, their coach, Billy Mims, is convinced they will have surpassed the achievements of any previous champions.

After Thursday's 97-92 victory over Thames Valley Tigers, Leopards are poised to become the first club to win back-to-back titles since Kingston clinched their third in a row in 1992.

"But there's no comparison," said the 38-year-old from South Carolina. "With clubs allowed up to five foreigners, the league is far more competitive. When Kingston were champions they had two Americans like everyone else, but collared all the best English players.

"Now the talent is spread around. Clubs like Watford Royals and Crystal Palace have struggled all season but they still beat London Towers and Sheffield.

"There's also been much more pressure this time. Last season everyone said we would self-destruct and we were the only ones who believed we'd win the title. This time we've been up there as favourites all the way through.

Last season winning the title brought a feeling of ecstasy, but this time there will just be a sense of relief. It's been a long, long journey."

Leopards' American guard Ryan Cuff will play despite a broken finger on his shooting hand. The former England international Jason Crump also plays after returning against Tigers on Thursday, but the 6ft 10in centre faces knee surgery this summer.