Basketball: Injury weakens Leopards' chase

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The Independent Online
GREATER LONDON Leopards, already dethroned as Budweiser League champions and beaten in the Classic Cola National Cup final last weekend, have their assault on the play-offs hampered by an injury to captain and talisman Robert Youngblood for tonight's trip to Thames Valley Tigers.

Leopards bounced back from Sunday's defeat in the final against Sheffield Sharks to beat Derby Storm 82-81 in the league on Thursday, but played all of the fourth quarter without Youngblood, who suffered a leg injury two minutes into the second half.

Their coach, Billy Mims, said: "We don't know if he [Youngblood] will make it, and Bracknell is a tough enough place to play at the best of times, let alone without Robert."

Leopards recovered from seven points down in the fourth quarter to beat fourth-placed Derby, encouraging Mims' belief that the Leopards, currently in ninth place, can still finish the regular season in the top four and secure home advantage in the play-offs.

Mims concedes that his league title is destined for either Sheffield or the Manchester Giants, who meet in a crucial match at the Manchester Evening News Arena tonight, but added: "There's little to choose between the rest of us and we have a legitimate chance to finish third or fourth."

The last time Sheffield won the Cup, in 1995, they went on to win the league. Their chances of repeating the double were helped by Manchester's 95-87 overtime defeat at Edinburgh Rocks last weekend. The Giants have signed former player Kevin St Kitts in time for tonight's game after losing Danny Craven for the rest of the season through injury.

Sheffield lead the table after one defeat, Giants have two and third- placed Thames Valley have six. Giants' Tony Holley said: "This is our biggest game of the season. We can't afford to fall two games behind Sheffield."

Chris Webber, a 6ft 10in British Canadian, has joined his fourth club of the season and makes his debut for Birmingham Bullets at home to Chester Jets tonight. Webber first joined Newcastle Eagles, was released to National League Plymouth and then signed for Leicester City Riders.