Cheshire Phoenix return to action this weekend with the first of two ‘huge’ matches against Leeds Force.
A glance at the fixture list would suggest Cheshire’s two-legged BBL Cup semi-final against London Lions, which follows the back-to-back clashes with Leeds, are the bigger games.
But Nix’s general manager James Brice has insisted the BBL Championship showdowns with the struggling Force need to be treated as importantly.
Cheshire welcome Leeds to the Cheshire Oaks Arena at the Ellesmere Port Sports Village on Sunday (5.30pm) before making the reverse trip to the Carnegie Sports Arena on Friday week (December 1).
And Brice said: “The semi-final is big and we want to go into the two legs playing well, like we know we can.
“The Leeds games are therefore not only huge in terms of our league position, but also for gathering momentum going into the semi-final.
“We’re all settled now. The players are settled, the squad is settled, and it’s just a case of getting back down to business.
“The Leeds games are going to be really important for the points – and for momentum.”
The Nix are eighth in the Championship standings, four points above the second-from-bottom Force, and with games in hand on the majority of teams above them.
Brice said: “We beat Leeds a couple of weeks ago but we can’t afford to get complacent. Winning all three games against them, and getting the head-to-head, is important. We don’t want to be scrapping with them down at the bottom.
“So it’s really important we deliver a professional performance and get the win on Sunday and then follow it up with another the following Friday.”
Cheshire are eyeing a place in the play-offs after an encouraging start to the campaign under new head coach Ben Thomas.
And Brice said: “It’s the best start we’ve had for a few years.
“We’re happy with the group of players that we’ve got, and the stability we were speaking about wanting to have in the summer is proving key.
“We’re really looking forward to the semi-final.
“We believe we’ve got a good shot over two legs as we’ve already beat en them once this season.
“League wise, we’re disappointed with the games we have lost, because they are games we could have or should have won, especially the Manchester [Giants] one, which was really disappointing.
“But we’re not in a bad place in the table and now we have to chance to build on the start we’ve made.
“Ben is very driven, he’s a winner, he’s works very hard, and he’s looking to improve on the team’s record.”
One of the stars of the Nix season’s so far is point guard Robert Sandoval, who joined the club in the summer from this weekend’s opponents Leeds.
And Brice said: “We really liked Robert last year when he was Leeds. He was one of Ben’s number one targets in the summer so we were really pleased to get him.
“Ben said in the summer that he thought Robert would shine with better players around him – and he really has.
“He’s great on the court and he’s great off the court, too. The fans love him and he’s great in the community.”
Meanwhile, Cheshire’s BBL Trophy first-round tie at home to Glasgow Rocks will take place on December 17 (5.30pm).