BASKETBALL: Leopards will look to bounce back from Sunday’s loss against Bradford Dragons when they stage home games at both the Brentwood Centre and Southend Leisure & Tennis Centre over the weekend.

The Big Cats host Manchester Magic in the National Trophy at Brentwood on Saturday evening (7pm) before Barking Abbey are the visitors to Southend in the National Cup the following day (5.30pm).

Magic have returned to the top flight after a two-year absence, and they have shown they don’t intend to be also-rans with the capture of American forward Ryan Lohfink, Slam Dunk champion Nathan Schall and Spanish point guard Garcia Garrido.

They have split their opening two Trophy games against Worthing Thunder and Rockets, and became the first team to qualify for the National Cup third round when they followed up their win against Sefton Stars by beating Division One rivals Team Northumbria 59-53.

The following day sees the action switch to Southend when Leopards start their quest for a fourth National Cup title against Barking Abbey.

The east London side have some of the best young talent in the country and worked with the Big Cats when they won the treble two seasons ago, with players Joe Lockwood and Josh Steel returning to face their former club.

Sunday’s 76-68 loss against the Dragons saw a poor second half performance cost Robert Youngblood’s side dearly.

The Big Cats dominated the first half but let the visitors back into the game leading up to half-time and never regained the initiative as Dragons consigned them to defeat in the first of six group games in the competition they won last season.

Youngblood’s team were without American big man Howard Crawford after his international clearance failed to arrive from Estonia and forwards Siman Stewart (injury) and Iaon Nickson (unavailable) also missed the game forcing the Leopards’ coach to play.

American point guard Kris Clark scored Leopards’ first competitive points of the season as the Big Cats started strongly, with Clark capping a 10-2 run.

Big man Lawrence Brown proved to be a handful at both ends of the court for the visitors in early stages, but it was four straight points from Courtney Van Beest that sent the Big Cats into the first break with a 22-17 lead.

Dragons closed to within a point in the early stages of the second period, but a trey from captain Carl Josey saw the league back out to eight points with four minutes remaining and despite a 7-0 Bradford run, and free-throw from Youngblood sent his side into the locker room with a 40-33 lead.

That lead was wiped out with a 7-0 Dragons run to open the second half before Brown broke the drought with a dunk, but with the seven footer forced to down with foul trouble the visitors kept in touch and it took a Sam Iwubre free-throw to give the home side a 57-56 lead at the final break.

That proved to be the last time that Leopards would lead the game as Corono Navarro Alejandro hit a trey to give Bradford the lead at the start of the fourth period, and some poor offensive decisions saw the game slip away in the final stages.

Brown and Josey led the Leopards’ scoring with 14 points apiece, with the big man completing a double-double with 13 rebounds and Josey adding eight, with Clark finishing on 12 points and Clark adding eight points and five assists.