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HOCKEY: Eager Lions hungry to bite Bullets says Lloyd.

Byline: BASKETBALL By RICHARD TAYLOR

MILTON Keynes Lions coach Nigel Lloyd - 'Captain Fantastic' of the last Birmingham Bullets team to reach the play-offs final - can rip the heart out of this season's hopes for his old side when the teams clash at Bletchley today (4pm).

The Lions went into the weekend in eighth spot - the last qualifying slot for the quarter finals - and if results go their way this weekend Lloyd's team will qualify ahead of the Bullets and the Essex Leopards.

Lloyds, who led the Famous Five under coach Mike Finger to the 2000 final against Manchester Giants, said: 'I like our chances of qualifying better than those of the other two, because we are ahead of them.

'As long as we play hard and we accept the challenge I think we will be OK. I have positive vibes coming from the guys that we are capable of doing it. We will go out and give it our best.

'This is a very critical game against the Bullets because we are battling for the same position. We are looking forward to the battle and we are glad we are playing at home.'

If Bullets win today and tie the four-game series 2-2, coach Tony Garbelotto's team will come out on top as long as the clubs are tied at the end of the season. The reason? Bullets had a two-basket advantage over Lions going into today's clash.

Bullets have had to rebuild a credible challenge after crushing defeats against Sheffield Sharks and Newcastle Eagles, described as 'dismal' by Garbelotto.

After Rob Paternostro and Ronnie Griffin had an on-court bust-up in the 111-79 humiliation against Eagles, Garbelotto had to deny there were rifts in the dressing room.

'This stuff happens,' said Paternostro, but Bullets fans now need their players to show the right 'stuff' over the final five games of the regular season, beginning today against the Lions.

PerimeterGarbelotto said: 'I personally believe the game will be won by whichever team's perimeter players play the best.'

Last weekend Lions' Freddie Cole hit 10 three-pointers in their defeat against Scottish Rocks.

Garbelotto continued: 'So can Rob shake off this virus and come back to play the way he has been in the last couple of weeks? Can Antwan Jones play better than their two guards? Can Sullivan Phillips come back off his injury and give us good minutes? And can Kevin Griffin play well?

'If all those things happen for us then we feel that we have a good chance of winning that game.'

The game also has an unknown element for Lions, who will be facing Jones for the first time as well as Ronnie Griffin, whose personality has lately been more explosive than his game.

Lloyd said: 'We haven't played against them with the changes they have made, and the toughest thing is the unknown.'

Garbelotto will agree with Lloyd on that one as, from game to game, the Bullets' play-caller probably has no more idea than the Lions coach which Bullets team will turn out.

Bullets' remaining fixtures: Today: Milton K (a) 4pm, Wed April 2: Thames Valley (a) 8pm, Sat April 5: Scottish Rocks (h) 7pm, Sun April 6: Chester (a) 5.30pm, Sat April 12: Brighton (h) 7pm.

CAPTION(S):

CONFIDENT... Nigel Lloyd
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 30, 2003
Words:547
Previous Article:HOCKEY: END OF THE ROAD FOR RECORD-MAN WRIGHT.
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