ESSEX Leopards endured a mixed weekend, losing at Reading Rockets before thrashing Manchester Magic.
The Big Cats were beaten 94-77 in Reading as their hosts became clear favourites to win the English Basketball League Division One title.
But third-placed Leopards bounced back to thrash Magic 81-57 at the Brentwood Centre.
The Big Cats led early on in Reading and were 11-2 in front after just three minutes but that was as good as it good for the Essex outfit.
They led 25-23 at the end of the first quarter but Leopards then scored just two points in the first four minutes of the second period as Reading opened a 30-27 lead.
Rockets were then 50-41 in front at half-time and led 71-64 after the third quarter to come out on top.
Despite the defeat, Leopards’ Howard Crawford finished with a massive 30 points and eight rebounds, with Andre Lockhart adding 15 and Kris Clark 11.
Leopards again started well the following day, with Shaun Durant opening the scoring as they again led 11-2 after five minutes of action before a Crawford dunk saw the lead grow to 14-2.
Magic replied with an 8-4 run to cut the lead to 18-10 at the first break, and a pair of Durant scores kept them ahead 22-15 after three second period minutes.
A Tom Ward trey saw Magic move within three points, but Lockhart scored seven points to keep the Big Cats ahead, and five points from Lawrence Brown helped Leopards go into the locker room with a 36-28 half-time lead.
Leopards were 51-47 ahead at the final break and Magic fought back to within three points with seven minutes remaining before the Big Cats went on the game-clinching run.
Clark started the tear with a three-pointer and the visitors were held scoreless for five minutes as Robert Youngblood’s team rattled off 14 straight points, capped by a Crawford dunk to put his side 69-52 ahead.
The lead never dipped into single figures again, and the Big Cats wrapped the game up with a 10-1 run as Youngblood ran his bench down the stretch.
Crawford again led the scoring with 24 points while Lockhart added 15 and Clark 14