TO tip off the NBL 2020 semi-finals, the Perth Wildcats face off with the Cairns Taipans in what will be a thrilling back and forth. The Wildcats who are ranked second with a 19 and nine record, have the Taipans (16-12) to thank for two of those losses, although the Wildcats eventually took down the Taipans in a nail-biter 88-84 victory for Perth.
Although their last duel was in early December of last year, Cairns’ turnovers cost them the game, as they doubled the Wildcats’ column with 10. It seems the Taipan’s ability to control the ball has still not been fixed as they had a whopping 17 turnovers in their last game. Similarly, Perth’s Bryce Cotton torched the Taipans with 24 in their previous match, and all signs are looking like we might see something similar in this game as he is coming off a casual 25 point performance shooting 50 per cent from three-point range. However Cotton will be going up against Scott Machado, one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire league. When the two undisputed best point guards in the league go at it, you can assure a stellar performance from both athletes.
This is a strongly assembled Wildcats team this season led by the league’s scoring champion and MVP Cotton. As previously stated, the Taipans have difficulties turning the ball over, so going up against the league’s stealing champion in Cotton is not an ideal situation for them. Along with Cotton, the Wildcats have one of the best two way bigs in their disposal in Nick Kay. Kay’s defensive presence in the key means the Taipans are going to have to shoot more 3 pointers, a definite weakness in their skill set. Wildcats have also added Miles Plumlee, an 11-year NBA veteran who played in the most popular hence scrutinised league in the world. His immense experience in dealing with pressure and playing in big games will relieve some nervousness in the Wildcats’ locker room, especially with the younger players.
Cairns Taipans, led by Coach of the Year Mike Kelly, are one of the best defensive teams in the NBL, and are a team no one wants to meet in a playoff series. Ran by their franchise player, Machado who was the runner up for the MVP and will be going face to face with the winner of the award, Cotton. Playing with a chip on his shoulder, fans should expect a memorable performance from the league’s leading assist champion. If he can clamp up Cotton, which we all know he is capable of doing, the Wildcats might have to rely more on their secondary scorers, Terrico White and Kay. Cameron Oliver will have to play exceptional for the Taipans to get over the line, as one of the most efficient big men in the league shooting over 54 per cent, the Wildcats are more than capable of sending big bodies at Oliver, with Plumlee and Kay both almost seven foot. Oliver who is averaging 17 points and more than nine rebounds a game, might need to push for 20 and 10 as the Taipans must attack on the Wildcats’ very few limitations, one being their interior defence. Conversely, a question to look out for is if Oliver can give maximum effort on the other end when guarding the very athletic Plumlee.
A second seed against third seed match up never disappoints, and this looks like it will be no different. The biggest attraction will be Cotton (MVP) vs Machado (runner up for MVP), however Perth’s home court advantage might be the deciding factor considering they are excellent at home, having only three losses coming at home. Perth are also on a little hot streak winning four of their last five games while the Taipans have lost their last two games. Lastly Cairns while savvy and tough, are a fairly inexperienced group, while the Wildcats won the grand final last year.