WITH every team playing two games the previous round, it did nothing to separate sides from each other in the standings. Rather, it did the opposite as top teams fell victim to those at the other end of the ladder. With Melbourne United’s third spot now up for grabs in the mid-table race, a win away against Illawarra would be crucial to their season aspirations. Other matchups that are set to have an impact on the standings will be the round-opener, where the fourth-placed Taipans host the eighth-placed Bullets. Then we need to wait until Sunday afternoon for the battling Phoenix to tackle perhaps the NBL’s hottest team as of now, in Scotty Hopson‘s New Zealand Breakers side. Lastly, the pressure building for a postseason spot is immense at the moment and no team is feeling it as much as perhaps the Adelaide 36ers, who with two wins over the weekend could make a serious statement towards the end of the season. These two games involve taking on the Kings on Saturday night, then closing out the round on Monday night at home against the Hawks.
Cairns Taipans vs Brisbane Bullets
Friday January 3, 7:30pm
Cairns Convention Centre
Cairns’ two victories against both Melbourne sides in Round 13 have put them in good stead leading into their clash against the fellow Queensland side. Despite the Taipans sitting pretty in fourth position in the standings, the Bullets win last week against Melbourne United has created considerable momentum for the side and you can expect them to roar out of the blocks early to try and stun a home crowd that the Taipans are 7-3 when playing in front of them. While Cairns earns a six-day break following Friday night’s matchup, a victory for the Bullets would be crucial, as they host title contenders, the Perth Wildcats two days later at the Armory. Given the contest will be scrappy, for the Bullets it will be a matter of how dominant their frontcourt performs. The main facilitator of this so far this season is Lamar Patterson, who leads his side in all major categories with 20.22 points per game, 5.83 rebounds per game as well as 4.83 assists per game. While Patterson’s performances have been outstanding so far this season, it is the added efforts of guards like Nathan Sobey (16.61 points and 3.22 assists) and Jason Cadee (11.5 points) that have proved to be the difference makers in tight games. It is obvious that the Taipans are serious postseason candidates this season, as they once again are looking for a fourth consecutive win. Whilst Scott Machado continues his MVP-calibre season (16.11 points and 8.53 assists), fellow guard Dj Newbill has come into his own averaging 18.89 points per game and three assists. It will be a battle of frontcourts and backcourts Friday night as both sides look to make the first move in the Round.
Illawarra Hawks vs Melbourne United
Saturday January 4, 5:30pm
WIN Entertainment Arena
Both teams go into their clash with two very different runs of forms as of late. The Hawks who are on a high, coming off their shock win against the Sydney Kings battle it out against a United squad that lost both of its game last weekend at home and is out for redemption in a bid to regain a handle back on their third position in the standings. With the Hawks without LaMelo Ball presently, responsibilities will fall down to replacement Emmett Narr who has been playing at an elite level since his call-up, averaging 16 points a game against both the Phoenix and the Kings. Again, carrying the majority of the offensive load in points and rebounds are Todd Blanchfield and Anthony Ogilvy. Blanchfield, who has been averaging 11.83 points per game has to be smart down low with United big-man Shawn Long (19.74 points and 9.74 rebounds) patrolling the ring. But, given his wide array of scoring abilities he may well find a way to exploit Melbourne’s sometimes disorganised defence. While Ogilvy is averaging close to a double-double (9.89 points and 7.17 rebounds), communication will be a key factor in how this game pans out and with the help of Josh Boone (5.14 rebounds) it will fall to the backcourt for Illawarra to rise up to the occasion. The emerging trend for United lately has been getting out of the blocks early and a major factor in this has been the performances of Chris Goulding (17.0 points). While he showcased outings in the previous round that suggested shades of the ‘old Goulding’ had returned, but whether he maintains his newfound deadeye consistency from the arc remains to be seen. With Ball still out due to his foot injury, Melo Trimble has the opportunity to wreak havoc on the Hawks. The import has been to say the least, effective so far this season averaging 21 points per game as well as 4.84 assists. If he was to put up numbers consistent with these totals so far this season on Saturday, then United’s chances of a bounce-back win would be very promising.
Sydney Kings vs Adelaide 36ers
Saturday January 4, 8:00pm
Qudos Bank Arena
For the Sydney Kings once again, they will be fighting to hold on to that top-spot that they have held the entire season as they host a determined 36ers side who are hot off the back of a spectacular home win against the Wildcats, whom the Kings lost to in that same round. But the matchup that everyone is eager to see is the battle between two of the League’s best point-guards in Casper Ware (20.79 points and 3.84 assists) and Jerome Randle (20.21 points and 4.42 assists). Due to these two influencers of the game, responsibilities do trickle down to the rest of the squads as more space is created from dribble penetration. A man who is in need of a good game is Kings’ Centre Andrew Bogut who was limited to just four points in his side’s loss to bottom-of-the-table side, the Illawarra Hawks. A recent run of good form by Brad Newley (11.26 points) and the continued play from Jae’Sean Tate (15.32 points and 5.74 rebounds) should be enough to aid Bogut and his frontcourt. However, it would be wise not to underestimate this 36ers side, who could be on the brink of another successful string of performances in the lead up to finals. This is as a result of the bigs that Randle commands in Daniel Johnson (16.74 points and 8.11 rebounds) and Eric Griffin (15.42 points and 6.68 rebounds), who was instrumental in the win against Perth and may well be the same against the Kings.
South-East Melbourne Phoenix vs New Zealand Breakers
Sunday January 5, 3:00pm
When it comes to summarising these teams at this point in the season, it can be phrased as, “the most inconsistent team in the NBL and the hottest team in the NBL at the moment.” The Phoenix who are still finding their rhythm in their inaugural season struggle to find maintain results, whether it be back-to-back wins or losses. Time is running out for Simon Mitchell and his squad, which makes Sunday’s clash even more pivotal on this season’s outcome. While Mitchell Creek (22.17 points and 7.28 rebounds) shows up for business on a weekly basis, he awaits his biggest challenge yet of the season in Scotty Hopson (18.82 points and 6.27 rebounds) who scored 24 points in their last encounter where the Breakers came out victorious. The Phoenix must aim to limit Breakers’ Guard Sek Henry (14.22 points) who was lethal in the previous round against the Bullets and the 36ers. This could be achieved if John Roberson (20.56 points and 5.44 assists) and Ben Madgen (12.22 points and 5.44 rebounds) can put the clamps on him, while isolating Hopson from the equation. Nevertheless, Dane Pineau (7.28 rebounds) has his work cut out for him as he needs to prevent Breakers’ defensive anchor Brandon Ashley (7.33 rebounds) from racking up the second chance points if they are to take out this mid-table collision.
Brisbane Bullets vs Perth Wildcats
Sunday January 5, 5:00pm
With Perth missing out on claiming top spot last week following their loss to Adelaide, Trevor Gleeson’s side will be keen to make amends, especially if the kings fail to topple the 36ers the day before. What was missing from the Wildcats’ performance in their previous loss was Bryce Cotton’s inability to heat-up from the field, failing to make shots late in the game ultimately costing his side a frustrating defeat. It is important to remember however that the defending champions are 7-4 away from home and the Bullets should brace themselves for a barrage of offense. Should Brisbane emerge victorious from the round-opening clash against the Taipans, then this game’s significance shall increase three-fold and good performances by Sobey, Patterson and Cadee become imperative if they are to upstage the Wildcats. For the Wildcats, Terrico White has the opportunity to really make his mark not only on Sunday, but throughout the rest of the season. Provided the Guard averages 17.05 points and four rebounds, White has the ability to shape the outcome of the game and neutralise Sobey’s output in the process. Additionally, Nicholas Kay (13.35 points and 7.45 rebounds) and Dario Hunt (6.1 rebounds) have the task of hindering Patterson’s impact on the game, in what could be the deciding matchup of the game.
Adelaide 36ers vs Illawarra Hawks
Monday January 6, 7:30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre
Monday’s joust takes place in South Australia where both sides are looking to round out successful double-header weekends. Should the Hawks come away with a home-win against United two days prior, then Illawarra would have the opportunity to put together three wins in a row for the first time this season. While on the other hand, Adelaide could threaten to steal a top four spot should they rout the Kings in their first game. This coinciding with the possible return of LaMelo Ball for the round-closer, an elevated anticipation for this game is highly likely. It can be assumed that if Ball plays, he would play limited minutes, leaving Emmett Naar the monumental task of defending Jerome Randle. While that might separate the contest, the battle of the bigs would appear to be more even, with Todd Blanchfield matching up on Daniel Johnson and Eric Griffin most likely standing next to Josh Boone (7.50 points and 5.14 rebounds). The result of this game may very well re-shuffle the standings once again, however this is a trend avid NBL supporters have become well-accustomed to in this intense 2020 season.