2020 Sal’s NBL July 9 night preview: Airs v Giants and Huskies v Rams

TONIGHT’S 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NZNBL) Showdown matches are a Throwback to opening night of the season, when the Airs faced the Giants and the Rams took on the Huskies.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS vs NELSON GIANTS

Top spot is on the line for the Taranaki Mountainairs who will be keen to take back pole position from Franklin Bulls with an impressive win over the Nelson Giants in this game. However the Giants have plenty to play for because they can level with the Airs at a 50 per cent win-loss record if they get up in this contest, moving into the top three.

The Airs have been a high-scoring side this season, averaging a whopping 102.4 points per game, while the Giants sit fifth overall with an average of 85 per game. The Airs are also the number one rebounding side, picking up 45.4 per game to the Giants’ 37.1, whilst Taranaki leads the assists too thanks to 19.9, while the Giants have struggled, ranked sixth with just 14.1 per game. It will also be a case of the best three-point shooting outfit (39.7 per cent for the Airs) compared to the worst (29.6 per cent for the Giants), but Nelson have the capability to cause an upset.

Last night’s heavy defeat at the hands of Manawatu Jets would sting the Giants, as they dropped only their second game in five matches, though the 30-point beating will be one they want to put quickly behind them. The Airs looked to have slipped a little earlier in the week with three losses in four games, but managed to compose themselves for a really strong 14-point win over the Franklin Bulls to temporarily take top spot before the Bulls won last night.

In their earlier encounter, the Giants had a fast start to lead by a point in a high-scoring opening term (28-27), before the Airs took control. Taranaki won the next three quarters by seven, eight and two points respectively to run out 16-point victors back on opening night. In fairness to the Giants, they were without their three top draft picks in Mika Vukona – who is still injured – as well as Mike Karena and Dane Brooks. Instead, it was Nic Trathen (25 points, four rebounds), Tom Ingham (23 points, four rebounds and three assists) and Tyxun Aiolupotea (20 points, five rebounds and two assists) who stepped up to the plate, but it would not be enough.

Instead, second pick in the Sal’s NBL Player Draft, Derone Raukawa, went to town with a first game double-double of 28 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and a steal, shooting at a remarkable 66.7 per cent from the field, including draining five of six from three-point range. Francis Mulvihill (16 points, five assists, two rebounds and two steals) also impressed, but it was another double-double of Marcel Jones (13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists) that caught the eye. Tai Wynyard (13 points, three rebounds) and Shane Temara (10 points, three rebounds) also reached double-figure points for the Airs on the night.

Expect the Airs to be strong favourites in this one for consistency reasons, but Wynyard will have a massive job trying to quell Karena who is in some absolute sensational form of late – though had a quieter game last night.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES vs CANTERBURY RAMS

No one would have thought a week ago that this could be a bottom two clash, and that an Auckland win could theoretically push the Huskies above the Rams. Canterbury started the league like a house on fire, winning the first three games, including an opening night 32-point demolition job of the Huskies. Since winning their first three games, the Rams have not been able to muster a victory, losing four on the trot and are in danger of slipping to the bottom of the Sal’s NBL table after being the front runners for the first week. The Huskies on the other hand might only have the two wins, but spectators can see they are on the rise, winning two of their past three games and arguably deserve favouritism in this game.

In the earlier encounter between the sides, the Rams never looked like losing, blowing away the Huskies in the opening term with a 29-12 stanza to already opening up a 17-point lead. While the Huskies hit back in the second term, the Rams continued on their merry way in the second half, outscoring Auckland by 18 points to cruise to a 102-70 victory. The partnership of Taylor Britt (22 points, eight rebounds) and Toby Gillooly (25 points, six rebounds and two blocks) was damaging for the Rams, while Jack Exeter added 13 points off the bench, and Sam Smith and Thomas Webley combined for 14 points and 13 rebounds.

It was a disastrous shooting night for the Huskies, but Tohi Smith-Milner was a shining light thanks to 15 points at 62.5 per cent accuracy, while picking up four rebounds and two steals. Nate Wilson amassed 10 points at an identical clip, as well as four rebounds, two steals and two blocks off the bench. Leon Henry and Taine Murray had shaky starts to the season, sinking a combined three from 19 from the field at a lowly 15.8 per cent accuracy,. They did put together a combined 10 rebounds and five assists however.

Since that fateful night, Auckland has welcomed back top pick, Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa who has averaged team-highs in points (16.5) and assists (4.3) as well as third overall in rebounds (5.0). Both Murray and Henry have also been strong since misfiring on night one, helping themselves to top five placings in points and assists, while Henry leads the way off the boards with 11.6. A lot of the load for the Rams has been placed on the shoulders of Britt who has put up team-high numbers in points (20.9) and assists (4.1), as well as second in rebounds (7.1). Alex Talma has provided good support off the boards with eight rebounds per game, while Gillooly has been a crucial omission through injury of late after having a strong start to the season.

The Huskies can really join the mid-table logjam with a win here, while the Rams are just desperate for a win. They cannot afford to lose a fifth straight game because then the only team yet to beat them is one of the title contenders in Taranaki Mountainairs, and the Rams would not be keen to go into finals knowing they had lost to the rest of the competition at least once.

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