THE final night of 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) week one action is upon us and two huge clashes round out the week. The two Auckland sides face off in a massive first match, before the Nelson Giants and Manawatu Jets go at it in what shapes to be a classic encounter.
FRANKLIN BULLS VS. AUCKLAND HUSKIES
The ‘Battle of the North’ between the two newest sides in Franklin Bulls and Auckland Huskies is sure to have a fair bit of feeling to it. Adding to the tension of the clash between the two Auckland-based sides is the fact that neither side has been able to register a win. The Bulls have come close with a couple of gallant defeats, whilst the Huskies have not really got close enough to challenge with 32 and 28-point losses to open their campaign. The winner of this game automatically ensures they do not finish week one at the bottom of the table, whilst the loser will likely have to stew there until next week before they can redeem themselves.
Statistically speaking, both these sides are not huge scorers from two games, ranked sixth and seventh respectively, though the Bulls are not too far off at 83.5 points per game to the Huskies’ 68.5. The Huskies are actually stronger than their opponents when it comes to rebounding, averaging the 35.5 to the Bulls’ 29 rebounds per game. When looking at the results, the area where Auckland will be keen to improve is in its offence, but mainly its accuracy, as it shot just 33.8 per cent from the field – well and truly the lowest in the competition (the Bulls are next lowest at 41.8 per cent). From a three-point perspective, the Huskies are at 22.6 per cent to the Bulls 32.8, again the two lowest.
Whilst the Bulls have got close to winning in their first two games, their rebounding and blocking is where they have statistically struggled, and areas that they no doubt will look to build on for this huge clash. The Huskies are solid in those areas, they just have to iron out their shooting accuracy. The return of the Huskies’ top talent Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa will help in that regard, with the first round draft pick to return for the first game this season.
After inaccurate shooting displays in the first game, both Taine Murray (16 points) and Leon Henry (eight) improved their output, but the team as a whole still shot at only 33.8 per cent. Nonetheless, taking out a shocking second term (conceding 31 points to eight) against the Jets, they were much more competitive in the second half, and actually won the half by five points. They will hope to carry that form into this match.
The Bulls had a terrific first quarter against the Airs in their first game, but faded through the middle quarters, though that is taking nothing away from Isaac Davidson who was sublime with 27 points and eight rebounds, whilst Dom Kelman-Poto and young gun Nikau McCullough both shot well. Against the Airs, the Bulls pushed them all the way and Davidson was again prominent with another 21 points, while Kelman-Poto picked up a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Franklin will start this game as favourites because they have improved from game one to game two, whilst the Huskies are still trying to find their range. The return of Mauriohooho Le’afa will be a huge boost for the Huskies, and if their other stars can click, then this game will likely be closer than the respective teams past results might suggest.
NELSON GIANTS VS. MANAWATU JETS
While the Huskies welcome back a young gun, the Nelson Giants bring back one of the best of all-time when it comes to New Zealand basketball, as Tall Blacks veteran Mika Vukona returns to the court after missing the first two games of the season. It is a much needed return, taking on a Manawatu Jets side which is really starting to look damaging. It was always imagined from the moment they were drafted that Tom Vodanovich and Hyrum Harris were going to be problems, and last night the duo showed just how problematic they could be against the Huskies.
Vodanovich went to town with 38 points – including a jaw-dropping 10 triples from 14 attempts – whilst picking up three rebounds, four steals an assist and a block. His partner-in-crime Harris had a casual 21 rebounds to go with 13 points, six assists and four steals. For the Giants to win this encounter, they will need to find a way to limit their influence. After all, the Jets did lose their first clash against the Nuggets, but it was a see-sawing encounter that went down to the wire before Otago saluted by four points, 104-100. On that night, Vodanovich shot 28 points – but only six from 15 outside the arc – as well as 14 rebounds – while Harris came close to a triple double with nine points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Flying under the radar, Jayden Bezzant has been quietly going about his business well too, shooting 30 and 17 points in his first two games, as well as averaging around five rebounds and assists a game. For the Giants, they also went down to the Nuggets, fading away after a promising star to lose by 25 points. This followed on from another gallant, but ultimate narrow miss to the Taranaki Mountainairs by 16 points on opening night.
It has been more the defensive structures and unfamiliarity with set pieces that has been the Giants downfall. They have looked good at times, but have not gelled quite yet, though have threatened in pieces. The return of Vukona will help with that, but one cannot forget that Mike Karena and Dane Brooks are still yet to take to the court. Any side that would miss that kind of top-end quality would be bound to struggle against other sides, so teams cannot afford to sleep on the Giants.
In their absence it has been Nic Trathen (23.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 assists) and Tom Ingham (20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.5 assists) who have done the bulk of the damage. If Vukona can come in and play as many expect him too, the load will be shared and they will have more freedom than before. The veteran will also need to nullify Vodanovich who is the top scorer in the competition, and have an impact offensively as well. He will settle down the team which is what makes this clash set to be a beauty. The Jets deserve favouritism, but expect this to go down to the wire.