2020 Sal’s NBL night preview July 16: Huskies v Airs and Rams v Nuggets

SAL’S National Basketball League (NBL) action sees the dangerous Auckland Huskies taking on the ladder-leading Taranaki Mountainairs, before the last placed Canterbury Rams hope to turn around their form against the Otago Nuggets tonight.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES vs. TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS

The red-hot Taranaki Mountainairs take on the reformed Auckland Huskies in a match that is predicted to be quite the show to kick off some Thursday night action. The Airs have earnt the title as the team to beat if the form after 10 games is anything to go by, sitting a game clear of second with a comfortable 51 more points on the board than their nearest opposition. The Huskies might have the least points score – with a game less – but could well make their way level with fourth if they can win here, but more importantly, go two games clear of the bottom two sides.

Looking at the statistics, Taranaki is ahead in most areas. Their points per game sits at a mighty impressive 101.5 compared the Huskies’ 82.6, while their rebounds (48.9 to 44.7) and assists (19 to 16.1) are also higher. In terms of their accuracy, the Airs’ field goal percentage is almost 50 per cent at 48.7, well ahead of the Huskies’ 39.7, but that figure has been steadily improving after a shaky start to the season. From long range, the Huskies drop a third of their shots, just below the Airs at 37.5. One area where the Huskies clearly top the Airs is in the steals department, with an impressive 9.4 per game compared to 6.8, so Taranaki will need to be aware of Auckland’s pick-pocketing abilities.

Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa has been the prime thief for opposition players, averaging a league-high 3.6 steals per game. In the last game between the teams, Mauriohooho Le’Afa picked up two steals, but had 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists in a really promising performance. Five players notched up double figures on that day from the Huskies, as Leon Henry (18 points, 14 rebounds), Tohi Smith-Milner (16 points, six rebounds), Taine Murray (15 points, three rebounds and five assists) and Nate Wilson (15 points, six rebounds) all had big nights out.

It was a rare loss for the Airs, as they were blown away in the first half – particularly the second term – with the Huskies piling on 66 points to 44 to set up a 109-93 victory. The Airs had four players reach double figures, with Marcel Jones having a sensational game of 14 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals, while Derone Raukawa went to town with the rock, notching up nine assists to accompany 19 points. Ken Tuffin (19 points, three rebounds) played his best game of the season, while his close friend Francis Mulvihill (11 points) also contributed on the scoreboard dropping three of six from long-range. The Airs should still start favourites in this one, but after their last match, the Huskies will head in very confident of toppling the top side again.

CANTERBURY RAMS vs. OTAGO NUGGETS

In the second game, two sides hoping to overcome losses will go at it with the Otago Nuggets still looking strong, but are at the midpoint of the season at 5-4 and keen to remain up with the top group and not slip to the chasing pack. A one-point heartbreaking loss to the top of the table Airs would hurt, but a second half comeback would have been promising for a side that has taken plenty before it to-date, including knocking off its opponent, Canterbury Rams a couple of weeks ago. If one is talking needing a win, then there is no team more desperate than the Rams, who have now dropped seven on the trot after three wins to start the season. One promising aspect is the fact that they have got closer and closer each match, losing by seven, five and then three points the last three outings. They could be really primed for a big match here.

Looking at the stats, it is a real mixed bag despite the Rams’ form, with the Nuggets ahead on points (94.3 to 89.4) and Assists (19.8 to 15.7) and well ahead in steals (11.1 to 6.3). Their ball-handing skills are on point and hard to stop, but Canterbury’s big men could have a say, as the Rams are ahead in rebounds with 44.1 to the Nuggets’ 40.2. Their field goal percentage is neck-and-neck with the Rams marginally ahead (46.5 to 45.9 per cent), though Otago is the superior two-point shooting side with 56.8 per cent accuracy to the Rams’ 49.6 per cent, whilst outside the arc, Canterbury is the side to watch (36.3 to 33.2 per cent).

In the last match between the teams, the Nuggets set up a 10-point win with a fast start to lead by six and then 14 at the first two breaks. Canterbury hit back in a low-scoring third term – where just 21 points were put on the board combined – and then won the final term by a point, but it would not be enough, going down, 77-87. Despite the loss, Taylor Britt was still productive with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Thomas Webley (14 points, nine rebounds) and Sam Smith (12 points seven rebounds and three assists) supported him well. Alex Talma (11 points, eight rebounds) and Ben Carlile-Smith (11 rebounds) were also strong off the boards in a massive 50-rebounds team game.

For the winning Nuggets, Jordan Ngatai finished with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in an all-round game, leading the way with Kane Keil who dropped four of nine from outside the arc to finish with 16 points, five rebounds, two assists and three steals. Richie Rodger (10 points, three rebounds) was the other player to reach double-figure points, as Jarrod Kenny had a team-high five assists. Otago head into this match as strong favourites, but with Reuben Te Rangi now in the side, the Rams have a bit more firepower and will be desperate to turn their losing streak around.

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