2021 NBL Round 11 preview: Ladder-defining clashes shape weekend of action

A SMALLER but action-packed Round 11 action in the National Basketball League (NBL) has plenty of ramifications for the ladder heading into the back-end of the season.

ADELAIDE 36ERS:

vs. Cairns Taipans @ Cairns Pop Up Arena, Sunday

The 36ers have the solitary game up against the Taipans on Sunday, and will be desperate for a win to stay in touch with the top four. The 36ers have slipped to a 7-12 record and the fact they are two wins behind the three teams above them is made all the more worse given they have played as many as three more games. They have lost their past four games, and will be keen to turn around a slump against the only team in worse form than them in the Taipans. Daniel Johnson (19.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists) and Josh Giddey (10.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists) are the key in the absence of Isaac Humphries (15.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks). They should win and keep the pulse of their season alive.

BRISBANE BULLETS:

vs. New Zealand Breakers @ Nissan Arena, Saturday
vs. Illawarra Hawks @ WIN Entertainment Centre, Monday

The Bullets are on the verge of breaking into the top four, with four wins in their past five games, and coming up against the bottom two side New Zealand Breakers up first. If they pass that test they will grab a top four spot, but they need to account for the team currently holding that position to stay there, in the Illawarra Hawks. Expected to take care of the struggling Breakers, the Hawks’ clash is almost an early elimination final and will put the winner in good position going forward. Nathan Sobey (23.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists) leads the way, with Victor Law (18.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 blocks) and Matt Hodgson (10.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks) providing the physicality close to the basket. Going 2-0 from the round will help the Bullets put themselves in best position for finals, whilst 0-2 would be a disappointing result.

CAIRNS TAIPANS:

vs. Adelaide 36ers @ Cairns Pop Up Arena, Sunday

The Taipans are just looking for any type of form they can build after a shocking run of form with five consecutive losses since they just got past Sydney by four points on March 4. Having won only one of their past nine games, the Taipans are well and truly on life support in 2021, but could try and build some form with a victory over an equally-struggling 36ers’ outfit. Cameron Oliver has still been remarkable this season, putting up 15.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, as has Scott Machado (17.9 points, 7.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds), but the pair have lacked support, particularly of late, with only Kouat Noi (10.2 points. 4.4 rebounds) the other player to start in every match with them. Back in front of a home crowd against a team that is struggling will be the Taipans’ best chance at getting a win on the board.

ILLAWARRA HAWKS:

vs. Perth Wildcats @ RAC Arena, Friday
vs. Brisbane Bullets @ WIN Entertainment Centre, Monday

The Hawks will have the best measuring sticks to work out just where they are at in Round 11 of the competition, coming up against the ladder-leading Perth Wildcats, and the team threatening to take their fourth spot on the ladder. If the Hawks can win both, they will draw closer to the top two, but a couple of losses could see them slip as much as four games outside those benchmark sides. The game against Brisbane Bullets will be particularly important for getting a step up in the lead-up to finals. Tyler Harvey (20.0 points. 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists), Justinian Jessup (14.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists) and Sam Froling (10.4 points, 7.0 rebounds) are the three players who have had the greatest impact on the season, starting in every game for Illawarra. A massive week for the Hawks with an early finals challenge prior to the post-season series.

MELBOURNE UNITED:

vs. New Zealand Breakers @ Bendigo Basketball Centre, Thursday
vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix @ John Cain Arena, Saturday

Melbourne United have got the monkey off the back with a drought-breaking win after four straight losses threatened to derail their season. Luckily for United, they had enough of a lead at the top that they only dropped the one spot to second, and remain in contention for the minor premiership. A first-up game tonight against the struggling New Zealand Breakers needs to be a win no questions asked, but the South East Melbourne Phoenix will be a tougher task. If United can come away with two wins, then they will mount the pressure on the Perth Wildcats heading into the back-end of the season. Jock Landale has been as expected coming into the side this season, racking up 17.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 blocks, while Mitch McCarron (11.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.6 steals) is the only other player to start in every game. Chris Goulding (15.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists) has proven to be a crucial cog with his experience out on court in crunch moments.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS:

vs. Melbourne United @ Bendigo Basketball Centre, Thursday
vs. Brisbane Bullets @ Nissan Arena, Saturday

New Zealand Breakers might be bottom two, but with the least games played, the permanent visitors to Australia will have a chance to make up some ground on their opponents over the next month. With a 4-10 record, the Breakers are desperate to gain some more wins on the board, but have a tough draw this round with a clash against the hungry United, and then a date with the Bullets – who need every win they can get as well – on Saturday. Any win is a good start, but the Breakers will be hoping to snag a couple of upsets in Round 11. Tai Webster (19.9 points. 5.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.2 steals) has been a shining light alongside Finn Delany (13.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists), with the exit post-injury of Lamar Patterson and injury to Corey Webster.

PERTH WILDCATS:

vs. Illawarra Hawks @ RAC Arena, Friday
vs. Sydney Kings @ Qudos Bank Arena, Sunday

The Wildcats just find a way, just when everyone has written them off, to get better and take home the points. Perth took out the NBL Cup despite being in poor form prior to it, and has built on that form in the round since, having won nine of their past 10 to head into Round 11 with a remarkable 11-4 record. The Wildcats are in the most consistent form of their lives, though their opponents the Sydney Kings (four of the past five) and Illawarra Hawks (three of five) also have more success than failure this year. Both their opponents could play finals this year, so it will be a real test for the Wildcats to continue their form, first at home tomorrow night before hitting the road for a trip to the east coast on Sunday. It is fair enough to run out of superlatives for Bryce Cotton (26.1 points. 6.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals) but he has been joined by partner-in-crime John Mooney (17.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists), while Todd Blanchfield (14.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists) has created a three-prong attack.

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX:

vs. Melbourne United @ John Cain Arena, Saturday

The Phoenix have finally found their groove in the NBL in their second season with four straight wins leading them from a 6-7 record to a 10-7 one and remarkably just one win away from the top two teams. Whilst admittedly the Phoenix have played an extra game or two, they are hitting form at the right time, and could match United on wins if they can win The Throwdown on Saturday back at John Cain Arena. Ryan Broekhoff is building minutes slowly off the bench with 4.3 points and 1.3 rebounds thus far, while Yannick Wetzell (11.1 points, 5.9 rebounds) and Ben Moore (11.1 points, 7.0 rebounds) have stepped up in the absence of top scorers, Mitch Creek and Keifer Sykes of late to keep the wins ticking over. It will be a tough game against United, but with several teams right on their tail, the Phoenix will be desperate to win to stay in touch with United and the Wildcats.

SYDNEY KINGS:

vs. Perth Wildcats @ Qudos Bank Arena, Sunday

Just the one game for the Kings this round, and it is another grand final rematch, coming up against top of the table Perth Wildcats. The Kings are in pretty good form with four wins from five games, almost as good as the red-hot Wildcats. If the Kings can grab the win, it will put them in good contention to grab a top four spot, and will be hoping other results go their way. Casper Ware has been at his prolific best with 19.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists this season, teaming up well with fellow shooters, Dejan Vasiljevic (17.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists) and Jarrell Martin (17.1 points, 6.4 points and 1.5 assists). Whilst the scoring drops off after that, they do get a lot of points off the bench in an even team effort. The Kings could springboard off a win against the Wildcats to set themselves up for a strong finish to the season.

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