Author: Vincent van Oorschot

NBL Round 17 review: Brisbane cracks top four, United’s demise continues

WITH now only three rounds remaining every contest proves to be more important than the one before and for teams like the Brisbane Bullets, this is certainly the case. Successful double-header weekends by both the Bullets and the Kings have solidified their positions on the ladder in preparation for the finals, while the downfalls of Melbourne United and the Adelaide 36ers look close to reality. A couple of nail-biting losses for the Phoenix and the Breakers rounded out an action-packed weekend as Australia Day was celebrated throughout the NBL’s Round 17 matchups.

Brisbane Bullets (108) defeated South East Melbourne Phoenix (101)

It was a game that created an abundance of anticipation, as the South East Melbourne Phoenix stood face-to-face with their last chance to make this season’s finals series and for the Bullets, it was the chance to finally crack that top-four position. With both teams having a lot at stake, it was no surprise that the game was neck-and-neck for the first three-quarters with both sides performing well. In fact, it wasn’t until the eighth minute of the final quarter that Lamar Patterson drilled a three-pointer, which was followed by Will Magnay’s magnificent block that the Bullets really started to pull away and secure their fourth win in a row. The main takeaway from the two teams on Thursday night were their methods of scoring, with the Phoenix dominating from behind the arc nailing 15 three-pointers and the Bullets doing most of their damage from around the basket outscoring South-East Melbourne 64-38 for points in the paint. Patterson once again was Brisbane’s standout performer accumulating a boatload of statistics, gathering 27 points, three rebounds and four assists, while being aided by Magnay, who managed to get himself 19 points, six rebounds and seven massive blocks. John Roberson was able to make a considerable impact on the game as well, going for a quiet 26 points in his side’s loss on the night along with five assists. While just 12 points was all Mitch Creek could muster, along with nine rebounds and five assists to further compound his below-par second half of the season. Despite what the outcome meant for both of the teams, each side had a second game to focus on in their respective double headers.

DC Medal: 3 – Lamar Patterson (BB), 2 – Will Magnay (BB), 1 – Mitch Creek (SEM)

Illawarra Hawks (79) defeated by Sydney Kings (102)

With the Hawks and the Kings at opposite ends of the NBL ladder, both sides had different motivations for playing to win, as the Kings were still aiming to finish in the top seed leading into the finals. While the Hawks needed to play hard in front of their committed fans, as they kept attending these few remaining games in droves. Despite not many people believing the Illawarra side stood any chance, it stuck with Sydney for almost a quarter and a half before the away side produced a double-digit lead. The Kings would go on to win the second, third and fourth quarters to encompass their rout and revenge of the Hawks, in retaliation to going down to the wooden-spoon team in their last encounter. Sydney’s 23-point victory was credited to their domination in almost every facet of the game, as 15 threes and a 46 per cent shooting efficiency allowed them a lot of breathing room to work with. While no players for the Kings produced outstanding numbers, it was an overall team effort as six players attained double digits, including newcomer import Deshon Taylor, finishing with a team-high 17 points alongside his fellow Guard in Casper Ware. The Hawks were also quiet in terms of individual performances, as not single player managed to score 15 points; nevertheless, it was Darington Hobson that produced a respectable stat line finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists. The loss for the Hawks was their nineteenth on the season, whereas the Kings’ victory was their sixteenth to date. Sydney now had to focus heading back home in preparation for their clash against rivals, Melbourne United.

DC Medal: 3 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 2 – Darington Hobson (IH), 1 – Brad Newley (SK)

Adelaide 36ers (99) defeated by Brisbane Bullets (108)

Much like their contest against the Phoenix on Thursday night, the Bullets had to grind away at their opponent for a full four quarters, which was the same against the Adelaide 36ers on Saturday afternoon. Overall, it was a story of efficiency as Brisbane capitalised on 52 per cent of their shots, whereas the 36ers struggled in comparison to the Queensland side going 41 per cent from 85 total attempts. Ultimately, this discrepancy in shooting would become the main reason for the Bullets edging out the 36ers early in the fourth quarter and following it through to the final buzzer, winning the contest by nine points and for the first time this season reaching a victory streak of five games. Given the recent success of the Bullets over their past seven games, the consistent leader across all categories has been Lamar Patterson, and once again this was the case with the import producing 29 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Matthew Hodgson secured a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds. Will Magnay continued his impressive defensive showcase as of late with nine points, seven rebounds and five blocks. As per the 36ers, Jerome Randle bounced back to his original form with 21 points and five assists, whereas Daniel Johnson conjured up 16 points and nine rebounds. The two wins over the weekend solidified fourth position for the Bullets and substantially improved their chances of outlasting the mid-table logjam that is hot on their tail. Unfortunately for the 36ers, they now fall two games behind the pace as a result of their loss and will need to stay perfect from here on in if they’re to have any chance of making a finals appearance.

DC Medal: 3 – Lamar Patterson (BB), 2 – Reuben Te Rangi (BB), 1 – Jerome Randle (AD)

Perth Wildcats (80) defeated New Zealand Breakers (79)

Both sides went to war in Perth’s RAC Arena this past Saturday, as the Wildcats squeezed out an intense victory over the Breakers in what was perhaps the game of the round. With New Zealand having the opportunity to jump past Melbourne United into fifth position and keep their finals ambitions intact, the Breakers made the home side sweat in front of their 13,000 fans on the night. While New Zealand was trailing the Wildcats by only five points with ten minutes remaining, inconsistency from the field was the main deterrent for the visiting squad, as throughout the four quarters they only managed a 43 per cent clip from the field failing to get their noses ahead of the Wildcats until it was too late going down to the second seeded team by a single point. Perth’s Bryce Cotton and new recruit Miles Plumlee both left an impression on the game, each scoring 23 points, with Plumlee securing 18 rebounds on the night highlighting his experience as a professional all over the world. Additionally, Nicholas Kay, tallied a double-double of his own with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Brandon Ashley was effective for the Breakers off the bench, putting 21 points on the scoreboard along with 12 rebounds, as Scotty Hopson was limited just 13 points, five rebounds and five assists. The win for Perth leaves them a game and a half behind the ladder-leading Sydney Kings with a game in hand, while New Zealand fell to sixth sitting on a record of 11 wins and 13 losses as they fall a step behind in the finals race.

DC Medal: 3 – Miles Plumlee (PW), 2 – Nick Kay (PW), 1 – Bryce Cotton (PW)

South East Melbourne Phoenix (102) defeated by Cairns Taipans (103)

While South East Melbourne officially fell out of finals contention following its loss to the bullets on Thursday night, it would not stop the side from giving their all against the Cairns Taipans in front of a local crowd at the State Basketball Centre. Both teams exploded out of the gates to kick-off the contest as both sides notched up 31 points within the opening 10 minutes. But the Phoenix took their foot off the gas pedal, allowing Cairns to pull out to a four-point halftime lead. This was then followed by the Taipans outscoring the hosts 31-21 in the third period, seemingly putting the result beyond doubt. However, this was not the case, as the wily outfit Simon Mitchell had been at the helm of for the whole season, clawed their way back into the game getting within a single point on John Roberson’s buzzer-beater three-point shot. However, it was too late as Cairns earned their fourteenth win of the campaign. Scott Machado would lead his side with 24 points, eight assists and four rebounds looking to wrap up an MVP season for the first time in his career. Companions in D.J. Newbill and Majok Deng were also crucial to their side’s victory with 23 and 20 points respectively. Head and shoulders above everyone else, Mitchell Creek put his regular form back on display, putting on a clinic with 32 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, as Daniel Trist followed promptly with 16 points in one of best performances to date.

DC Medal: 3 – D.J. Newbill (CT), 2 – Mitch Creek (SEM), 1 – Scott Machado (CT)

Sydney Kings (106) defeated Melbourne United (88)

Melbourne United have once again fallen ill in search of an elusive win at this stage of the season, as they went down to the Sydney Kings in NSW. Terrific shooting and exemplary ball-movement were the main factors in the Australia Day contest. Despite only trailing by three points halfway through the game, Sydney had no intent of slowing down or letting up in the second half as they blew United out of the water outscoring them 29-17 with big threes by Jae’Sean Tate and Casper Ware. This coupled with a 29-point final period was enough to get the Kings over the line and round out a successful double-header weekend, winning the duel by a convincing 18 points. While Ware’s 26 and Tate’s 22-point efforts were impressive, it was the accuracy by the team that should have the rest of the league worried, as collectively the Kings went 58 per cent from the field. For United, Melo Trimble was finally able to find a strand of his previous form, going 9-19 from the field, rounding up 26 points and five rebounds, whereas Stanton Kidd also proved to be productive off the bench with 15 points and seven rebounds. The Kings’ victory allowed them to stave off a badgering Perth Wildcats side for another week in the top spot, while on the other hand, United could drop to sixth next week if they continue with another defeat.

DC Medal: 3 – Casper Ware (SK), 2 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 1 – Melo Trimble (MU)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

40 – Lamar Patterson (BB)
39 –
38 –
37 –
36 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
35 –
34 –
33 –
32 –
31 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK)
30 –
29 –
28 – Shawn Long (MU)
27 – Mitch Creek (SEM)
26 –
25 –
24 – Jerome Randle (AD), Scott Machado (CT), Casper Ware (SK),
23 –
22 – Melo Trimble (MU)
21 –
20 – LaMelo Ball (IH)
19 – Cameron Oliver (CT), John Roberson (SEM), Nick Kay (PW)
18 –
17 –
16 –
15 – Daniel Johnson (AD)
14 –
13 – Andrew Bogut (SK), Scotty Hopson (NZ), DJ. Newbill (CT)
12 – Eric Griffin (AD)
11 –  Corey Webster (NZ)
10 –
9 – Terrico White (PW)
8 – Nathan Sobey (BB),
7 – Chris Goulding (MU), Finn Delany (NZ)
6 –  Kouat Noi (CT), Dane Pineau (SEM), Brad Newley (SK)
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), AJ Ogilvy (IL), Anthony Drmic (AD), Todd Blanchfield (IH)
4 –  Dario Hunt (PW), Brandon Ashley (NZ), Ben Madgen (SEM), Tom Abercrombie (NZ), Matt Hodgson (BB), Robert Loe (NZ), Didi Louzada (SK), Will Magnay (BB)
3 – Sek Henry (NZ), Glen Rice Jr (NZ), Miles Plumlee (PW)
2 – Jason Cadee (BB), Sunday Dech (IH), David Barlow (MU), Mitch McCarron (MU), Tim Coenraad (IH), Kendall Stephens (SEM), Reuben Te Rangi (BB), Darington Hobson (IH)
1 – Majok Deng (CT), Craig Moller (SK), Jesse Wagstaff (PW), Keith Benson (SEM), Tohi Smith-Milner (MU), RJ Hampton (NZ), Angus Glover (IH), Emmett Naar (IH), Josh Boone (IH), Ej Singler (BB), Daniel Kickert (SK), Sam Froling (IH), Mitch Norton (PW)

2019/20 NBL preview: Round 17 – Little time left in the season, who will break?

THE battle for that elusive fourth spot in the finals is set to ramp up, as four sides are within a single win of snagging a higher position. Following United’s crushing defeat to the Breakers, they need to recover quickly if they are to hold on to their position in the standings, as they close out the round to an in-form Sydney side that is hot off the back of a South East Melbourne drubbing. On the other hand, the Bullets face an important double-header weekend in their quiet run to the postseason, squaring up to a down-and-out Phoenix side and an anxious 36ers squad raring to go in front of their home crowd. Lastly, out in WA, Perth is keen to steal top spot from the Kings, but will have to topple the Breakers who have fought back into the title conversation after their own successful double-header last week with convincing victories against United and Sydney.

Brisbane Bullets vs South East Melbourne Phoenix
Thursday, January 23, 7:30pm
Nissan Arena

Both of these sides go into Round 17 with very different feelings as to what is expected of them. The Brisbane Bullets, who just recently came off a strong victory against the Illawarra Hawks, now sit equal fourth with Melbourne United (both teams are 11-11) vying for that last playoff spot. Their expectation coming into the last week of January is to stay ahead of the mid-table pack, whereas for the Phoenix, their expectation is catching up with the pack. With just six games remaining, there is a slight chance South East Melbourne could regain lost footing, however, this would require a perfect ending to the season where the Phoenix would win all of their remaining games. This begins with Brisbane on Thursday night. For Brisbane in terms of strengths, it starts and ends with their frontcourt. Led by Lamar Patterson’s big numbers both in points and rebounds (20.59 points and 6.0 rebounds), good performances by Will Magnay (8.14 points and 5.67 rebounds) and the in-form Matthew Hodgson (10.3 points and 5.77 rebounds) would go a long way in attaining a must-win contest at home on Thursday night. For the Phoenix, it has been an uncharacteristic last month for Mitchell Creek (19.95 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists), who has been unable to find his rhythm as of late. In Creek’s last five contests, the small-forward has failed to crack twenty points in a game, while also getting diminishing numbers in his assists and rebounds. For the Phoenix to get the results they want at this end of the season, Creek will need to return to the form he had throughout the first half of the campaign. With Dane Pineau, John Roberson and Kendall Stephens running the backcourt, responsibility will fall to their bigs if they are to give the Bullets a run for their money.

Illawarra Hawks vs Sydney Kings
Friday, January 24, 7:30pm
WIN Entertainment Centre

In Round 17, we get to see the best team in the NBL matchup against the worst, but given the last time these two teams met it was the Hawks that came out on top in a shock upset, so it is best not to underestimate this Hawks side. It will be the Hawks that will need to find a way to stop the rampant Kings offence from gaining traction early on in the ballgame. Veterans in Todd Blanchfield and Tim Coenraad were able to hold off the Kings in their last meeting due to slick ball-movement and consistency from the floor. Blanchfield has been in terrific form, averaging 21.4 points per game over the last month and will be one of the go-to men for his struggling Illawarra team. In regards to Sydney, ultimately for the standings’ frontrunners, Sydney has one of the most lethal ball-handling duos in Casper Ware (19.8 points and 4.1 assists) and Jae’Sean Tate (15.7 points and 5.6 rebounds), who were instrumental in last week’s win against the Phoenix, need to use their speed to their advantages, thus creating space for shooters such as Daniel Kickert (8.6 points and 3.0 rebounds) and Didi Louzada (10.0 points and 4.1 rebounds). With the Perth Wildcats one lone win behind the Kings, it is imperative that they are not complacent, as an unlikely loss would shift the whole finals schedule. For the Hawks, being out of finals contention might prove to be good for the NSW side, as there is ample time to prepare for next season. But for the most part, it is about maintaining an adequate level of pride now for the bottom seeded team.

Adelaide 36ers vs Brisbane Bullets
Saturday, January 25, 5:30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Perhaps the most significant game of the round in terms of the standings, the Bullets enter South Australia two days after the first of their two games over the weekend looking to enter the top four, should Melbourne go down to Sydney the next day. For Adelaide, it is a matter of climbing back up the standings as they currently sit anxiously in seventh, coming off a hard loss to Cairns. With Adelaide lacking the necessary depth to challenge the Taipans for four whole quarters last week, despite a monumental 38 points from Daniel Johnson, this week will not be the time to repeat that same game plan. Bigs like Eric Griffin (15.0 points and 6.6 rebounds) and Harry Froling (7.0 points & 3.0 rebounds) seemed almost non-existent in their performances against the Taipans, indicating a major crossroad for the way the 36ers hope to finish the season, especially given the power and strength Brisbane has in its own frontcourt. While Brisbane has quietly risen up to fourth position, it should not go unrecognised that the Bullets’ captain Nathan Sobey has been playing a good brand of basketball up until this point in the season averaging 15.95 points, 3.5 assists and four rebounds a game, meaning given what is on the line for Sobey’s squad, you can most likely expect one of the captain’s best performances to date in his lengthy NBL career.

Perth Wildcats vs New Zealand Breakers
Saturday, January 25, 8:00pm
RAC Arena

It seems as if every single game from now on has a significance around it and this is another case of just that. A win for Perth may very well tie them at the top of the table with the Kings should they lose to United on Sunday. While for the Breakers, a win could edge them closer into the top four depending on the results of various other games. The clash between these two teams is set to be an offensive showdown with two of the league’s best wing players going head-to-head in Terrico White (16.6 points and 3.9 rebounds) and Scotty Hopson (19.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists). While these two stars of the league battle it out, Bryce Cotton (22.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists) would have the advantage against whoever would fill the one spot for the Breakers given his run of form as of late. Averaging over 22 points per game, Cotton has cracked the twenty-point mark in every game over the past month and it does not look like Rj Hampton or an injury-hampered Sek Henry have the repertoire to slow him down at this stage. Another focus point for New Zealand has been the attention around big-man Robert Loe, who until recently had really come into his own. In his last four encounters, Loe has averaged almost 14 points a game and has been a substantial threat around the ring and could be a major issue for the likes of Miles Plumlee and Nicholas Kay. A win for either team here would speak volumes for how their respective seasons can pan out.

South East Melbourne Phoenix vs Cairns Taipans
Sunday, January 26, 3:00pm
State Basketball Centre

South East Melbourne heads back home for their second game of the round looking to either continue their perfect string of games or take part in a less meaningful occasion, should the Phoenix go down to the Bullets in the round-opener. The Taipans however, have worked themselves into third position with a little bit of breathing room as they aim to keep a two-game distance from United and Brisbane or perhaps start to whittle down the deficit between them and the Wildcats. Last week was a major flex for Cairns late in the season, as Dj Newbill (19.6 points and 3.1 assists), Scott Machado (16.9 points and 8.1 assists) and Cameron Oliver (16.6 points & 9.2 rebounds) all dominated in their team’s performance against the 36ers, as all players produced massive efforts in the contest, showcasing possibly what the best form from the trio would look like, which is a stern warning to the rest of the league. Whilst the game plan should not be too different for the Phoenix following on from their Brisbane clash, again it will come down to their bigs’ ability to control the defensive glass and limit second chance points from the likes of Oliver, Kouat Noi and Majok Deng.

Sydney Kings vs Melbourne United
Sunday, January 26, 5:00pm
Qudos Bank Arena

The tipping point is at Melbourne United’s front door, as they currently sit in the middle of a major slump, losing four of their last five clashes, most recently against the Breakers in Auckland. With the added pressure of Brisbane now level with them in the standings, United should come out firing immediately in Sydney’s fortress and should settle for nothing less than a victory if they are to stay in the top four. While Melbourne’s shooting woes continue to hinder their run to the postseason, the biggest talking point is the abysmal run of late for point guard Melo Trimble (19.3 points and 5.0 assists). Averaging only 10 points per game in the last month and seeing a five-minute decrease on the floor in their loss to New Zealand, the United coaching staff have been testing new structures to get the struggling side in the air, with only a handful of games left to play. Perhaps the recent good form of Chris Goulding (17.4 points) and the defensive consistency of Shawn Long (19.4 points and 9.6 rebounds) is enough to topple a strong Sydney offence. For the Sydney Kings, their main objective on the night should be making United second guess their defensive strategies. Whether it be through various screens and post plays, it has been proven that with Ware and Andrew Bogut (8.5 points and 9.1 rebounds) both on the floor, the team’s ball-movement is unrivalled across the league and should cause Melbourne significant headaches when these two are on the floor.

Quiet achieving Bullets side ready to make finals push

IN what has been one of the closest National Basketball League (NBL) seasons to date, everyone can start to feel the boiling point approaching with a mere four rounds remaining. While most of the conversation surrounding prospective teams to make the finals has focused on the likes of Melbourne United, the New Zealand Breakers and the Adelaide 36ers, there has been a quiet achiever that has gone under the radar late in the season, that now finds itself equal fourth on the ladder. That achiever being the Brisbane Bullets.

The Queensland side sits on a .500 record, alongside a struggling Melbourne United side that has come off second best in four out of their last five matchups, while the Bullets have strung together three very convincing wins in consecutive fashion. For a side that had sat in the gutter of the competition parallel to the Illawarra Hawks for most of the first part of the season, Brisbane has found their form to say the least and now finds themselves with an 11-11 record with six games left in their campaign whilst earning a record of 7-3 at home. Given Brisbane’s recent performances in front of their home fans, statistically they stand a better chance of outlasting Melbourne in their run to their playoffs, as the Bullets host their opponents in four of their six game in the lead up to late-February.

Following their convincing 29-point victory against the Hawks this past weekend, Brisbane had solidified its sixth win out of their last nine games and they have a number of factors to credit this achievement as they start to beef up their resume as a finals’ candidate. The first being the individual play of a number of athletes in the Bullets roster. The recent performances from the likes of Cameron Gliddon, Matthew Hodgson and Will Magnay can be argued as the unique factor that has triggered this successful run of games.

Firstly, with Gliddon, it has been his ability to makes shots in pivotal moments of games that has made him an obvious proponent of Brisbane’s positive run. While only averaging seven points per game and shooting 50 per cent from the field, it has been for the most part a very average year for the 30-year-old. But in his last two performances against Illawarra and New Zealand, he’s averaged a formidable 15 points while shooting at an 87.5 per cent clip. If Brisbane are to get off to a good start in their last six games of the season, firstly up against a lethal Taipans side, Gliddon will need to maintain this level of efficiency.

Secondly, it has been the joint performance of Brisbane’s men in the middle. For Will Magnay and Matthew Hodgson, their post-play and their rebounding diligence has been almost second to none across the league. Brisbane’s head coach, Andrej Lemanis, has been experimental with the couple, often starting either Magnay or Hodson, perhaps even both like the game against New Zealand. Nevertheless, Lemarnis was grateful for Magnay’s six-block effort against Illawarra but brought it back to team efforts in getting these wins.

“His rim protection is obviously a special thing… it’s an elite skill, but we had multiple guys in double-figures and 20 assists, so I think over the last five or six weeks or our offence has started to find its rhythm,” mentioned Lemanis post-game this past weekend.

With both players averaging close to double-doubles over the last month, the tandem is looking real scary at the pointy end of the season and will have their hands full when they square off with Cameron Oliver in their final game of the season, who is averaging 16.61 points per game along with 9.17 rebounds per game, the second highest amongst the league in the category.

While these players have played exceptionally well as of recent, Brisbane’s strong second half of the season is also a product of the team’s backbone in Lamar Patterson and their fearless leader in Nathan Sobey. For Patterson, it has been an Most Valuable Player (MVP) calibre season for the 196cm import forward, averaging 20.59 points per game, six rebounds and 4.77 assists. The utility/star player has proven week in and week out that it is a given he will produce the numbers to support his squad in this last sprint of the season, but in a league where the competition is tougher than concrete, he will need his teammates to rise to the occasion. Patterson also believes that his team’s recent momentum has been there, even in their losses and seems excited to see where the team is going. “I feel like we just been on a steady growth for the past month and a half, so it’s turning into some wins and hopefully we can just keep it rolling,” he said following their win against the Hawks.

Then there is the six-year veteran in Nathan Sobey. Despite the fact it being his first year at the helm of the Bullets organisation, the way he finishes the season could be a testament to the man’s career so far, while also projecting it further. Averaging almost 16 points per game, a modest three and a half assists and four rebounds, Sobey has been instrumental across the board when his side finds itself in an uphill battle. One of Sobey’s most obvious traits is his consistency from the floor. This is evident in the past month of basketball the man has played, constantly shooting above the 40 per cent mark, with an input of 13 points per game. This will be key in the run to attaining a finals position.

The first steps

Vs South-East Melbourne Phoenix, Thursday, January 23 @ 7:30pm

Brisbane begins its double-header weekend and the first of their six remaining games at home against a desperate Phoenix side that’s looking to regain lost footing. The biggest challenge facing the Bullets, will be limiting and subduing the Phoenix backcourt, more specifically they’re ability to nail the three-ball. With shooting weapons like John Roberson, Kendall Stephens and Mitch Creek at Simon Mitchell’s disposal, Brisbane veterans like Jason Cadee may need to rely on their knowledge rather than ability if they’re to offset a good shooting performance.

@ Adelaide 36ers, Saturday, January 25 @ 5:30pm

Perhaps being the more significant of the two contests for the Bullets, they’ll need all players from the starting five to the benchwarmers to be on guard, as Adelaide is feeling the heat after their demoralising loss to the Taipans in Round 16, so you can expect them to come out swinging. In addition, despite Eric Griffin’s lacklustre performance last week, the 203cm tall forward is averaging almost 15 points per game along with six and a half rebounds, so a bounce back performance is definitely on the table. Again for the Bullets, it will come down to the play of Hodson and Magnay if they’re to win in the rebounding and second chance points categories.

The last 100m

Vs Melbourne United (4th place)
Saturday, February 1 @ 5:30pm
@ Nissan Arena

Vs New Zealand Breakers (6th place)
Friday, February 7 @ 7:30pm
@ Nissan Arena

Vs Perth Wildcats (2nd place)
Sunday, February 9 @ 5:00pm
@ RAC Arena

Vs Cairns Taipans (3rd place)
Saturday, February 15 @ 5:30pm
@ Nissan Arena

NBL Round 16 review: Breakers back in the hunt, Bullets rise to equal fourth

A HUGE round of National Basketball League (NBL) action saw New Zealand Breakers bounce back from disappointment last round, while Brisbane Bullets emerged as a genuine title contender with the some one-sided contests across the weekend.

New Zealand Breakers (88) defeated Sydney Kings (81)

It was different setting for the Breakers in the opening game of Round 16, with Friday night’s matchup taking place at TSB Stadium in New Plymouth. But that didn’t stop the New Zealand side from gathering momentum, particularly from forward Scotty Hopson, who started off strong with 13 opening quarter points. Despite this, a big three-pointer from Xavier Cooks of the Kings had the game tied after ten minutes at 24 a piece. However, this would carry over the visitors ultimately leading by five at half-time and looking to steal an away win with four rounds remaining. For New Zealand, this was a must-win game if they were to have the best chance of making finals and they certainly looked like they wanted to,  following an 8-0 run late in the third-quarter which began the Breakers’ crusade to the final buzzer and back into the winner’s column. The win for the Breakers was largely credited to Hopson, who has maintained an elite level of play predominantly in the second half of the season, and his 30 points, six rebounds and five assists were a testament to that. Additionally, it was another efficient week for New Zealand’s center Robert Loe as he snagged up 18 points, four rebounds and five assists, including the three-pointer to ice the game with 24 seconds remaining. Finn Delaney was also a major presence on the boards, securing a double-double against the ladder-leaders with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Casper Ware’s night was nothing extraordinary compared to prior outings, going 7-22 from the field, managing 17 points and six assists. Meanwhile, Jae’Sean Tate would crack 22 points, going 7-8 from the charity strike. The win for the Breakers would springboard them into Sunday’s clash against Melbourne, as the Kings would need to recuperate for the round-closer against the Phoenix.

DC Medal: 3 – Scotty Hopson (NZ), 2 – Finn Delany (NZ), 1 – Robert Loe (NZ)

Perth Wildcats (97) defeated South-East Melbourne Phoenix (71)

Perth’s main objective heading into the clash against the Phoenix was to just stick to their game plan and win their only matchup of the weekend to further chase down the Sydney Kings. From the outset the game was rather one-sided thanks to fast-break buckets coming in bunches for the defending champions. Leading by nine, the Wildcats would continue to stretch the lead throughout the game, leading by 26 at the final break and then maintaining the deficit to the final buzzer. The result for the Wildcats has put them a game behind the Kings once again (15-8), with a massive game against New Zealand looming next Saturday. As for the Phoenix, the loss was a major setback given they were to face an angry Sydney side just two days later and had gotten off on the wrong foot to their Round 16. The major factors behind the Wildcats’ victory were the various ways they obtained points, as they outscored the Phoenix in categories such as points in the paint (40-34), second-chance points (7-0) and points from turnovers (15-6) which added up to a plus twenty-two on the scoreboard as a result. Bryce Cotton once again guided his team through the storm with a solid 25 points and seven assists, shooting 50 per cent around the basket. He was assisted by Mitchell Norton, who up until last week had been relatively quiet, tallying 18 points in 27 minutes of play. Only two of the Phoenix’s players managed to crack double digits, with John Roberson stringing together an indifferent 11 points and six assists and surprisingly Devondrick Walker, who led his side in the scoring totals with 16 points.

DC Medal: 3 – Bryce Cotton (PW), 2 – Nick Kay (PW), 1 – Mitch Norton (PW)

Brisbane Bullets (106) defeated Illawarra Hawks (77)

The final score of Saturday’s game between the Bullets and the Hawks does not reflect the fight that Illawarra had displayed in the first half as the game was tied mid-way through the contest. But mainly due to Brisbane’s stellar ball movement and momentum gained from their successful three-point shooting, it was a massacre in the second half at the Armory. A 36-point third quarter from the Bullets had almost instantaneously put the contest beyond doubt, as the home-side limited the Hawks to just 17 third-quarter points. To cement the win, the Bullets didn’t let up on the defensive end, again limiting Illawarra to a mere 13 points in the final period and as result, convincingly routing the ninth placed Hawks and reinstating their case for a finals spot. With the Bullets dominating across all the shooting categories, it was no surprise they would collect 13 shots from downtown, compared to Hawks’ five, with the main culprits being Cam Gliddon and Jason Cadee, as they each slotted four. Lamar Patterson was as good as you’d expect, with the import forward rounding up an even 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. All five of Brisbane’s starters garnered double digits in points and this just proved too much for Illawarra as only two of their whole squads managed that feat. An NBL rising star in Angus Glover came out with 18 points and five rebounds, while Todd Blanchfield settled for 17 points. For Brisbane, prospects are starting to become more positive as they sit even in the standings with Melbourne United with .500 records (11-11) and a finals spot that is only an arm’s reach away. For Illawarra, it marked their fifth consecutive defeat.

DC Medal: 3 – Lamar Patterson (BB), 2 – Will Magnay (BB), 1 – Nathan Sobey (BB)

Cairns Taipans (108) defeated Adelaide 36ers (91)

It took a little bit more than just a strong first quarter for Cairns to get over the line in their victory over the 36ers, in this much anticipated clash of two of the top candidates to suit up in the post-season. While Cairns did jump out to a 12-point advantage after 10 minutes of play, Adelaide refused to go away for the rest of the three periods. Due to Cairns’ shooting efficiency, the 36ers were just never able to make a substantial run away from home. Adelaide’s shooting was below par on the night, stumbling along with a 37 per cent success rate from the court, whereas Cairns’ flourished, making more shots than they missed (51%). The Taipans’ ‘big-three’ came up big under the spotlight, as Dj Newbill contributed a team-high 28 points against a struggling Adelaide backcourt. For big-man import Cameron Oliver, it was another double-double performance for the season with a whopping 24 points and 15 rebounds, whereas Scott Machado fell one assist shy of a double-double of his own, finishing with 21 points and nine assists. The two-man duo of Jerome Randle and Daniel Johnson did all they could and more, but it was not enough. Randle, who only managed seven field goals on the night, still accumulated 21 points and 10 assists, while Johnson was unable to miss, finishing with an astounding 38 points and eight boards. After Adelaide’s defeat it meant they were now at the tail-end of the mid-table logjam. Only sitting half a game from fourth, the pressure is now mounting for the 36ers to earn some late-season victories. Cairns’ triumph now means that they sit a game and a half ahead of fourth place, ever increasing their chances of making finals with few games to play.

DC Medal: 3 – Jerome Randle (AD), 2 – Cameron Oliver (CT), 1 – Daniel Johnson (AD)

New Zealand Breakers (90) defeated Melbourne United (68)

New Zealand made their return to Spark Arena with an abundance of momentum, coming away with a hard-fought victory over the Kings two days prior. They had to move on quickly however, as they now had to topple a desperate Melbourne United side that had lost three of their last four contests. Despite the level of desperation that United were showing, the Breakers weathered the storm to start the game with the utmost perfection, leading by ten points just seven minutes into the game. One of the main questions being asked was ‘is Sek Henry’s output as of lately a result of poor form?’. Henry showed up to the game to silence the critics in his limited minutes of play, with two massive three-pointers in the second quarter setting the tone for the rest of the game. New Zealand would win every quarter, finishing off the struggling Melbourne side by 22 points and really ramping up the finals race in the process. Two teams in the Breakers and the 36ers sit a half game behind Melbourne due to their loss, as well as the Bullets who sit equal fourth with four rounds to go. An all-around scoring performance by the Breakers is the easiest way to describe their offence on Sunday, as Scotty Hopson led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds and Finn Delaney notching up his second double-double of the weekend with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Melbourne’s struggles only continue to get worse as Melo Trimble continues his run of poor performances, with a quiet 12 points and five assists. Shawn Long and Chris Goulding made up the rest of the team’s points with 18 and 13 points respectively.

DC Medal: 3 – Scotty Hopson (NZ), 2 – Finn Delany (NZ), 1 – Robert Loe (NZ)

Sydney Kings (98) defeated South East Melbourne Phoenix (81)

Sink or swim was the scenario facing the South-East Melbourne squad walking into Qudos Bank Arena, which motivated them to come out firing in the first quarter. But it was a grind for the Phoenix through the first three-quarters, with every basket being fought for against a tenacious Kings defence. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Simon Mitchell’s team’s knees gave way and the relentless onslaught of Sydney’s offence finally came through, outscoring the Phoenix 23-13 in a dominant final period, regaining the loss they had sustained in New Zealand and winning the contest by a modest 17 points. Despite coming out second best in almost every statistic, the Phoenix hung around with the Kings for 30 minutes, which points to lack of conversion, evident in their 44 per cent shooting from the field compared to Sydney’s 53 per cent. As five different players reached double digits for the Kings, there weren’t many major performances, however Didi Louzada’s 18 points in 17 minutes off the bench was a big talking point during the contest. Casper Ware and Jae’Sean Tate’s 14 points apiece were also essential in the victory coupled with Andrew Bogut’s 11 rebounds, making it a well-rounded win for the top team in the league. John Roberson’s 27 points and five three-pointers was a highlight for the Phoenix, while Dane Pineau put up more impressive rebounding numbers with 13 and Kyle Adnam put on one of his best performances of the season, with 17 points at a 72 per cent clip. The Kings hold on to their top spot for another week as they secured their sixteenth win of the 2019/20 season, with a red-hot Perth side just one win behind them. On the other hand, the Phoenix’s postseason hopes have been severely hindered, following two defeats over their double-header weekend placing them two wins behind the pack in the mid-table race.

DC Medal: 3 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 2 – John Roberson (SEM), 1 – Didi Louzada (SK)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

35 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
34 – Lamar Patterson (BB)
33 –
32 –
31 –
30 –
29 –
28 – Shawn Long (MU)
27 –
26 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK),
25 –
24 – Mitch Creek (SEM)
23 – Scott Machado (CT), Jerome Randle (AD)
22 –
21 – Casper Ware (SK), Melo Trimble (MU)
20 – LaMelo Ball (IH)
19 – Cameron Oliver (CT), John Roberson (SEM)
18 –
17 – Nick Kay (PW)
16 –
15 – Daniel Johnson (AD)
14 –
13 – Andrew Bogut (SK), Scotty Hopson (NZ)
12 – Eric Griffin (AD)
11 –  Corey Webster (NZ)
10 – DJ. Newbill (CT)
9 – Terrico White (PW)
8 – Nathan Sobey (BB),
7 – Chris Goulding (MU), Finn Delany (NZ)
6 –  Kouat Noi (CT), Dane Pineau (SEM)
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), Brad Newley (SK), AJ Ogilvy (IL), Anthony Drmic (AD), Todd Blanchfield (IH)
4 –  Dario Hunt (PW), Brandon Ashley (NZ), Ben Madgen (SEM), Tom Abercrombie (NZ), Matt Hodgson (BB), Robert Loe (NZ), Didi Louzada (SK)
3 – Sek Henry (NZ), Glen Rice Jr (NZ)
2 – Jason Cadee (BB), Sunday Dech (IH), David Barlow (MU), Mitch McCarron (MU), Tim Coenraad (IH), Kendall Stephens (SEM), Will Magnay (BB)
1 – Majok Deng (CT), Craig Moller (SK), Jesse Wagstaff (PW), Keith Benson (SEM), Tohi Smith-Milner (MU), RJ Hampton (NZ), Angus Glover (IH), Emmett Naar (IH), Josh Boone (IH), Ej Singler (BB), Daniel Kickert (SK), Sam Froling (IH), Mitch Norton (PW)

United to run gauntlet for top-four finish

FOLLOWING their loss to the 36ers on Saturday night, it marked Melbourne United’s third loss in four contests. As a result of the defeat, United now sit precariously in fourth position with Adelaide sitting only half a game back and the Bullets just one win behind in sixth.

With a quarter of the season to play and only seven games remaining, Dean Vickerman’s men need to find a strain of good form quick if they are to have the best chance of making the postseason.

“It’s been a sub-standard quarter [of the season] for us, but we’ve got another quarter of the season to go,” Vickerman said in his post-game presser last Saturday.

“We’ll need a positive score out of these [games], whether it be 5-2, whether it be 4-3, we need a positive outcome.”

One of Melbourne’s main detriments at this point of the season, particularly during their last four contests, has been the sub-par performance of their point guard, Melo Trimble.

The 25-year-old import has struggled from the field recently, failing to crack ten points in his last three games. In Saturday’s game against the 36ers, Trimble stumbled his way through 31 minutes of play and converted only two of his thirteen attempts on the night, finishing with five points.

During his encounters with Adelaide, Illawarra and Brisbane, Trimble had failed to achieve a shooting percentage of at least 30 per cent, as well as the following week, only shooting 31 per cent against the Taipans, who sit half a game ahead of United in third position.

Other members of United’s starting five have also been substantially absent from the floor. Namely, ex-Melbourne Tiger and Boomer, David Barlow. Despite Barlow only averaging 7.95 points and 4.16 rebounds per game, Barlow’s output has decreased over the last three weeks, which is severely counterproductive in a league that has been neck and neck from Round 1.

Barlow, who’s been an influential leader in the National Basketball League for eleven seasons, has scored a total of 23 points in his last four games and has shot an unremarkable 33.3 per cent from the floor. This has in turn caused a three-and-a-half-minute decrease in Barlow’s minutes at this end of the season.

Whether or not Casey Prather does make a last-minute return, despite being ruled out for the rest of the season, Vickerman and his staff have a lot to ponder as the season starts to reach its pointy end and every loss becomes even more significant.

While United struggles with their front-court woes, one of their roster’s oldest players has recently regained a level of form that has not been exhibited in his last couple of seasons.

Chris Goulding, who put up very impressive numbers in his performances against the 36ers and the Hawks averaging 23.5 points a game, has seen a substantial increase in his minutes as a result, going from around 30 minutes a game to almost 36.

Given Goulding’s newly refreshed form, perhaps a different style of offence might just be the thing that gets Melbourne over the line in the next five rounds, or perhaps less prominent players, such as the developing Shea Ili or Boomer Mitch McCarron can step up to the task.

Nevertheless, for Goulding, as he said following his side’s defeat against Adelaide, he needs more than just a good shooting performance, he needs wins to justify these efforts.

“[My stroke] feels fine,” he said, “I feel confident in my shot but when you don’t win there’s not much point in making six three-pointers.”

The Road to the Postseason

As stated earlier, Melbourne still awaits seven more challengers in their NBL 2019/20 campaign, with the bulk of their top tier competition coming within the next ten days facing both top teams and a team keen on redemption. Here is the snapshot for Melbourne United’s next three matchups as well as the team’s schedule wrapping up the season.

Sunday, January 19 vs New Zealand @ Spark Arena

The first step in the race for a semi-final spot is to cross the Tasman and defeat a team that is looking to regain lost footing in the standings. The Breakers, who once sat in fifth position only two rounds ago, lost two very important games to third placed Cairns and the sixth placed Bullets in Round 15. For Melbourne and most other teams, the number one priority should be neutralising both Scotty Hopson and Sek Henry early on in the contest. Therefore, this match provides the perfect setting for Melo Trimble to bounce back to good form with a strong performance against the Breakers’ backcourt.

Sunday, January 26 vs Sydney @ Qudos Bank Arena

When Round 17 swings around, Melbourne has a chance to really justify their case for a finals berth as they do battle away against the top side in the league. The bulk of the responsibility will fall onto United’s big men. Shawn Long, Melbourne’s marquee import signing of the season, is averaging almost a double-double with 19.4 points and 9.8 rebounds being tallied every game. If Long along with others in his front-court can keep second-chance points limited and out-rebound the Kings, then pushing the floor and shooting accuracy will ultimately decide the outcome.

Wednesday, January 29 vs Perth Wildcats @ Melbourne Arena

In order to give themselves the best possible run to the playoffs, United will need to attempt to slay the in-form Wildcats, who are coming off a strong victory against the Kings. With the Wildcats having threats at almost every position, it will take more than just good execution on United’s part. Obtaining Bryce Cotton’s penetration ability, Terrico White’s strength at the wing position and Nicholas Kay being proficient everywhere else, a top to bottom effort will be required by Melbourne.

Final sprint

Saturday, February 1 vs Brisbane Bullets @ Nissan Arena

Saturday, February 8 vs Illawarra Hawks @ Melbourne Arena

Thursday, February 13 vs Cairns Taipans @ Melbourne Arena

Sunday, February 16 vs South-East Melbourne Phoenix @ Melbourne Arena

2019/20 NBL Team of the Week: Round 15

WHILE Round 15 came to an end, fans were curious to see what the finals picture would look like and start to gather an idea of who was most likely to book themselves a post season berth. But, as has been the trend for most of this season, the fans will need to wait a little longer to see how the cards will fall, as still only two games separate fourth and eighth position on the ladder after an exciting weekend hoops with standout performances. Here’s Draft Central’s Team of the Week for Round 15.

New Zealand’s two losses over the weekend was a major setback for the team, as they dropped from fifth in the standings, back down to eighth once again. Despite the losses that occurred, the duo of big-man Robert Loe who came to play against the Taipans and the consistent all-around play of teammate Scotty Hopson made a statement, enough to earn two of the starting five spots this week. Loe kept his side within striking distance for 40 minutes, going 10 for 16 from the field, racking up 24 points along with a couple of daggers from three-point range. He also collected seven rebounds and a couple of blocks in the process. Although Hopson was streaky through both of his games he had an impact across the board, averaging 16 points, seven assists and 5.5 rebounds. But despite the monumental efforts of both players, the Breakers have fallen back to eighth, a position they have been in for the majority of the season.

Across the ditch in Melbourne, a hard-fought win by the Phoenix against the Hawks has gone a long distance in maintaining the new team’s playoff aspirations. The main contributing factors for the win fell to Dane Pineau who for the second time in NBL history, recording 19 rebounds in back-to-back games gifting him a place as a starter in the Team of the Week. The first time since Mark Bradtke in 2002. Secondly, Kendall Stephens who had failed to find his form prior to Round 15, especially after nursing a month-long ankle injury, came out in a big way with 20 points and six rebounds as he drilled two late three-pointers to polish off the Hawks.

The last duo to qualify as standout performers over the weekend, came out of the Phoenix’s cross-town rivals, Melbourne United, as Shawn Long and Chris Goulding made the bench line-up for their weekend performances against the 36ers. For Long, it was a mammoth effort on the boards. Whilst tallying 16 points in Saturday night’s contest, the center compiled 14 rebounds by the final buzzer, as he has done throughout most of the year. For Goulding, it was a three-point party. The veteran shooting-guard went on to knock down six of his eleven three-point attempts as well as six free-throws, rounding out a stellar night from the field, finishing with 26 points.

Rounding out the Team of the Week’s starting five, were two of the highest performing guards in the league. The Taipans’ captain in Scott Machado and Perth’s deadeye ball-handler in Bryce Cotton. Machado’s efficient weekend was enough to secure fourth spot in the standings for another week, following off games of 29 and 16 points against New Zealand and Sydney. Machado averaged 4.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds across the weekend. Cotton’s demolition job of the Hawks was another indicator of an NBL All-First Team level season. The American was amongst the leaders in virtually every category with 23 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals as the Wildcats continue to pursue the Kings for their top-spot.

Last but certainly not least, Adelaide’s Jerome Randle sat between the likes of Machado and Cotton within this week’s top performers, as his side toppled Melbourne United to hand them their third loss in four games. Randle’s 23 points and four dimes rounded out the Team of the Week bench’s backcourt next to Stephens, as the 36ers win put them half a game behind United in fifth place. To conclude this week’s squad, with two elite performances was Hawks forward Todd Blanchfield, who averaged 20.5 points over the weekend. This included an exemplary performance against Perth where the forward garnered 26 points and eight rebounds in 36 minutes of play finalising this week’s frontcourt.

STARTING FIVE

G: Scott Machado (CT) – 45 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, 0 blocks, 53.3 FG%
G: Bryce Cotton (PW) – 23 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, 0 blocks, 44.0 FG%
C: Robert Loe (NZ) – 33 points, 12 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 54.5 FG%
F: Dane Pineau (SEM) – 14 points, 19 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 3 blocks, 100.0 FG%
F: Scotty Hopson (NZ) – 32 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists, 3 steals, 0 blocks, 43.3 FG%

BENCH

G: Kendall Stephens (SEM) – 20 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 57.0 FG%
G: Jerome Randle (AD) – 23 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 53 FG%
C: Shawn Long (MU) – 16 points, 14 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks, 42.0 FG%
F: Todd Blanchfield (IH) – 41 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 0 blocks, 56.5 FG%
F: Chris Goulding (MU) – 26 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 41.0 FG%

 

WNBL Round 13 review: Flyers edge out Boomers in OT, Fire rout Caps

WITH the season coming to a close and only three rounds now remaining, the top four is close to being decided as the Lynx need an unbeaten run for even the slightest chance of a playoff spot, for which they took the first step in doing so, toppling Bendigo. Meanwhile, the Townsville Fire may have showed precursor signs of what is to come next season, as they walloped an abysmal Capitals outfit by a whopping 33 points in the round’s shock result. Meanwhile the Flyers edged out the Boomers in a nail-biting game of the round that ended in overtime.

Adelaide Lightning (69) defeated by Melbourne Boomers (74)

The round kicked off in South Australia for what was the most important game of the season prior to tip-off for the Lightning. A win for Adelaide would have tied them for second on the standings with their opponents, the Boomers. As both sides matched each other on the scoreboard through the first quarter, neither team managed to gain a considerable edge on one another. But it was the Melbourne side that produced the game’s first sizeable lead, outscoring Adelaide by nine heading points into half-time. The Lightning would answer back however with a late scoring charge in the final quarter, bidding to upset one of this season’s title contenders. With a 21-14 final period by Adelaide thanks to efficient scoring from the field (40.6 per cent), it took astonishing three-point accuracy for the Boomers to hold off the home-side. Melbourne outplayed the Lightning from behind the arc, shooting a total of nine three-pointers compared to Adelaide’s mere two, which would lead to a close five-point win, creating more wiggle room for Melbourne in the top-four as a result. Sophie Cunningham came up big for the Boomers, knocking down four of their shots from deep and finishing with 18 points, as well as five rebounds. While Cayla George led the side with 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, it was further compounded by Ezi Magbegor’s 14 points and eight rebounds adding more depth to the visitors’ scoring efforts. For the Lightning, player of the game honours went to Brianna Turner who ended her game with a solid double-double (23 points and 11 rebounds) and four blocks, while Nicole Seekamp obtained her own with 11 points and 11 assists. Adelaide’s defeat ended their four-game winning streak leaving them in the top four, while the Boomers put themselves within arm’s reach of the league-leading Southside Flyers who they would matchup with on Sunday night.

DC Medal: 3 – Brianna Turner (AD), 2 – Sophie Cunningham (MB), 1 – Ezi Magbegor (MB)

Townsville Fire (102) defeated UC Capitals (69)

The shock of the weekend took place in Queensland’s far-north as the seventh-placed Townsville Fire blew the third-placed Capitals out of the water. The Fire outscored the Canberra side in three out of four quarters, including a crushing final period outscoring the Caps 34-14. With the Fire winning in all facets of the game, it came with no surprise that Townsville ran away with the contest early on. The lone saving grace for the away team was their consistency from the free-throw line shooting 18 of 20 (90 per cent). It was an all-around effort from Townsville, as six players would finish with double digits, most notably from Tess Madgen who totalled 26 points. The Fire also recorded a duo of double doubles from Julie Vanloo (16 points and 10 assists) and Bridget Carleton (13 points and 11 rebounds) as they were the main perpetrators in the dismantling of the Capitals. Both Marianna Tolo and Kia Nurse squeezed out 17 points for UC, while Keely Froling recorded a double-double of her own with 15 points and 10 boards. The Fire, who are out of finals contention, are showing promising signs for the upcoming season as a result of Friday night’s performance earning their fourth victory of the season in the process, whereas the Capitals who are sitting pretty in third, need to re-adjust leading into the postseason after such a dismal performance.

DC Medal: 3 – Tess Madgen (TF), 2 – Julie Vanloo (TF), 1 – Keely Froling (UC)

Sydney Uni Flames (76) defeated by Townsville Fire (83)

With the Fire hot off the back of their best performance so far this season, there was a considerable amount of momentum as they travelled down to Sydney to take on the sixth placed Flames. With both teams out of the finals race, it was a battle of pride, as both sides were keen on finishing their seasons on a good note. The “Battle of the Inferno” started off with high-paced offensive and little defensive success, as both sides cracked the 20-point mark by the end of the first period. However, due to a lacklustre 14-point second quarter by the Fire, Sydney Uni held a double-digit lead heading into the main break. But once again, the scoring depth that was on display two days earlier by Townsville came to fruition as a strong second half was enough to rally the Fire to a hard fought seven-point victory in New South Wales. With 14 successful three-point attempts from the Fire compared to the Flames’ four, it was enough to offset the damage Sydney had caused with their points in the paint (48-28). This coupled with five Townsville players reaching double-digits, it was difficult for the Flames to alter their game plan which had been successful throughout the opening two quarters. The Fire’s leading scorer on this occasion was Darcee Garbin who accumulated 18 solid points as well as four three-pointers for good measure. Carleton rounded out a successful weekend one rebound short of another double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds. The Flames’ key contributor was their marquee forward in Alice Kunek, who piled it on to finish with 30 points, going seven from seven from the free-throw line. As Townsville went back-to-back during the round and the Flames lost their third game on the trot, the Fire sit a single game back on the Sydney-side in the standings, as both sides look to finish with a respectable fifth-placed finish.

DC Medal: 3 – Darcee Garbin (TF), 2 – Alice Kunek (SF), 1 – Bridget Carleton (TF)

Perth Lynx (100) defeated Bendigo Spirit (81)

The Perth Lynx have taken the first step of their monumental task of stealing a postseason berth, with a convincing 19-point drubbing of the bottom-of-the-table Spirit. The Lynx would set the tone early with a 32-point first quarter and would not be outscored in any quarter following that. It was matter of capitalisation throughout the contest, as it was Perth that dominated the inside game with 32 of their points coming from around the basket. They were also big on turnover points racking up 17 compared to Bendigo’s 12 and conclusively, they ran the Spirit off the floor taking the fast-break points category 11-2. For the Lynx, both Mareena Whittle and Nadeen Paine secured 19 points each with both of them combining for six three-pointers, as Katie Ebzery produced a solid night with 11 points, six rebounds and six assists. For the Spirit, Shyla Heal shot the lights out, tallying 30 points for her struggling side along with six rebounds, whilst Carly Ernst left the arena with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The victory for the Lynx keeps their season hopes alive a week longer, as the Lightning’s loss to Melbourne leaves Perth 3.5 games out of fourth position with five games remaining over the next three weeks. With Adelaide only needing two wins to secure a finals position, the top four might be decided by the end of next round.

DC Medal: 3 – Shyla Heal (BS), 2 – Mareena Whittle (PL), 1 – Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL)

Melbourne Boomers (73) defeated by Southside Flyers (75)

Fans who were able to make it the State Basketball Centre in Melbourne were treated to a possible preview of this season’s Grand Final series as it was first versus second to round out Round 13. For most of the game, it seemed that the home side held a relatively tight grip on the game through three quarters winning each of them by four, one and one points. But a desperate Flyers side came out of their shell, to string together a last minute comeback to force the match into overtime, thanks to four consecutive free-throws in the final minute from Rebecca Cole and Leilani Mitchell. But in extra time, it fell once again to Mitchell to knock down free throws in the clutch with 39 seconds left, to which she rose to the occasion knocking them down and putting the game out of reach, resulting in the two-point nail-biter and 21 points along with it on the night. Jenna O’Hea closed out her night with 19 points and Mercedes Russell honed in on the boards, collecting another double-double to her collection this campaign (18 points and 11 rebounds). Magbegor dominated throughout the 45 minutes of basketball, with 24 points and 12 rebounds despite her team’s crushing defeat. The win by the Flyers prevented the Boomers from tying them in first position on the ladder. Instead the deficit for Melbourne fell back to two games and their winning streak ends at four for the second seeded team.

DC Medal: 3 – Leilani Mitchell (SF), 2 – Mercedes Russell (SF), 1 – Ezi Magbegor (MB)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

27 –  Mercedes Russell (SF),
26 –
25 –  Cayla George (MB)
24 –
23 –
22 –
21 – Kelsey Griffin (UC)
20 – Stephanie Talbot (AL)
19 –
18 – Brianna Turner (AL)
17 –
16 – Lindsay Allen (MB), Alice Kunek (SU),
15 –
14 – Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL)
13 – Abby Bishop (TF)
12 – Alison Schwagmeyer (PL), Colleen Planeta (AD), Olivia Epoupa (UC), Darcee Garbin (TF)
11 – Kia Nurse (UC), Keely Froling (UC), Leilani Mitchell (SF),
10 – Jenna O’Hea (SF),
9 – Madeleine Garrick (MB),
8 – Carley Ernst (BS), Bridget Carleton (TF),
7 – Jessica Kuster (SU), Tess Madgen (TF), Ezi Magbegor (MB)
6 – Imani McGee-Stafford (PL), Sara Blicavs (SF), Marianna Tolo (UC),
5 – Tahlia Tupaea (SU),
4 – Kelly Wilson (BS),
3 – Rebecca Tobin (BS), Rebecca Cole (SF), Lauren Nicholson (AL),  Tessa Lavey (BS), Sophie Cunningham (MB), Shyla Heal (PL),
2 – Crystal Langhorne (AD), Micaela Cocks (TF), Chelsea Brook (AD), Lauren Mansfield (PL), Nicole Seekamp (AL), Julie Vanloo (TF),  Mareena Whittle (PL)
1 –  Ariel Atkins (PL), Alex Wilson (SU), Anneli Maley (SF), Stella Beck (MB), Abigail Wehrung (BS), Kathryn Westbeld (AD)

2019/20 NBL weekend preview: Round 14 – Third and fourth up for grabs in race to the Finals

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
Melbourne Arena

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
Nissan Arena

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.

NBL Round 13 review: NBL breaks attendance record over upset-heavy holiday period

DUE to the extended round, the schedule hosted nine matches over the course of the holiday period, which saw the largest total attendance throughout a single round in NBL history. A total of 67,201 people bought tickets to see out the end of the decade in their NBL memorabilia and cheer their sides on. The round saw massive upsets, as the Illawarra Hawks upstaged the Sydney Kings, as well as the Adelaide 36ers toppling the Perth Wildcats in South Australia. Round 13 also saw the mid-table race become even tighter as key losses to Melbourne United have allowed third position in the standings to be up for grabs. A total of one and a half games now separates the third and eighth positions, the first time to have happened in the history of the league this late in the season.

Melbourne United (75) defeated by Cairns Taipans (77)

The round kicked off on Boxing Day with the annual ‘open-air’ matchup at Melbourne Arena, as the Taipans, who were in hot form, took on United. With Cairns racing out of the blocks, scoring seven of the first eight points of the game, it was Melbourne who had the task of playing catch-up throughout the game. The strong first quarter would produce an eleven-point double-digit advantage for the visiting side, while keeping United to just nine points. The scoring woes for United however would extend into the second quarter, with the side managing 11 points as a squad, taking their halftime tally to a mere 30 points, breaking the record for lowest points in a first half so far this season. It would not be until the final period that the home side started to grind their way back into the game with big plays made by guards Chris Goulding and Shea Ili levelling the game with just over a minute to play. But, further proving that Dj Newbill is currently one of the best finishers in National Basketball League, the Cairns’ guard made the game winning layup to steal the away win for the Taipans as he finished with 20 points. Once again it was Scott Machado that led the charge for the Taipans, as he summarised his game with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. It was also a big night for Marco Djeric, as he walked away from the contest with a humble 14 points, as well as four three-pointers under his belt. Despite the loss, it was United’s big-man in Shawn Long that did his job on the boards, collecting another double-double on the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds, whereas Goulding pulled out his old party tricks going five of seven from the three-point arc, finishing with 15 points.

DC Medal: 3 – Scott Machado (CT), 2 – D.J. Newbill (CT), 1 – Melo Trimble (MU)

Brisbane Bullets (96) defeated by New Zealand Breakers (99)

It was heartbreak at the Armory on Friday night, as Scotty Hopson’s buzzer-beating three-pointer crushed the hearts of the Queensland faithful, allowing the Breakers to nab a three-point win against Brisbane. In a game where the Bullets managed to keep New Zealand at an arm’s distance, it looked as if the home side’s potential victory might start to move them up the NBL ladder, but in the last second those aspirations were once again thwarted, despite leading the game in all categories. Brisbane’s goal of limiting Hopson’s damage was safe to say, unsuccessful, as he racked up 27 points, six rebounds and four assists. He was further aided by Finn Delaney, who gathered 18 points and seven rebounds. Falling one rebound short of another double-double, Brisbane’s Lamar Patterson made a case for a potential NBL First-Team nomination with his performance, amounting 21 points and nine rebounds in addition to his eight assists. Nathan Sobey again took home big numbers, finishing with 29 points. In this hotly contested battle, it was very visible that these sides made cases for a postseason opportunity come late-February, and in doing so have put the rest of the league on notice.

DC Medal: 3 – Scotty Hopson (NZ), 2 – Nathan Sobey (BB), 1 – Lamar Patterson (BB)

Sydney Kings (85) defeated by Perth Wildcats (98)

The Wildcats continued their race to the postseason with another away victory over their top-of-the-table adversary, the Sydney Kings, as well as well as tightening their view on the top spot of the ladder. In a game between the two top teams in the NBL, it fell down to one man to run the show and be the deciding factor in the Perth side’s win. Bryce Cotton shot the lights out at Qudos Bank Arena knocking down 39 points, four rebounds and three assists along with putting on one of his best performances from behind the arc, going 8-13 from deep. While Cotton took man of the match honours, Sydney’s man in the same position Casper Ware was not absent in the slightest as he managed six three-pointers in his side’s loss, ultimately adding up to 33 points by the final whistle. The main difference maker that could be dissected in the stateliness for both sides, was Perth’s ability to capitalise on second chance points. The Wildcats finished with a plus-six in total rebounds which converted to 19 second chance points, while the Kings only managed to gather eight. However, it was Sydney’s big men that came out on top against Perth’s, capitalising on 40 points in the paint compared to the Wildcats’ 26. Outstanding performances for Perth fell to Cotton’s fellow guard Terrico White who tallied 24 points and big-man Nicholas Kay who rounded up another double-double with a quiet 10 points and 10 rebounds. Andrew Bogut’s 15 points and 12 rebounds was Sydney’s lone notable showing besides Ware’s.

DC Medal: 3 – Bryce Cotton (PW), 2 – Casper Ware (SK), 1 – Andrew Bogut (SK)

South East Melbourne Phoenix (112) defeated Illawarra Hawks (102)

Coming off two away losses the previous round, the Phoenix were looking to bounce back into the playoff conversation and the new kids would deliver. It was evident early on that the Phoenix were feeling their stroke and it would continue throughout the game. Despite the Hawks staying with South East Melbourne for the majority of the game, they could not keep up with the 56 percent shooting of the home side and went down to the Melbourne side 102-112. The Phoenix took out all the shooting categories on the night leading in field goal percentage, three pointers made and free throws. As a result of the Phoenix’s shooting efficiency numbers came in bunches for many of their players. While guard John Roberson led the team with 28 points, Tai Wesley showed signs of being back to his old form with 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Mitch Creek also contributed 25 points to the victory and Kyle Adnam produced 15 points off the bench. For the Hawks, it was Todd Blanchfield and Sunday Dech that led the way with both men scoring 22 and 20 points respectively.

DC Medal: 3 – Tai Wesley (SEM), 2 – John Roberson (SEM), 1 – Mitch Creek (SEM)

Adelaide 36ers (87) defeated by New Zealand Breakers (96)

The Breakers, who were seen by most as a team that would be lucky to get off the bottom of the standings, strung together their fourth consecutive victory with their triumph over the 36ers. It was a successful round for the Breakers walking away with two wins over the weekend. The result was hard-won by the Breakers as they needed to lead in all categories to squeeze out the nine-point victory. To round this out, the Breakers went to the free-throw line for a season-high 42 times, converting 30 of these attempts. New Zealand’s decisive factor came down to the two-man play from guards Hopson and Sek Henry. Hopson, who’s recent play has elevated his team into postseason contention pulled away with 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists, whereas Henry snagged 20 points and nine assists. While 36ers Guard Jerome Randle has proven to lead his side to victory on numerous occasions this season, his 28 points, six rebounds and four assists. Big-man Daniel Johnson notched a 19 point and 10 rebound double-double on top of Randle’s efforts. With the two victories over the weekend, the Breakers jumped into seventh position repositioning the Bullets to eighth.

DC Medal: 3 – Scotty Hopson (NZ), 2 – Jerome Randle (AD), 1 – Sek Henry (NZ)

Melbourne United (96) defeated by Brisbane Bullets (102)

Following their heartbreaking loss against the Breakers earlier in the round and United’s narrow defeat to the Taipans, both teams knew the significance of their game on Sunday night. However, it was performances from Jason Cadee, Patterson and Sobey that brought home the victory for Brisbane and as a result, made the race for third and fourth place on the ladder even more intense. Cadee who brought the biggest improvement for the Bullets, made his first five attempts from three-point range and finished the night with 21 points. In addition, Patterson continued his stellar season with a huge 35 points and six rebounds, while Sobey’s 24 points rounded out the majority of the Bullet’s scoring load. Despite Long’s 25 points and eight rebounds leading the way for Melbourne United, it was Brisbane who made more of their shots. The Bullets shot at a 48 percent  clip compared to United’s 41 percent and the visiting side managed six more three pointers than the hosts (16 to 10 in favour of Brisbane). The two losses from United over the weekend lengthens their distance from the Kings and the Wildcats, therefore putting their postseason hopes in jeopardy. While the hard-fought win by the Bullets keeps them in eighth position.

DC Medal: 3 – Lamar Patterson (BB), 2 – Shawn Long (MU), 1 – Nathan Sobey (BB)

Illawarra Hawks (85) defeated Sydney Kings (80)

Not many people went into Tuesday night’s game expecting the worst team in the NBL to oust the best team, especially given the Kings’ performance in the first period. The Kings exhibited a shooting clinic to open the match, leading by 10 points after 10 minutes, showing perhaps a routine victory for the ladder-leaders was to come. Illawarra started to fight back through decisive ball movement and advantageous mismatches cutting the lead in half by halftime. Despite the Kings leading by eight with the final quarter still to play, Illawarra’s newfound chemistry came out once again in the most unlikely of turns. The Hawks outscored Sydney 25 to 12 and took home the upset of the round toppling the title favourites by five. Whilst rebounding and assists were relatively even across both sides, Illawarra’s shooting was second to none on the night shooting close to 50 percent (48 percent). Kings’ big man Bogut was almost non-existent in the outcome, managing to only score four points in 21 minutes. Jae’Sean Tate made honourable contributions on the night with 23 points and six rebounds, as veteran Daniel Kickert made his shots count going four from five from downtown (12 points). The 300-gamer in Tim Coenraad made his 11-point difference on the game, which in turn spurred his side on to their fifth win on the season. Marquee performances for the Hawks came off the bench, seeing Josh Boone compile 21 points and nine rebounds, as well as 16 points and eight assists from Emmett Naar. Sydney’s two losses over the weekend have closed the gap even more for defending champions, the Perth Wildcats, who sit half a game behind them.

DC Medal: 3 – Josh Boone (IH), 2 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 1 – Emmett Naar (IH)

Cairns Taipans (92) defeated South East Melbourne Phoenix (84)

The Cairns Convention Centre was the stage of this decade’s final NBL game and those who attended were eager to see two of the league’s top shooting teams go at it. For the Taipans it was a slow start, struggling to make shots in close and failing to capitalise on the fast break. Nevertheless, on the stroke of halftime Cameron Oliver found Newbill on the three-point line as he drilled it on the buzzer, cutting the deficit to six. Newbill’s three-pointer sparked a flurry of seven straight three-pointers to start the second half from both sides, but a strong third-quarter by the Taipans was enough to set the tone for the rest of the match taking home their third win in a row going a game clear of the 36ers who trail in the fifth position. The loss for the Phoenix puts their season record at eight wins and ten losses as well as Breakers and the Bullets. Machado (29 points and eight assists) and  Oliver (25 points and 10 rebounds) both had routine nights for the Taipans, while no Phoenix players failed to crack the 20 points mark. Roberson managed four three-pointers to accompany his 19 points, as Creek snagged 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his side’s loss.

DC Medal: 3 – Cameron Oliver (CT), 2 – Scott Machado (CT), 1 – Mitch Creek (SEM)

Adelaide 36ers (100) defeated Perth Wildcats (97)

Both sides had large aspirations heading into the first game of 2020. The Adelaide 36ers who had lost three consecutive matches, had found themselves sitting in eighth position on the ladder for the first time this season. But a win against the Wildcats would remedy that and propel them into fifth. For the Wildcats, a win away would see them regain that top spot on the ladder that the Kings had held all season. The contest was neck and neck throughout the first half which was capped off by a three-quarter court heave on the buzzer by Wildcats guard Mitchell Norton to wrap up an enticing 20 minutes of play. Throughout the third quarter it was the play of 36ers big men Daniel Johnson and Harry Froling that helped build the home side’s 12-point lead leading into the last quarter. Despite the offensive onslaught from Perth in the last quarter, Adelaide would manage to hang on by a miniscule three points, therefore sliding into fifth in the standings. Eric Griffin finished his game with 24 points and six rebounds as just one of the six 36ers players to reaches double digits. Anthony Drmic was also a major contributor in the win collecting 18 points and six rebounds, whereas Johnson was influential from start to finish (12 points, seven rebounds and six assists). Wildcats guard Cotton alongside White made up most of the scoring load gathering 22 and 21 points respectively, while Majok Majok squeezed out a double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds).

DC Medal: 3 – Eric Griffin (AD), 2 – Anthony Drmic (AD), 1 – Bryce Cotton (PW)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

31 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
30 –
29 – Lamar Patterson (BB)
28 – Mitch Creek (SEM)
27 – Shawn Long (MU)
26 –
25 –
24 –
23 – Melo Trimble (MU), Casper Ware (SK)
22 – Scott Machado (CT)
21 – Cameron Oliver (CT)
20 – LaMelo Ball (IH), Jae’Sean Tate (SK),
19 –
18 –
17 – Scotty Hopson (NZ), John Roberson (SEM), Jerome Randle (AD)
16 –
15 – Daniel Johnson (AD)
14 –
13 – Nick Kay (PW), Eric Griffin (AD)
12 – Andrew Bogut (SK),
11 – Corey Webster (NZ)
10 – DJ. Newbill (CT)
9 – Terrico White (PW), Nathan Sobey (BB)
8 – AJ Ogilvy (IL)
7 –
6 – Kouat Noi (CT), Sek Henry (NZ),
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), Brad Newley (SK), Brandon Ashley (NZ), Anthony Drmic (AD),
4 – Chris Goulding (MU), Dario Hunt (PW), Ben Madgen (SEM), Mitch McCarron (MU)
3 –Dane Pineau (SEM), Didi Louzada (SK), Glen Rice Jr (NZ), Finn Delany (NZ), Sunday Dech (IH),  Will Magnay (BB), Daniel Kickert (SK), Tai Wesley (SEM), Johs Boone (IH), Emmett Naar (IH),
2 – Matt Hodgson (BB), Jason Cadee (BB), David Barlow (MU), Tim Coenraad (IH), Tom Abercrombie (NZ), Kyle Adnam (SEM)
1 – Majok Deng (CT), Craig Moller (SK), Jesse Wagstaff (PW), Todd Blanchfield (IH), Keith Benson (SEM), Tohi Smith-Milner (MU), RJ Hampton (NZ), Angus Glover (IH)

Rollercoaster season for Phoenix to reach crossroads in Round 12

THE new boys on the block are certainly learning the ins and outs of the National Basketball League (NBL), which in turn has exposed them to ups and downs. But with just over two months remaining until finals action begins, South East Melbourne Phoenix are right in the thick of the race.

So far in the NBL 2019/20 season, two races have emerged albeit for two different purposes. The first being the battle for top spot, with the frontrunners being the Sydney Kings, who currently hold a record of 12 wins and three losses. Closely behind them are the red-hot Perth Wildcats who sit half a game behind the Kings, with a record of 12 wins and five losses.

But then there is the second race, the battle for third and fourth place. The teams included in this contest are Melbourne United in third (eight wins and seven losses), Adelaide 36ers in fourth (eight wins and seven losses), Cairns Taipans in sixth (seven wins and nine losses) and lastly, the South East Melbourne Phoenix who sit in fifth (seven wins and seven losses).

With the season having just passed its midway point this past weekend, the Phoenix find themselves dead even in their win-loss record and with a double header weekend coming up against the New Zealand Breakers on Friday night and then the ladder-leaders Sydney Kings on Monday, the Phoenix will have a chance to really prove their mettle in the race for a top four finish.

But how did this team’s inaugural season start and what led them to this point today someone might ask. For the Phoenix, their season has been anything but consistent with the team experiencing both winning and losing streaks under the guidance of first-time head coach, Simon Mitchell.

How did we get here?

To open the season, the Phoenix opened up their history with the first ever ‘Showdown’ with cross-town rivals and big brother, Melbourne United. With more than 10,000 Melburnians in attendance, the Phoenix stunned the Australian basketball community with an upset win over their well-established counterparts. The win was aided by their marquee signing in Mitch Creek, who in his first game in the green jersey, amassed a double-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. A similar stat line that he has maintained throughout the season. The campaign opener kicked off the Phoenix’s season, as they were triumphant in their first three match-ups including United. The next two victories came against two of the current bottom three teams in the league at the moment, the Brisbane Bullets (won 113-93) and the Illawarra Hawks (won 106-102). After going 3-0 to start their inaugural season, the Phoenix were on cloud nine, but they had a next level opponent on the horizon. One that was head and shoulders above the last combatants they had faced. The defending champions, Perth Wildcats. What occurred on Friday, October 25 gave the Phoenix a good indication of how difficult Australia’s top league could get and how much work this new team would have to do if they were to make it beyond the regular season.

The mantra that the Phoenix have followed so far to this point is not getting ahead of themselves and not dwelling too much on each result, which Creek touched on post-game after their first loss of the season.

“At the moment it’s about being cool, calm and collected for myself,” Creek said. “We’re young, we’re a brand-new franchise and we’re still figuring things out. We’re gonna be okay.”

Following that first game against Perth, the Phoenix would not go back-to-back in either wins or losses until their third encounter with Melbourne United, which kicked of their first losing streak of the season, falling first to United in a one-point thriller, then to the 36ers, and then to the Sydney Kings. Fast forward three weeks and South East Melbourne would emerge victorious against the Bullets away from home, lose to both Perth and Adelaide, and then shocking Cairns in an overtime classic at Melbourne Arena, leading us to today with the Phoenix sitting on a .500-win percentage with seven wins and seven losses.

What does the Phoenix’s season say about them?

The Phoenix have proved they have class to boot and can match it with the best with coach, Simon Mitchell emphasising the point of being a growing and emerging team. But he also stated in the press-conference following their comeback overtime win against the Taipans, “the training wheels are off.”

“We don’t consider ourselves an expansion team [anymore], we are what we are right now and we’re gonna have to blaze away through the rest of the season and just go and take care of our business.”

“It’s gonna be a hard run home for everyone.”

Given that the Phoenix can basically touch that fourth spot on the table with a good couple of a games, it is doubtful that Mitchell will have the same attitude that he expressed in that post-game press conference following their first defeat against the Wildcats. In terms of play, the Phoenix do indeed play an entertaining brand of basketball. One that has high octane offensive capabilities, but it also has a defence that has some kinks in it, which the coaching staff works tirelessly to improve.

Nevertheless, due to the Phoenix’s new chemistry as a result of it being their first season, it seems that it is only a matter of time before morale and trust start to mesh, which would be a promising prospect for one of the league’s more mediocre defences.

But as mentioned before, it is the Phoenix’s strong offence that shines through. At the forefront of their attack sits Creek, who showcases his skill on a game-to-game basis leading the league in points, averaging a remarkable 22.71 points per game. With his scoring ability comes his ability to move the ball as well, as he totals 3.93 assists per game in addition with 7.43 rebound per game. It should also be mentioned that with the return of Tai Wesley, Creek now returns to his usual small-forward position where he has proven more lethal in the past, a key sidenote in analysing this week’s contests.

Alongside Creek, sits sharpshooter guard John Roberson who helps share the scoring load and is often the reason opposing teams fall to the Phoenix’s three-point barrages, just recently dropping 36 on Cairns this past Sunday, which included eight threes from the import. Roberson averages a hefty 20.36 points per game, adding four threes a game, along with 5.43 assists to round out his contributions. With weapons like Roberson, Ben Madgen, Adam Gibson and Kendall Stephens in Mitchell’s backcourt it has looked like the smalls’ play that has determined results in the past, but in fact it is the Phoenix frontcourt that provides the best chance for the newcomer team to push past the regular season. The Phoenix frontcourt comprising the likes of Dane Pineau, Wesley, Daniel Trist and Keith Benson who have much left to give in the second half of the season.

For Pineau and Wesley, the weight of the defensive schemes is placed primarily on their shoulders given their experiences and ability level, while Creek does most of his work on the wings. Pineau, who has had a relatively solid season averaging close to eight points and eight rebounds a game, has increased his workload after being upgraded to starter under Mitchell following two years at the Sydney Kings. His ability to move the ball, crash the boards and coordinate the defence are Pineau’s primary weapons, which will also be key in both this Friday and Monday’s contests.

With Wesley finally back in the line-up following his nine-week hamstring injury, the Phoenix should have the ability to rebound more efficiently with Wesley’s inclusion two weeks ago. During Wesley’s three games since being re-activated he has averaged 11.3, 2.6 rebounds as well as 3.3 assists. These recovery games have been instrumental for Wesley’s return and he should be back to full form for the remainder of the season.

Round 12 schedule

vs New Zealand Breakers

Friday, December 20, 2019 @ Horncastle Arena

The Phoenix cross the Tasman to duel with the Breakers who are hot off a devastating loss to the Adelaide 36ers and we will have to wait and see if New Zealand comes out angry or deflated. Whichever one it is, it will be the Phoenix’s frontcourt that will need to step and help its guards, as we can expect a slashing style offence with the likes of Corey Webster, Sek Henry, RJ Hampton and Tom Abercrombie.

Given the match-ups as well for SE Melbourne’s backcourt, constant feeding into the bigs will be a good source of scoring for the Phoenix, as New Zealand has shown holes in its defence over the season, particularly around the basket. Wesley and Pineau should aim to get more shots up on Friday compared to previous rounds.

South-East Melbourne will also have the task of silencing a hostile Kiwi crowd which almost willed home a victory this past Sunday. To achieve this, Simon Mitchell’s men will need to get out ahead and quickly, something that has been lacking recently in the Phoenix’s mentality.

vs Sydney Kings

Monday, December 23, 2019 @ Qudos Bank Arena

Should the Phoenix earn a win on the road against New Zealand, the importance of their game against the Kings would become that much more crucial. The main concern for the Phoenix, would be their ability to contain the quickness of the Kings backcourt. Sydney’s main offensive weapon is their ability to penetrate defences and either dish off to bigs around the basket or find open wing players for the three-pointer.

Helping out in defence is a fundamental key in slowing down the steamroller that is Sydney’s offence, so for the Phoenix, communication and roles will once again be crucial. The main matchup however will not necessarily be Roberson versus Casper Ware, in fact it can be argued as being between Creek and Jae’sean Tate, with Creek back at the three spot. Tate does hold speed and shooting ability under his belt, but Creek’s defence should cover most of what is presented to him, as well as his rebounding ability and finishing around the basket.

Both games are important for the Phoenix, games that may define the rest of the season for them to see if they do belong in one of those top four spots compared with the 36ers, Taipans and United.