NBL21 Round 2 preview: Rematches galore, while Breakers and Wildcats enter the fray

ROUND 2 of the National Basketball League (NBL) tips off tonight, with several games rematches of Round 1 contests throughout the week. With one game on every night, basketball fans will be treated to some high-class matches, and it all begins back in Adelaide with the 36ers and Phoenix locking horns.

Adelaide 36ers vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Wednesday, January 20 @ 7.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Tipping off Round 2 of action is a sense of déjà vu with Adelaide 36ers and South East Melbourne Phoenix going head-to-head at Adelaide Entertainment Centre tonight. Just four days earlier, the 36ers took care of business in the game of Round 1, managing to overcome the Phoenix 116-108 in double overtime. Daniel Johnson won Player of the Match honours thanks to 33 points at a deadly 78 per cent from the field, but it was Next Star young gun Josh Giddey who caught all the attention on his way to a double-double of 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in just his second game of NBL.

Luckily for the Phoenix, Giddey is unavailable for their rematch, and coach Simon Mitchell described his team’s performance as a “rough one” because the Phoenix “looked a little rusty, particularly at the offensive end”. He will no doubt be searching for a response from his side, though one could hardly fault captain Mitch Creek who put up 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists, whilst the import duo of Yannick Wetzell (24 points, 11 rebounds and three steals) and Keifer Sykes (18 points, 11 assists and six rebounds) both made sensational debuts.

The sense post-game was that Adelaide’s mid-range shooting was sublime, with 64 per cent from two-point range, compared to the Phoenix’s 48 per cent. Protecting the perimeter well, the Phoenix only conceded three triples, whilst nailing eight themselves, though Cameron Gliddon‘s three of 13 showed the former Brisbane Bullet guard could find his range better in this match. The depth of the 36ers was also much better on the night, with Isaac Humphries (14 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks) having an underrated role off the bench.

Many would argue without Giddey in the first game, the Phoenix would have won, and therefore are the tip in this game. In saying that, Adelaide improved well from game one to game two, and now coming into game three – with no travel involved in between – it will be fascinating to see what Conner Henry‘s side can produce tonight.

Brisbane Bullets vs. The Hawks
Thursday, January 21 @ 7.30pm
Nissan Arena

By the time you scroll to the second game of the round, you could be forgiven thinking that you had accidentally clicked on the Round 1 fixture. Not only do the 36ers and Phoenix battle for the second time in less than a week at the same venue, but Brisbane Bullets and The Hawks do as well. These two sides took to the court last Saturday, with Brian Goorjian making his return to the league, and managing to gel a team that was vastly unfamiliar with each other, and getting early points on the board. Never mind it was on the road, the 90-84 win was a statement to the rest of the competition.

In that match, it was a real team effort, as import Justin Simon came off the bench for 13 points, eight rebounds and five steals in a starring role on debut. He was one of four Hawks to hit double-figure points, with Sam Froling (19 points, four rebounds) – getting one up on his brother Harry (10 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) in the match – Emmett Naar (17 points, five rebounds and four assists) and Tyler Harvey (16 points, three rebounds) all sharing the points around.

The rebound and assist counts were identical, showing just how even these teams were during the six-point victory, but it was just some crucial moments for The Hawks that got them the win. The Bullets can take plenty out of the performance, having lost a number of key talents over the off-season, thought still had a number of double-digit shooters. Nathan Sobey predictably led the way with 19 points, while Victor Law (17 points, nine rebounds) and Jason Cadee (12 points, five rebounds) both came in and had a say on proceedings.

In the end there had to be a winner, and The Hawks emerged victorious. It will be interesting to see what the teams took from that game to bring into this match, with free throw shooting not a highlight for the Bullets – just 57 per cent – whilst The Hawks will want to continue their heavy rotations, as they recorded 39 points off the bench compared to 24. The Hawks will be favourites in this game, but Brisbane will be hungry to turn the tables on them.

Adelaide 36ers vs. New Zealand Breakers
Friday, January 22 @ 7.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Adelaide 36ers have had quite a busy start to the 2021 NBL season, and are piling on a heap of early games thanks to South Australia’s controlled COVID-19 pandemic situation. The 36ers will enter Friday night’s game playing their fourth match of the season. Their opponents New Zealand Breakers? They will be entering the court for the first time. It has been a long way for the Breakers who will have a point to prove after missing out on finals last season, but have gained of the league’s best players – and lost another – in what will no doubt provide some tactical changes for the coaching staff.

Having not played a game, the Breakers will have had plenty of time to study up on the 36ers and have enough data to take into the match ready to limit their opposition’s offensive rhythm. Daniel Johnson is a key player for the 36ers, though with ex-Bullet Lamar Patterson making his way to the Breakers, New Zealand has the answer and would not be afraid to go head-to-head in that potential heavy-scoring battle. The other key player to watch for the Breakers is import Colton Iverson who arrives as a starting five, and provide depth to the position alongside Rob Loe.

Isaac Humphries has been a key player for the 36ers coming off the bench, and teaming up Keanu Pinder, they will have their hands full. Without Giddey at the three spot, experienced Tom Abercrombie will look to run the floor and guide the team, working with the younger Finn Delany. Whilst only development players, one can only hope the likes of Taine Murray and Isaac Davidson can get some minutes as up-and-coming young stars with long-range shooting and highlight-reel worthy potential.

At the start of the season, New Zealand would have been declared heavy favourites for this game, though with what we have seen from Adelaide, it appears the game will be a lot closer, particularly in South Australia. The Breakers should still win and bank their first points, but how much will the extended break impact on the side compared to the match-fit (but perhaps tiring) 36ers outfit?

Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings
Saturday, January 23 @ 8pm
Cairns Pop Up Arena

If you have not had a sense of déjà vu yet, then this might tip you over the edge, with a rematch of the one-point Round 1 thriller between Cairns Taipans and Sydney Kings taking place at Cairns Pop Up Arena on Saturday night. In their opening round encounter, the Taipans won 87-86, with some late long-range misses from the Kings seeing them fall short in heartbreaking style. Last year’s grand finalists showed enough to suggest they will be better for the run, but the Taipans were switched on, and after a slow opening term, hit their straps.

Cameron OIiver showed he had not missed a beat over the off-season, collecting a double-double in his first game back, putting up 12 points and 11 rebounds, as well as denying the opposition time and time again with six blocks. He and his partner-in-crime, Scott Machado (17 points, seven rebounds) caused all sorts of headaches for a Sydney Kings outfit that relied a lot on Casper Ware (18 points, three assists). Mojave King made his much-anticipated debut, and while it was not quite what many had expected the young gun to produce, he still had 14 minutes and put up seven points and grabbed three rebounds in that time.

His limited minutes were mostly due to the fact the Taipans had no passengers in the starting five. Aside from the two superstars of the competition, Mirko Djeric (15 points, four rebounds and two assists), Kouat Noi (12 points, four rebounds and two assists) and Majok Deng (13 points, six rebounds) all played their part. Compare that to Sydney, who outside of Ware’s 18 points, had an additional 23 points from their starters. The positive was the likes of Dejan Vasiljevic (15 points, four rebounds) who had a real impact off the bench, as did Brad Newley (14 points, six rebounds and two assists) and Jarell Martin (11 points, eight rebounds).

If the Kings are going to turn the tables on the Taipans, their starters will need to produce more, with the talented Didi Louzada registering just seven points, and then Craig Moller (four) and Shaun Bruce (three) in about 20 minutes of action each. Cairns was nowhere near the standard in the second game against The Hawks, and they will also be seething from the defeat, so expect the Taipans to come out hard. Both teams will be seeking their own redemption in a way, which makes for an entertaining contest.

Perth Wildcats vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Sunday, January 24, 5pm
RAC Arena

There would be few things hungrier than a reigning premier many have written off, having the longest break to prepare and prove the critics wrong. Back-to-back premiers and the greatest team of the past decade, Perth Wildcats prepare to mount their assault on NBL21 with a different looking side to the one that brought the team so much success in recent times. The Wildcats have lost a couple of crucial cogs such as Terrico White, Nick Kay, Damian Martin and Miles Plumlee who made up four of the starting five.

Luckily Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton remains, but effectively he will be running with a different looking starting five. Todd Blanchfield has come into the side, with John Mooney coming in as the second import alongside Cotton to replace Plumlee at the five spot. Blanchfield departed Illawarra to slot into the three role left by White, while Mitch Norton is expected to fill the shoes of Martin, who he would have shadowed not only on the court but in practice learning all the tricks of the trade. In short, we do not know what to expect from the Wildcats this season, but with Trevor Gleeson at the helm, anything is possible.

Their opponents in the Sunday evening encounter are South East Melbourne Phoenix, who will finally get to leave Adelaide after back-to-back games against the 36ers. Having lost their Round 1 encounter, the Phoenix will be hoping to head into this game with momentum and confidence after reversing the result from their Wednesday night rematch. It is no surprise that without his experienced teammates, Cotton would be the name not only bolded on the Phoenix’s whiteboard, but underlined and circled to drive home the point.

He must be stopped at all costs, and while Mitch Creek can match him in scoring prowess, it will likely be Cameron Gliddon given the job to match him at the two spot. Given Gliddon struggled with his range in game one, he could easily focus defensively to nullify Cotton, whilst Creek and the likes to Yannick Wetzell and Kyle Adnam took care of the scoring. It is a tough match to pick a winner with so many unknowns about the Wildcats, but at home they are always tough to knock over, and the Phoenix will be wanting to have a better week this week to come away with two wins.

Cairns Taipans vs. Melbourne United
Monday, January 25, 7.30pm
Cairns Pop Up Arena

The final game of the round is the fourth at Cairns Pop Up Arena, as the Taipans take on Melbourne United. This will be the Taipans’ biggest challenge thus far, having split their Round 1 games with a one-point thrilling win over the Kings before a disappointing 16-point loss to The Hawks. The Taipans will have a second crack at the Kings a couple of days earlier, so could be 3-1 by the end of Monday night’s game. However in saying that, United seem the team to beat, and quite literally destroyed Adelaide 36ers in a 24-point beatdown on the NBL’s opening night.

Forget the fact it was on the road and after a tentative first half, United clicked into gear. Coach Dean Vickerman said they had to sort out their defensive mindset after the first term, and they did that to then take control and run out the game in dominant fashion. Scoring double the opposition (52-26), they completely took the 36ers out of the game. What impressed the most was the fact that star recruit Scotty Hopson only picked up four points and four assists and largely had limited impact on the contest.

Instead, it was Chris Goulding (16 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals) and Jo Lual-Acuil (16 ponts, 12 rebounds and two steals) who did the bulk of the damage, while recruits Jock Landale (10 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks) and Yudai Baba (10 points, three rebounds) slotted in seamlessly. Shea Ili earned Player of the Match honours with his deadly shooting display of 13 points, three rebounds and two steals, shooting at 71 per cent from inside the arc and nailing all three free-throws.

Landale will have a big task up against Cameron Oliver in the battle of the two best fives in the competition, while Mitch McCarron will have his hands full trying to limit Scott Machado’s influence. If United play like they did on night one, they will win, but it will be a question of whether or not the second half United comes out, or the first half United. The Taipans have had similar inconsistencies from game to game, but the depth of both sides – and the ability to share the ball around to hit jumpers – makes it a fascinating contest and what some believe to be a potential grand final preview.

Picture credit: Getty Images

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