NBL21 Round 3 preview: Victoria to host first NBL match of the season as blockbuster round awaits

NATIONAL Basketball League (NBL) Round 3 action tips off tonight, in what is a blockbuster eight-game round, the biggest of the season thus far. The round yet again features a few rematches, as Adelaide 36ers, Perth Wildcats, Brisbane Bullets and Cairns Taipans all remain at home venues. For the first time this season, an all-Victorian clash between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix will take place, with Bendigo being the first host venue for the match.

Brisbane Bullets vs. Sydney Kings
Tuesday, January 26 @ 3pm
Nissan Arena

With no breaks for basketball fans, the Round 3 action begins at Nissan Arena, where the winless Brisbane Bullets host last year’s grand finalists Sydney Kings. The Bullets have lost both their games to a reinvigorated Hawks outfit, whilst the Kings bounced back against Cairns Taipans in Round 2 following a Round 1 defeat at the hands of the Snakes at the same venue. Heading into the clash, the Kings sit fourth with a 1-1 record and games in hand, percentage ahead of Adelaide 36ers, and not too far away from unbeaten teams, The Hawks, Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United.

Victor Law has made a promising start to his NBL career with the Bullets, having averaged 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 block per game. The American import is hard to contain, and he might be set for the towering Jarell Martin, who has similar numbers of 16.5 points. 9.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists, but has an extra seven centimetres and 17kg on him. Specialist shooter Nathan Sobey has been in great form from the back court, averaging a team-high 21.5 points per game. The battle within the match between he and Casper Ware (20.0 points) will be fascinating.

The general feel is that the Kings have a bit more depth to the squad, with Brad Newley (15.5 points, 5.5 rebounds) and Dejan Vasiljevic (14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) both contributing strongly, whilst Anthony Drmic (12.0 points, 3.5 rebounds) is the only other Bullets player to average double-figure points. Sydney heads in as favourites, though Brisbane will be keen to get a win on the board after back-to-back losses at home.

Adelaide 36ers vs, New Zealand Breakers
Wednesday, January 27 @ 7.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

The first rematch of the round sees New Zealand Breakers having another crack at Adelaide 36ers following their three-point overtime loss in Round 2. The 36ers sit at 2-2 from their four games, claiming wins over South East Melbourne Phoenix and the Breakers, whilst New Zealand only has the one game under its belt in season 2021. The 94-91 loss easily could have been a win after taking control through the middle of the game, but then the 36ers’ running out the game strongly.

In that match, Tai Webster showed just what he was capable of, posting a season-high 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists and completely nullify a returning Josh Giddey (four points, five rebounds and two assists) in their much-anticipated head-to-head. Webster’s performance was one of the individual efforts of the season, though the young star – who took the game away from the Phoenix in Round 1 – had the last laugh thanks to his team getting up. One man the Breakers could not find an answer to was Isaac Humphries (24 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks) in a remarkable effort. If the breakers are to get up, Rob Loe and Colton Iverson will need to restrict his ability to not only get to the basket, but also from protecting his own basket.

Humphries is averaging 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks this season, and after a quieter game one, has strung together three important matches. His teamwork with Daniel Johnson (23.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists) has been key for the 36ers, while Lamar Patterson will be better for the run after a solid 16-point, five-rebound effort in the loss.

Cairns Taipans vs. The Hawks
Thursday, January 28 @ 7.30pm
Cairns Pop Up Arena

Heading into the season, Cairns Taipans were predicted to be one of the title contenders after a promising season last year. Having added talent and lost very little out the door, the Snakes were tipped to really push the top sides, especially with a run of home games at the start. Unfortunately it has not panned out that way for the North Queensland side, with Cairns sitting 1-3 from four games. The one win was a solitary one-point victory over Sydney Kings in the opening round, before three consecutive losses to The Hawks, Kings and Melbourne United, albeit the latter two in single digits. On the other hand, The Hawks who were tipped to continue their rebuild under new coach Brian Goorjian have really lit up the competition, remaining undefeated in three matches, defeating the Taipans and Brisbane Bullets twice.

The visitors have a chance to double-down on winning against Cairns, having saluted by a comfortable 16 points in their Round 1 triumph. In that match, The Hawks bolted out of the blocks from the opening tip-off to pile on 31 points to 19 in the opening term and never look back. Cameron Oliver did his usual thing with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but it was the shared dominance of imports, Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup for The Hawks that was the difference in the end. Harvey put up 25 points, seven assists, two rebounds and two steals, while Jessup piled on 24 points, fie rebounds, two assists and two steals in a Player of the Match performance.

The duo of Americans – who are the two highest scorers for The Hawks at this point – have helped share the load alongside another American in Justin Simon (10.7 points, 9.7 points, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks) who can just about do it all. The Snakes have had some great contributions on paper, but not been able to get over the line. Oliver (18.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks) and Scott Machado (15.3 points, 8.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds) have been the unsurprising stars, thought 201cm Kouat Noi had put up 14.5 points and 4.8 rebounds so far this season. Overall The Hawks are expected to continue their winning form, but the Taipans can never be discounted considering they have all the pieces to knock off any side.

Perth Wildcats vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Friday, January 29 @ 9.30pm
RAC Arena

In another rematch between sides from last round, Perth Wildcats will look to make it back-to-back wins against a travelling South East Melbourne Phoenix at RAC Arena. Having split their back-to-back matches against Adelaide 36ers, the Phoenix certainly showed up on the night on Sunday, but were just outclassed by a better side, as the reigning premiers reminded the competition what they were capable of. While they might have lost 80 per cent of their starting side, the 20 per cent is still the best player in the competition, and he showed that on the weekend.

Reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton picked up where he left off with a dazzling 27 points, seven assists, five steals and two rebounds in a return to the competition. He led the way, but was able to work well in the back court with Mitch Norton who stepped up for 10 points, three assists and three rebounds, while Luke Travers came back after a couple of seasons and posted four points and seven rebounds. John Mooney provided some highlight-reel dunks thanks to 13 points and a massive 14 rebounds – eight offensive – while Todd Blanchfield picked up 16 points and four rebounds on debut for the Wildcats.

By comparison, Mitch Creek (17 points, five rebounds), Keifer Sykes (10 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Cameron Gliddon (15 points, two rebounds) all managed to worry the scorers, while Adam Gibson (13 points, five rebounds) was impressive off the bench. Despite their efforts, the Wildcats were just the better team on the night, and the Phoenix will need to find a way of limiting Cotton’s impact if they are to turn the tables on the Wildcats this week.

Brisbane Bullets vs. Cairns Taipans
Saturday, January 30 @ 5.30pm
Nissan Arena

In the two Queensland teams’ second matches of the week, the state rivals will go head-to-head for the first time in 2021. Having only played The Hawks – and losing both – the Brisbane Bullets will have the chance to pour on more misery to an unlucky Cairns Taipans side that has not been able to get over the line since Round 1. A win for the Bullets will immediately put them within reaching distance of the top four, while the Taipans can end the round with a level pegging at 3-3 if they can collect both wins.

Harry Froling has been in great form for the Bullets, averaging 8.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists coming off an impressive Queensland State League (QSL) season with RedCity Roar. He will have the biggest job on the court to try and contain Cameron Oliver (18.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks) who is the premier five in the competition. Whilst versatile enough to slide into the four role as well, Oliver is much more difficult to contain as that more athletic center, and it will be up to Froling, and Tyrell Harrison (4.0 points, 8.5 rebounds) to try and contain the big man.

Scott Machado is another worry for the Bullets, with the elite passer able to slice up defences and set up looks for Oliver and his teammates. Jason Cadee is the man to try and match him, averaging 9.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. If that can happen, and the likes of Victor Law and Nathan Sobey can continue their scoring run, than the Bullets are a chance. The Taipans deservedly go in as favourites though, and even outside of their top two, Mirko Djeric, Majok Deng and Kouat Noi all average double-figure points.

Adelaide 36ers vs. Sydney Kings
Saturday, January 30 @ 8pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

There might be no rest for the wicked, but there is also no rest for Adelaide 36ers who, like Cairns Taipans, will play a remarkable sixth straight game at home in three rounds. They need to find consistency, but the potential to get the job done, and come up against Sydney Kings at prime time on Saturday night. The Kings also sit at level pegging in terms of wins and losses (1-1), though both teams could be either plus-one or minus-one from their tally, having played an earlier game in Round 3.

After a safe return from injury last match, Josh Giddey will look to cause headaches from the back court, averaging 9.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in season 2021. A potential matchup with fellow Victorian Dejan Vasiljevic (14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) would be tantalising, whilst he could go head-to-head in a scoring battle – rather than a direct head-to-head – with Casper Ware (20.0 points, 2.0 rebounds). Isaac Humphries is in ripping form, and Jordan Hunter is one man that will need to be at his best to contain him, alongside Jarrell Martin who has given other sides headaches.

Every player on the Kings’ list that has taken the court has averaged at least two points and a rebound per game, which shows the depth of the squad on offer. Whilst others might have grabbed the headlines, Sunday Dech (8.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) has been quietly achieving, while imports, Donald Sloan (10.0 points. 2.8 assists) and Tony Crocker (10.0 points, 1.5 steals) have been solid inclusions in the 36ers’ rotation.

Melbourne United vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Sunday, January 31 @ 3pm
Bendigo Basketball Stadium

Basketball returns to Victoria on Sunday when Melbourne United hosts South East Melbourne Phoenix in Bendigo. The mid-afternoon time slot will allow day trips up to the regional venue, where the teams can finally lock horns having initially been touted as the overall NBL season opener. Now with the COVID-19 scare from early January seemingly back under control, the title favourites and top-of-the-ladder Melbourne United will look to take control against the Phoenix who sit at 1-2 and just outside the top four. If the Phoenix can upset the Wildcats over in Perth earlier in the round, they could have snuck into the playoff spots, but this will be one they want to get over their rivals.

In the two games thus far, United dominated Adelaide 36ers by 24 points way back on January 15, before a 10-day wait to claim an important scalp over Cairns Taipans by just two points last night. This time the wait is only six days, but it will be United’s third game, which will be the equal least of any team thus far by the end of Round 3. Jo Lual Acuil has been in great form teaming up with Jock Landale, with the pair averaging 26 points and 19 rebounds between them. Lual Acuil has 11.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in his two games, whilst the talented Boomer in Landale has notched up 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.0 assists per game. The experienced Chris Goulding (16.5 points, 2.5 rebounds), Kiwi Shea Ili (10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists) and Japanese national, Yudai Baba (10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) have all made an impact early.

Interestingly enough, one of the star’s of last year’s competition, Scotty Hopson has not had to have his usual impact on the NBL, averaging just 6.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. United will want to get the ball in his hands more often, as he could end up going head-to-head with Keifer Sykes. The American has starred with 17.3 points, 7.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds this season, as he and Yannick Wetzell (10.0 points, 9.7 rebounds) have both slotted in seamlessly. With Mitch Creek taking care of the scoring, the Phoenix have more depth than last year, and could worry United. Though in saying that, United are title favourites for a reason and have the most depth of the competition and should claim the points here.

Perth Wildcats vs. New Zealand Breakers
Sunday, January 31 @ 5pm
RAC Arena

Concluding Round 3 of the NBL is the furthest trip in the NBL, as New Zealand Breakers head west to take on reigning premiers, Perth Wildcats. The Wildcats tipped off their season with a win over South East Melbourne Phoenix and will be favoured to have doubled up on that performance earlier in the week. The Breakers dropped their first game in a tight one to the Adelaide 36ers, but showed signs that they could match it with them and are favourites to have reversed that result by the start of this game, given the teams meet tomorrow.

Two of the stars of the competition will be the headline acts for this game, with Bryce Cotton and Lamar Patterson both on show. Cotton was the match-winner for the Wildcats in the victory over the Phoenix, and he was well supported by Todd Blanchfield and Mitch Norton. Lamar Patterson is the man to stop for the Wildcats, having the potential to rip apart opposition teams for the Breakers. Import John Mooney looks a likely type to try and contain Patterson after a memorable debut last round. An underrated player in the competition is Finn Delany, who put up 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in the Round 2 win over Phoenix, teaming up well with Tom Abercrombie (11 points, four rebounds).

Perth do not have the same starting five as last season, but they will need to guard a host of players when the Wildcats are on defensive transition, because the Breakers have a combination of size and speed across the court. Mitch Norton has stepped up to start in 2021, while both sides have New Zealand talent that could shine in an important viewing for the Tall Blacks. The Wildcats will be favourites at home, but the Breakers could kick-start their season with back-to-back wins on the road in Round 3.

Picture: Getty Images

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