NBL21 – Round 5 preview: Top of the table clash opens round

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) Cup fast approaching, the final round before all the teams descend on Melbourne takes place. Round 5 of NBL action begins tonight from 7.30pm with the ladder already taking shape in the competition.

THE HAWKS vs. MELBOURNE UNITED
Wednesday, February 10 @ 7.30pm
WIN Entertainment Centre

Opening the round of NBL action is a top-of-the-table clash between Melbourne United and The Hawks up at the WIN Entertainment Centre. The Hawks only lost their first game on the weekend to South East Melbourne Phoenix, moving to 4-1 for the season, whilst United were tested by Perth Wildcats, but got the job done to advance to a 5-0 season record. In terms of head-to-head clashes, the last time The Hawks knocked off United was way back in November 2018, with the latter having the better of the clashes since with four consecutive wins over the past two season.

Jock Landale has been a standout for United this season, with the 211cm Boomer averaging 16.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocks per game to be a dominant big man across the court. Teaming up with fellow five Jo Lual-Acuil (9.8 points, 6.8 rebounds) and forward Jack White (11.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks), the trio of talls have been hard to combat for opposition sides this season. It will be up to the likes of Sam Froling (11.4 points, 7.4 rebounds) and AJ Ogilvy (5.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks) to try and contain the bigs, whilst the battle between guards, Tyler Harvey (21.2 points) and Chris Goulding (16.8 points) will be a fascinating one.

Melbourne United are title favourites and will be favourites here, but they are on the road so The Hawks might look to upset them in front of The Hawks home fans.

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX vs. PERTH WILDCATS
Thursday, February 11 @ 7.30pm
State Basketball Centre

Sunday, February 14 @ 5pm
State Basketball Centre

For the second time this season, South East Melbourne Phoenix will face Perth, coming off a remarkable one-point win over the Wildcats at RAC Arena last time out on January 29. Now in Victoria, the Phoenix will look to keep moving up the table after a slow start to the season, having already jumped inside the top four with a 3-3 record. Having only played three games, it is hard to rule Perth out just yet, but the Wildcats will want to get moving, particularly with the double-up game coming on Sunday, three days after their Thursday night clash.

The damaging duo of Mitch Creek and Keifer Sykes up both ends of the court has been a real feature for the Phoenix in changing the team’s fortunes. Creek is averaging 19.0 points,. 6.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals, while Sykes has put up 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.5 steals. They will need to be at their best to go head-to-head with the league’s best player in Bryce Cotton (27.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.7 steals). Unfortunately for Cotton he has not had the same support around him as in past seasons, and will need John Mooney (15.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks) and Todd Blanchfield (11.0 points, 4.7 rebounds) to be at their best on the night.

The Phoenix just seem to have more depth to their list, with five players averaging double-figure points including the likes of Kyle Adnam coming off the bench. The home team should win this, but Perth can never be discounted in any match.

SYDNEY KINGS vs. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Friday, February 12 @ 7.30pm
Qudos Bank Arena

A Friday night blockbuster timeslot pits two teams that are yet to really fire too many shots in the NBL21 season. The Sydney Kings host the game at Qudos Bank Arena with a 2-3 record, though their opponents New Zealand Breakers are thus far anchored to the bottom with a 1-3 record. Victory here could see them overtake a number of teams however as the ladder is still feeling itself out. In their last clash over 12 months ago, the Breakers got up by seven points, though both teams have largely changed since then. The last four meetings have been decided by 10 points or less however, so expect this match to go down to the wire.

Sydney Kings have been bolstered this season by the inclusion of Jarrell Martin, who is putting up an impressive 19.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Teaming up with Brad Newley (12.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals) in the front half, it has taken some of the reliance off shooter Casper Ware (19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds). The development of fellow back courter Dejan Vasiljevic (16.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists) has also been a revelation for the Kings who can share the points around. By contrast, the Breakers have one of the biggest names on paper in Lamar Patterson, but the former Brisbane Bullets talent is yet to really live up to the expectations, averaging 11.5 points. 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. However the likes of Tai Webster (21.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists) and Finn Delany (14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks) have picked up the slack.

Sydney have seemed to adapt more as the season has progressed, and will be favourites at home in this match.

MELBOURNE UNITED vs. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Saturday, February 13 @ 5.30pm
Bendigo Basketball Stadium

Two teams at opposite ends of the ladder face off on Saturday evening, as the undefeated United – coming back from a trip north to face The Hawks – will host Cairns Taipans whose season is slowly slipping away. Now at 2-6, last year’s finalists will need to get a move on if they are to put themselves in contention for another post-season series, and upsetting the top team on the road will provide them with great confidence. The last time these teams met was January 25 and it did go down to the wire, with United scraping home 87-85.

The matchup everyone will be watching for is Landale (16.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocks) up against Cameron Oliver (17.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks) as the two best big men in the game do battle. Both teams have reliable shooters coming out of the backcourt as well, with Scott Machado continuing his remarkable form, putting up 17.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.0 rebounds, going up against the likes of Goulding (16.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists. United’s bench is remarkable, and considering Scotty Hopson (7.6 points. 4.0 assists and 2.0 assists) is yet to get his act together, the unbeaten side could improve even further. The Taipans have the names on paper, and it will be about just getting it to happen on the night, with Kouat Noi, Majok Deng and Mirko Djeric all averaging double-figure points per match this season.

United will start the game as strong favourites, though the Taipans showed last month they can match it with them for the most part which means it could be an enthralling contest.

BRISBANE BULLETS vs. ADELAIDE 36ERS
Saturday, February 13 @ 8pm
Nissan Arena

Monday, February 15 @ 7.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

For the first and second time in 2021, the Adelaide 36ers and Brisbane Bullets will take to the court over the weekend, when they lock horns in Queensland on Saturday, then fly south to meet in South Australia on Monday. These two teams have had some epic battles over the past couple of seasons, with the last three meetings being separated by six, two and nine points. Brisbane has had the upperhand of late, winning three of the past four, but in all bar one clash, the winning team has scored triple-figures whilst the losing side has fallen short of the century.

This year the 36ers have benefited from playing at home, racing to a 4-3 start, but will need to remember their away bags as they head to Brisbane to face a Bullets side sitting precariously at 2-3 on the ladder. Isaac Humphries and Daniel Johnson are the dominant big men for the 36ers, combining for 38 points and 14 rebounds, while Johnson also averages 3.4 assists and Humphries, 3.7 blocks per game. The latter leads the competition in the statistic and constantly denies opposition players at the basket. Young gun Josh Giddey runs the floor at just 18-year-old with 9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists, while Donald Sloan became the first import to depart the league in search of other opportunities. The Bullets have a star import themselves, with Victor Law (21.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocks) teaming up well with Nathan Sobey (25.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists). The issue is finding more support outside the duo, with the net highest point-scorer being Jason Cadee (9.2 points per game).

These teams will be hoping to take out both games, but they should start favourite in their respective home arenas.

SYDNEY KINGS vs. THE HAWKS
Sunday, February 14 @ 3pm
Qudos Bank Arena

Both the New South Wales NBL sides will front up for their second games on Sunday when they meet at Qudos Bank Arena. The Kings will be hoping to come off a Friday night win against New Zealand Breakers at the same venue, while The Hawks will hit the road following their home fixture at WIN Entertainment Centre against Melbourne United. Confidence could be a huge thing, but both these sides will be keen to get one-up on the other in the battle for the state.

The Hawks have been the better performing team of the two, sitting at 4-1 prior to the round, and the trio of Americans in Harvey (21.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals), Justin Simon (9.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks) and Justinian Jessup (13.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals) have been productive this season. Cameron Bairstow‘s return to the court has been a great addition to the Hawks, averaging 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in his two games this season. Much has been spoken about Sydney’s depth with Ware (19.4 points, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals) and Martin (19.0 points, 8.2 rebounds) as import scorers, while Vasiljevic (16.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists) and Newley (12.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals) pack a real punch.

The Hawks will be favourites for the clash, but expect it go down to the wire in the Sunday afternoon clash.

Picture credit: via SBS

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