NBL21 – Round 8 preview: Wildcats and Phoenix to battle for fifth time

AS Summer turned into Autumn, the National Basketball League (NBL)’s new tournament NBL Cup rolled on, and a massive 10-game round over five days will be a treat for fans in Victoria. This round features the first four matches at the revamped State Basketball Centre, before returning to John Cain Arena for the remaining six games.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS vs. BRISBANE BULLETS
Wednesday, March 3 @ 5pm
State Basketball Centre

Fresh off their first win in some time, New Zealand Breakers seemingly clicked without the injured Lamar Patterson, as the bench players stepped up to have a real impact in a one-sided dominance of Adelaide 36ers last round. A 32-6 first term was unheard of, especially from the bottom team as the Breakers put the 36ers to the sword and then moved ahead of Cairns Taipans given their four games in-hand.

The Webster brothers have been sensational for the Breakers this season, combining for 38.9 points, with Tai Webster picking up 20.6, as well as 6.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.3 steals, while Corey Webster has 18.3 points 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.1 steals. Finn Delany (12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 blocks) has come on in leaps and bounds while import Colton Iverson (6.5 points, 7.5 rebounds) applies the defensive pressure close to the basket.

The Bullets have their two key shooters in Victor Law and Nathan Sobey, who funnily enough are the only two Bullets who have started in each of the 10 games this season. They have combined for 43.1 points, which is almost 50 per cent of their entire team’s total. Law is averaging a whopping 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks to go with 19.7 points and 2.5 assists, while Sobey leads the team in points with 23.4, as well as 4.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds. Harry Froling will have a big job on Iverson, averaging the 6.3 points and 6.1 rebounds and teaming up with Tyrell Harrison (5.5 points, 5.6 rebounds).

Brisbane will be favourites in this clash, but if the Breakers can build on their last performance and make that the standard, they will begin to move up the ladder and still have games in-hand.

 

PERTH WILDCATS vs. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Wednesday, March 3 @ 7.30pm
State Basketball Centre

South East Melbourne Phoenix had a confidence-boosting win last start, getting up despite not having gun import Keifer Sykes for the first time this year. The Phoenix have now strung three of the past four together, and are one of the more in-form teams of the competition. The most in-form team could well be the Wildcats who looked in a touch of trouble early at 1-2, though it showed how not to read into the first few rounds form, as Bryce Cotton has led the back-to-back premiers back to title contention, knocking off Melbourne United and have now won four of the past five to sit second with a 5-3 record.

The Phoenix are waiting for not only Sykes to return to the side, but Ryan Broekhoff whose 14-day quarantine spell is winding up with the ex-NBA talent ready to hit the court. A trio of Sykes (16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists), Broekhoff and Mitch Creek (20.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists) will be hard for any defence to try and contain, but the Phoenix also have some great bench players who can step up and play a role. Kyle Adnam had nine points and 13 assists last start as he replaced Sykes in the starting spot, and is someone who is known for their high-impact play.

The Wildcats have been perfectly led by Cotton (24.4 points, 7.4 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.9 steals), but he has helped lift his teammates. Import John Mooney is enjoying a remarkable season, playing all eight games and putting up 18 and 12 rebounds per game, while Todd Blanchfield (13.6 points, 3.0 rebounds) has also been a key lynchpin since crossing from the east coast at the Hawks. All five starters at Perth have played every game, and that continuity has been helpful in remaining consistent in their approach.

These two sides have met far too many times already considering Perth have played only the eight games, but with a 2-2 record from the four previous clashes, it is fair to say this could go either way.

 

CAIRNS TAIPANS vs. SYDNEY KINGS
Thursday, March 4 @ 5pm
State Basketball Centre

Two of the bottom three sides will be keen to get a wriggle on when they clash at the State Basketball Centre on Thursday. The last placed Cairns Taipans (3-9) are almost in panic mode, but not quite, having lost the past three games following some progress with back-to-back victories. They will be keen to step up in the NBL Cup and try and catch the teams above them, being two wins behind every other side other than New Zealand, and playing an additional game (or more) than the other sides bar Adelaide. For the Kings, they can level their win-loss record at 6-6 with a victory here, and be within touch of the top four.

Despite sitting on the bottom, the Taipans top-end talent is undeniable. Cameron Oliver (17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks) has been phenomenal again in NBL21, while Scott Machado (17.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists) has been the key facilitator on offence. While the question over Cairns was how the depth would step up, Kouat Noi (12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds), Majok Deng (11.2 points, 4.9 rebounds) and Mirko Djeric (10.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists) have all been contributing, it is just a case of getting the wins to tick over sooner rather than later.

With so much turnover during the off-season, the Sydney Kings were an unpredictable unit heading into NBL21, and the question mark was whether there would be enough support for Casper Ware (21.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 steals). He has found a back court partner in Dejan Vasiljevic (17.8 points, 3.6 rebounds) and the recruitment of import forward Jarrell Martin (18.6 points, 7.1 rebounds) has been a fantastic investment. The bench has stepped up when required, with Brad Newley being a perfect player to provide composure on court, putting up 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Sydney has been in better form and therefore will be favourites in the clash, but Cairns has to break through eventually given its talent on paper.

 

ILLAWARRA HAWKS vs. ADELAIDE 36ERS
Thursday, March 4 @ 7.30pm
State Basketball Centre

An Illawarra Hawks side looking to snap its recent form of three losses in four games – after being 5-2 and previously 4-0 – will have no better chance against the Adelaide 36ers than when the South Australian team head in without star five, Isaac Humphries. Injuries can derail a team’s season, and Humphries’ form this year has been nothing short of sensational with his blocking and all-round gameplay. Now the 36ers – who have replaced him with Jack Purchase – will need to find a way to win without him.

Daniel Johnson will be a consistent source of points for the 36ers regardless of who stands beside him, putting up 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists, while the next highest scorer is Tony Crocker (10.5 points, 2.4 rebounds) who will need to provide more support to ‘DJ’ without Humphries in there. Josh Giddey has been an all-round talent with 9.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists, while Sunday Dech has been a worthy back court partner for the teenager, putting up 8.8 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Illawarra has had eight players involved in every game this season, with three of them permanent starters. Tyler Harvey (20.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists) and Justinian Jessup (15.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists) have been impressive, while Sam Froling (10.7 points, 7.0 rebounds) could feast on a Humphries-less 36ers outfit. Coming off the bench, Cameron Bairstow (11.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks) and Justin Simon (9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals) both add different dimensions to the Hawks’ squad.

Without Humphries, one has to lean to the Hawks, especially after Adelaide’s effort in the last round, though if the 36ers can find a way to cover the big man, then they are still right in title contention.

OTHER MATCHES:

PERTH WILDCATS vs. BRISBANE BULLETS
Friday, March 5 @ 5pm
John Cain Arena

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS vs. MELBOURNE UNITED
Friday, March 5 @ 7.30pm
John Cain Arena

ADELAIDE 36ERS vs. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Saturday, March 6 @ 5.30pm
John Cain Arena

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX vs. SYDNEY KINGS
Saturday, March 6 @ 8pm
John Cain Arena

MELBOURNE UNITED vs. BRISBANE BULLETS
Sunday, March 7 @ 2pm
John Cain Arena

ILLAWARRA HAWKS vs. PERTH WILDCATS
Sunday, March 7 @ 4.30pm
John Cain Arena

The only other side remaining is Melbourne United, who take to the court on Friday night up against the Breakers. By that stage it could be a top-against-bottom clash depending on other results, or the Breakers could be coming in with back-to-back wins under their belt. Regardless, United are sitting pretty at the top of the table, and are clear title favourites. Jock Landale (16.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 blocks) and Jack White (9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks) are strong big men, while Chris Goulding (16.8 points, 3.0 rebounds), Scotty Hopson (10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists) and Shea Ili (10.0 points, 2.2 rebounds) are all capable of putting up double-figure points totals.

Picture credit: via SBS

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