Sal’s NBL Finals night preview: Huskies v Rams and Airs v Bulls

ONE team is out and six remain in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) title race following the first night of finals action. Canterbury Rams won the first of four games they will need to win if they are to hold the title this year, defeating Nelson Giants and now moving on to face Auckland Huskies in another elimination final. Rounding out the elimination finals is a fourth against fifth clash between Taranaki Mountainairs and Franklin Bulls. Both sides have been ladder leaders at different stages through the season, but only one can advance to the semi-finals.

The semi-finals take place tomorrow night, with Otago Nuggets playing the lowest placing loser – which could be any of the three sides other than Auckland Huskies – while the Manawatu Jets could meet anyone bar Canterbury on the penultimate finals stage.

Auckland Huskies vs. Canterbury Rams

In the opening match of the night, the fourth placed Auckland Huskies take on the last placed Canterbury Rams who got through the first hurdle by overcoming the Nelson Giants last night. This clash will be substantially harder, but they have beaten them once, albeit in the opening week of the season.

PAST MATCHES:

Canterbury Rams 29 | 17 | 24 | 32 (102)
Auckland Huskies 12 | 20 | 16 | 22 (70)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Auckland Huskies 18 | 30 | 28 | 12 (88)
Canterbury Rams 24 | 12 | 18 | 27 (81)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (Huskies)** 19 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 8 steals
Leon Henry (Huskies) 9.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Tohi Smith-Milner (Huskies) 10.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
Toby Gillooly (Rams)** 25 points, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Taylor Britt (Rams) 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.0 blocks
Thomas Webley (Rams) 11.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (Huskies) 19.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.7 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 20.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Huskies have really found their form in the second half of the season and have a really well balanced team. With Leon Henry guiding the younger players with his rebounding prowess, Taine Murray on a tear when he is red hot, and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa having a Defensive Player of the Year award type-season, they are a hard team to beat. That is before you get to the likes of Tohi Smith-Milner among a host of others off the bench who can contribute on the scoring front.

The Rams rely a lot on Taylor Britt to score, but can have cameos from others such as Toby Gillooly and more recently, Reuben Te Rangi. They have the strength off the boards with Alex Talma and Thomas Webley working hard on the inside, but will have their work cut out with Henry and Smith-Milner crashing the boards. It will need to be a clinical performance from the Rams to get up with the Huskies so strong defensively, you cannot afford to have too many loose balls.

WHO WINS?

Auckland Huskies were not too far off the top two, and deserve to head in as favourites here. While they lost to the Rams in their opening game of the season, they are in much better form of late, even with the Rams picking up back-to-back wins in the past few days. If the Huskies can play to their potential, they just have too much depth to rely on, while the Rams have some serious A-grade talent, but injuries have hurt them this season otherwise they would have finished higher up the ladder.

Taranaki Mountainairs vs. Franklin Bulls

The second match of the night has a huge clash between two genuine title contenders that neither the Nuggets nor Jets would particularly look forward to playing. The Airs have won both their previous encounters against the Bulls, but finals is a different ball game and this shapes up to be a beauty.

PAST MATCHES:

Franklin Bulls 31 | 21 | 18 | 25 (95)
Taranaki Airs 25 | 30 | 27 | 25 (107)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Franklin Bulls 17 | 12 | 31 | 28 (88)
Taranaki Airs 31 | 25 | 24 | 22 (102)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Marcel Jones (Airs) 29.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 19.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Ken Tuffin (Airs) 10.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Isaac Davidson (Bulls) 22.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks
Nikau McCullough (Bulls) 11.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Dom Kelman-Poto (Bulls) 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Derone Raukawa (Airs) 22.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals
Dom Kelman-Poto (Bulls) 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Airs have had the edge over the Bulls in their opening two encounters thanks to the 12 and 14-point wins. Given they are relatively comfortable victories, they would head into this game with confidence, particularly given not only their All-Star duo in Marcel Jones and Derone Raukawa‘s form against the Bulls, but also Ken Tuffin‘s 10-point and six-rebounds average against Franklin. They need to keep doing what they’ve been during the season, but need to put in a four quarter effort to ensure they remain alive in the competition.

The Bulls have one of the most even spread of sides in the competition. At one point they won five out of six games and looked like they were going to storm away with the minor premiership before slipping back to the pack in the second half of the season. If the Bulls can limit the influence of Jones and Raukawa then that will go a long way to winning. Obviously that is easier said than done, but perhaps the roles for Everard Bartlett and Nick Barrow could be huge, with Isaac Davidson and Nikau McCullouch trying to pile on the points, while Dom Kelman-Poto provides the inside presence.

WHO WINS?

With two wins in the bank against their opposition, the Airs will be favourites heading into this. Given they have 40 per cent of the All-Star team in their possession, they are genuinely a top four side ready to advance. The Bulls have such an even squad across the board, it is difficult to try and lockdown on one player, but Davidson might be that player whose hot hand early in the season led the Bulls to a number of victories.

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