Sal’s NBL Finals night preview: Nuggets v Rams and Jets v Airs

THREE teams down and four remain in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Finals Series after the first two nights of post-season action. Last placed Canterbury Rams survived a challenge from Nelson Giants on night one and came from behind to put away Auckland Huskies with an inspired third term last night. Taranaki Mountainairs were able to hold off Franklin Bulls in the other elimination final yesterday to make it through to the semis. Now the Rams take on top of the table Otago Nuggets, and the Airs face up against Manawatu Jets.

Otago Nuggets vs. Canterbury Rams

Not many people would have seen this as a matchup for the semi-finals, but the last placed Canterbury Rams have made it through to the penultimate round to take on the Otago Nuggets. The winner progresses through to the grand final and the loser bows out for 2020. Will the Nuggets live up to their top billing at the end of the home and away season? Or will the Rams’ fairytale run from last to the title continue?

PAST MATCHES:

Canterbury Rams 22 | 20 | 12 | 23 (77)
Otago Nuggets 28 | 28 | 9 | 22 (87)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Canterbury Rams 14 | 13 | 20 | 27 (74)
Otago Nuggets 13 | 14 | 26 | 22 (75)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 17.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals
Kane Keil (Nuggets) 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals
Josh Aitcheson (Nuggets) 10.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets) 7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.5 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Sam Smith (Rams) 17.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Thomas Webley (Rams) 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals
Alex Talma (Rams) 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 20 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Nuggets must ensure the young Rams do not have a purple patch in which they can pile on the scores quickly. The last two nights Canterbury has dug deep after facing a deficit and piled on runs to hit the front and never lose it. The likes of Jordan Ngatai and Kane Keil need to be on their game, whilst the two most important people could be Jordan Hunt and Jarrod Kenny. The former needs to win the head-to-head over Thomas Webley after Webley’s match-winning performance last night, and he has the strength, but will need to avoid his opponent using his athleticism to get to the basket. Kenny won Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, and he needs to hassle his opponent whether it be Taylor Britt or Reuben Te Rangi and make sure they have an off night, whilst trying to hurt them the other way with some long-range bombs.

The last two night previews have been talking about the stars in Britt and Te Rangi, but boy did the Rams really come of age against the Huskies and look like genuine title contenders. Just as Auckland would guard one hot-handed scorer, another would pop up. Webley played his best game of the year when it counted, while Sam Smith took over Te Rangi’s scoring duties and keeping in mind the Rams built a lead in the third erm with Te Rangi and and Britt combining for just 11 points at one stage. Alex Talma also missed last night and could provide much height on the glass, but then again, do the Rams need him? As the Nuggets are a little smaller than the Huskies and more spread in their shooters. They have to limit Ngatai’s influence though as he is the star on court who can put on a one-man show.

WHO WINS?

What a clash this shapes up to be. Otago Nuggets have to be the pick given they finished first, but Canterbury Rams are running on a high right now and look like they could beat anyone on court. They have to perform at their best for longer to knock off the league’s best side this season, but anything is possible in this Finals Series.

Manawatu Jets vs. Taranaki Mountainairs

In a huge second semi-final, the Manawatu Jets are looking to bounce back from their qualifying final loss to the Nuggets with a win over Taranaki Mountainairs. The Airs knocked off Franklin Bulls last night and were effectively equal second with the Jets and Huskies despite finishing fourth. These two teams are the league’s highest scoring teams, and looking at their past two encounters, expect it to go a similar way, with the winner reaching triple-figures if not both sides.

PAST MATCHES:

Manawatu Jets 22 | 27 | 39 | 14 (102)
Taranaki Airs 23 | 28 | 23 | 19 (93)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Manawatu Jets 22 | 32 | 31 | 33 (118)
Taranaki Airs 25 | 23 | 32 | 23 (103)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Hyrum Harris (Jets)** 24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks
Taane Samuel (Jets) 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Jayden Bezzant (Jets) 18.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 27.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Marcel Jones (Airs) 20.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Shane Temara (Airs) 17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 21.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 23.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.4 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Jets will be keen to see the return of Tom Vodanovich for this clash after missing the Otago Nuggets loss. Despite being this season’s MVP and a notorious high scorer, Vodanovich has not been able to punish the Airs the same way he has other sides, scoring 17 points in both matches and only having a real impact off the boards in the first encounter with 14 rebounds. The load has been shared around and realistically they need to continue to do that because unpredictability is the best key to victory. Hyrum Harris is a terrific facilitator, but he might need to score more if Vodanovich is still sore or having a down game, while Taane Samuel could be the wildcard in the pack, being the best performing player for Manawatu across the two games. They need to match Marcel Jones off the boards and try and limit Derone Raukawa as much as possible.

The Airs might have gone down in the past two encounters, but would fancy themselves here if they can get off the chain. They have a lot of underrated players, and bench players who can come off and have spurts of impact, whereas the Jets have such a strong starting five that they can get the majority of their points from them. Raukawa and Jones are hard to stop, but it will need to be the next group such as Shane Temara – who is almost averaging a double-double against the Jets – as well as Ken Tuffin, Mitch Dance and Francis Mulvihill who really need stand up and provide support to the All-Star duo. It will also be important to try and read Harris and his passes to limit the scoring power of the Jets’ bigs, particularly Vodanovich.

WHO WINS?

The two highest scoring sides are set to put on a real show. Both sides have elite talents who can shoot or share the ball around, with strong rebounding and assist numbers across the board. They are both also more than capable defensively with some huge steal numbers, but the Jets will start as favourites in this one. With two wins from two games thus far, Manawatu need to keep doing what they have done in the past, but you cannot discount the Airs who at their best are a quality lineup.

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