Tag: Adam Gibson

2019/20 NBL preview: Round 20 – United still in the hunt for finals

THE final round of the National Basketball League action is set to be a big one with the New Zealand Breakers, Brisbane Bullets and Melbourne United all still in contention for that elusive fourth spot on the ladder. While the battle for second spot is just as exciting with Cairns looming as the potential team to leapfrog the Perth Wildcats.

MELBOURNE UNITED v. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Thursday, February 13, 7:30pm
Melbourne Arena

It is do-or-die for Melbourne United who if they want to get any type of finals redemption from last year’s grand final loss, will have to leave nothing to chance. United have struggled with consistency throughout the season, stringing together a couple of strong performances and then going off the boil making them a real unknown. Melbourne has only won two of its past five games, speaking to its inconsistency and have not won against the Taipans so far this season. Cairns Taipans well and truly have the wood over their opponents and are in hot form sitting on a four-game winning streak and claiming victory in nine of their past matches. The Taipans have taken the competition by storm this season, steadily building into the year and creating a strong winning momentum to secure third seed and a spot in finals. There is no denying that captain, Chris Goulding is a real barometer for United with the experienced guard able to sense the moment and hit the scoreboard with his accuracy from three-point the most damaging part of his game. But Goulding will need support from Melo Trimble coming off the bench with his deft touch and scoring ability. Trimble knocked back 36 points in Round 18 and 13 last week, and will have to replicate that strong attacking intent to get his side over the line and give them a shot at finals. The team from up north have been unstoppable with Cameron Oliver and Scott Machado able to do a wealth of damage on the scoreboard. They both had a big day out the last time these two sides met with Oliver recording a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds making for an intriguing contest.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS v. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Friday, February 14, 5:30pm
Horncastle Arena

The fourth placed Breakers have everything to play for in their clash against new comers South East Melbourne Phoenix. New Zealand has had a rollercoaster season to say the least with players leaving and succumbing to injury but have somehow managed to hit their straps at the right time winning 10 of their past 13. A win here could all but sow-up fourth spot and their chance at finals whereas a loss could knock them out of contention. Despite a hot start to their inaugural season the Phoenix have simply been unable to maintain their dominance falling well and truly out of the finals race dropping 10 of their past 12 games. Without star, Mitch Creek who suffered a hyperextension last round, the Phoenix will have their work cut out for them and will look to the likes of John Roberson to lead the way on the scoreboard. Dane Pineau and Ben Madgen will have to step up to the plate, while youngster Kyle Adnam will be hoping to keep his hot form rolling coming off an impressive Round 19 performance of a team-high 19 points. The Breakers are not without their own star power with the likes of Scotty Hopson in blistering form coming off a whopping 31 points. Hopson along with Finn Delaney, Tom Abercrombie and Sek Henry have proven that they can stand up under pressure and deliver time and time again making them a damaging prospect for the Phoenix. Delaney has been in ripping form recording double figures in his past six games, so expect him to keep that form going.

SYDNEY KINGS v. ILLAWARRA HAWKS
Friday, February 14, 8:00pm
Qudos Bank Arena

With top spot all but guaranteed, the Kings will be aiming to iron out any issues ahead of the finals against the last placed Hawks. The Kings have been near-unstoppable throughout the season with their slick ball movement and explosive scoring along with their variety of options making them a very dominant line-up. Despite Sydney winning two of their three encounters the Illawarra Hawks have proven that when on song they can topple the best claiming a five-point victory in Round 13. But their most recent encounter showcased just how punishing the Kings can be with six players reaching double-figures headlined by Deshon Taylor with 17 points. Casper Ware is no slouch when it comes to the points department knocking back 24 points last week while Jae’Sean Tate backs himself from all areas on the court falling marginally short of a double-double last round with 17 points and nine rebounds. Brad Newley and Andrew Bogut are also imposing figures for the Kings with the latter a rebounding machine. The match-up between Sunday Dech and Ware will bring plenty of interest with the Kings guard well held in recent times only managing eight and 10 points respectively. Josh Boone will have to stand up for the Hawks while captain Todd Blanchfield has been a staple in their line-up. Andrew Ogilvy will be aiming to replicate his Round 19 form recording a team-high 15 points, four rebounds and seven assists in hope to get his side over the line.

BRISBANE BULLETS v. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Saturday, February 15, 5:30pm
Nissan Arena

The Brisbane Bullets are knocking on the door of finals and must win their clash against the third placed Taipans if they are any chance to secure fourth spot. But history is not on their side with Cairns winning six of their past games against the Bullets. The boys in blue have steadily risen-up the ranks knocking off unsuspecting teams with their precise ball movement and scoring prowess but Cairns will be looking to keep their dominant form going heading into finals and potentially snatch second spot. Last rounds loss will be fresh in the minds of Brisbane and will be looking to rectify their performance with a strong showing against state rivals. Expect both sides to battle hard considering the relatively even match-up across the court and just how much is at stake. Lamar Patterson has been a revelation for the Bullets with the star forward able to single handily change the course of a game with his drive to the basket and defensive pressure. Patterson scored 18 and 25 points respectively last round while Nathan Sobey showcased his attacking intent with a game high 30 points against New Zealand. Will Magnay is a defensive beast for the Bullets thanks to his strong rebounding and ability to swat the ball away leading the league in blocks. Cairns captain, DJ Newbill has taken his game to a whole other level in 2020 and can flick a switch to kick it up a gear and record a win. Majok Deng has blossomed throughout the season becoming a real talent for Cairns relishing the extra court time while both Oliver and Machado are game changers.

PERTH WILDCATS v. ADELAIDE 36ers
Saturday, February 15, 8:00pm
RAC Arena

With a shot at first spot on the line, expect the Wildcats to throw everything at the 36ers who have been plagued with inconsistency throughout the 2019/20 season. Perth is a class act, able to pull something out of the hat even when it looks impossible, while Adelaide ooze unpredictability. Unfortunately, the 36ers are out of the finals race but can still have an impact on the postseason positioning with a win here and considering their recent track record it is quite possible having won their past two encounters. It is a milestone round for Adelaide with Joey Wright coaching his 500th game and potentially giving the spark the 36ers need to win, but the Wildcats are no easy beats able to mount pressure in ways no other team can.  The 36ers have a wealth of stars across the court with Jerome Randle able to hit the scoreboard time and time again while big man Eric Griffin is a real excitement machine for Adelaide with his basketball nous and skill. Throw in Daniel Johnson who is coming off a solid performance and the 36ers could do enough to rattle their opponents and get the wood over them. But it is hard to worry the likes of Bryce Cotton who is simply ice cold when it comes to scoring holding the leading points title. Nick Kay is also a handy influence on the scoreboard with 23 points to his name last week while Terrico White can chime in to wreak havoc.

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX v. MELBOURNE UNITED
Sunday, February 16, 3:00pm
Melbourne Arena

The final game of the home and away season is set to be a big one. Melbourne United’s future rides on their performance in this round and a win in the opening game could all but gift them with a fighting chance. Playing against an understrength Phoenix could be exactly what the doctor order for United to sneak into fourth spot and play finals. With Goulding able to put on a masterclass and Trimble showing some form in recent weeks coming off the bench a big performance from star recruit Shawn Long could thrust United into finals. Long has been vital for Melbourne with his points scoring ability and strong frame consistently able to gobble up rebounds. Despite their three key players United will have to rely on the performances from other players such as Mitch McCarron and David Barlow if they are any chance to romp it home. But the Phoenix will not go down without a fight and will be looking to end United’s hopes. Forward Tai Wesley will be hoping to make a splash in his first game against United since their opening clash while Adam Gibson and Kendall Stephens will have to up their ante to cause some of trouble on the scoreboard. But given what is at stake expect Melbourne to play with plenty of intensity and passion to down their cross-town rivals.

2019/20 NBL preview: Round 13/14 – The look ahead

IN a special National Basketball League (NBL) preview, we take a look at each NBL side and their upcoming games in Round 13 and Round 14 to determine where they might be situated heading into the final month of basketball action.

1 SYDNEY KINGS

Position: 1st
Wins: 13
Losses: 4
Points: 26
Difference: +105

vs. Perth Wildcats | Saturday, December 28, 5:30pm | Qudos Bank Arena
vs. Illawarra Hawks | Tuesday, December 31, 5:30pm | WIN Entertainment Centre
vs. Adelaide 36ers | Saturday, January 4, 8:00pm | Qudos Bank Arena

Best Possible Position post-R14: 1st
Worst Possible position post-R14: 3rd

The Sydney Kings come into the top of the table clash against Perth Wildcats in somewhat shaky form, but remain a win clear with the Wildcats ahead of the big game at Qudos Bank Arena. The Kings will still start favourites, but the Wildcats had been on a nice run before dropping a game to Melbourne United last round which saw them miss the opportunity to steal top spot temporarily. The Kings then take on Illawarra Hawks on the road and will celebrate the New Year in Cairns this year, before a four-day break ahead of the big game against fifth placed Adelaide 36ers who will be in the top four by that stage. There is a reason the Kings are on top of the table, with enviable depth, but mostly because of the top-end talent. Some sides have players that are great that fill the same roles, while the Kings seem to have found a player to fill each role to perfection. NBA center, Andrew Bogut continues to be a force to be reckoned with despite some inconsistent form of late, while Casper Ware is a points-scoring machine this season. Jae’Sean Tate is one player touted to earn an NBA spot at some stage if not next season, while draft hopeful Didi Louzada has been flying under the radar this season. Throw in Australian bigs, Brad Newley and Craig Moller, and the Kings have a really strong starting five and one. Still the team to beat given the depth of the side, plus the three A graders and a couple of B graders in their starting line-up.

2 PERTH WILDCATS

Position: 2nd
Wins: 12
Losses: 6
Points: 24
Difference: +45

vs. Sydney Kings | Saturday, December 28, 5:30pm | Qudos Bank Arena
vs. Adelaide 36ers | Wednesday, January 1, 5:30pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre
vs. Brisbane Bullets  | Sunday, January 5, 5:00pm | Queensland State Netball Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 1st
Worst Possible position post-R14: 3rd

Reigning champions Perth Wildcats might have shown some inconsistencies at the start of the season, but hit their straps midyear to sit second heading into the last game prior to 2020. They would love nothing more than to take the scalp of the top-ranked Kings and eye off top spot, but still have to get the job done with two games in the New Year over the next couple of weeks. They will rack up the frequent flyer miles with three consecutive games on the road, starting in Sydney on December 28, before flying to Adelaide for the New Year’s Day clash against the 36ers, before the trek up to Queensland for the battle against the Bullets on January 5. They are pretty secured inside the top three, but the first two games in particular are ones they will want to win to assert their dominance and put themselves in the best position for the extra home final and a chance at back-to-back flags. Bryce Cotton has continued his remarkable 2018/19 season form, averaging around 22 points per game, well aided by Terrico White who has the 16.3 points per game average. Nick Kay has been a third scorer for the Wildcats with 14 points and 7.7 rebounds, but the knock will be the depth after that. Dario Hunt has proven handy, and is the next highest with 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, but no player averages more than four assists or rebounds, or seven points per game – aside from Clint Steindl (8.2) – so they will need others to stand up if the likes of Cotton and White are held like they were against United. Still plenty of youth cycling through to force competitiveness amongst the roster.

3 MELBOURNE UNITED

Position: 3rd
Wins: 10
Losses: 7
Points: 20
Difference: +63

vs Cairns Taipans | Thursday, December 26, 5:30pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Brisbane Bullets | Sunday, December 29, 5:00pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Illawarra Hawks | Saturday, January 4, 5:30pm |  WIN Entertainment Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 1st
Worst Possible position post-R14: 5th

They took a while to gel, but once they got going, United became a damaging force within the NBL. They have won seven of their past 10 games, including two on the trot which given the evenness of the competition, is the equal most of any side with New Zealand Breakers the other. In the three games they have over the next two rounds, Melbourne take on the two Queensland sides back-to-back at Melbourne Arena with a handy three-day preparation in between, before a six-day break before travelling to Cairns on January 4 in what is set to be a blockbuster game against the new-and-improved Taipans. Melo Trimble gets to face his old side once again, and the 191cm guard has been in all sorts of terrific form, averaging 22 points per game, and more than four rebounds and four assists as well. Shawn Long crossed the ditch from the Breakers over the off-season and has been absolutely phenomenal this year, earning the nickname “Mr Double Double” and he has rarely missed out on the opportunity to stuff the stats sheet. In 17 games this season, Long has averaged 19.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game to be the premier center and set to be named in that role for the Team of the Year, and potentially take the MVP off fellow center, Bogut. Chris Goulding is the other exclusive scorer who has put up more than 17 points per game, while Mitch McCarron and David Barlow are always contributing strongly. Similar to the Kings, United has a variety of damaging players who fill different roles, rather than all of the same kind. Long and Trimble are good enough to lead this team to a title, with the next three durable and consistent as they come. United cannot afford to lose all three games though and potentially drop out of the top four.

4 CAIRNS TAIPANS

Position: 4th
Wins: 8
Losses: 9
Points: 16
Difference: +22

vs. Melbourne United | Thursday, December 26, 5:30pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix | Tuesday, December 31, 8:00pm | Cairns Convention Centre
vs. Brisbane Bullets | Friday, January 3, 7.30pm | Cairns Convention Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 3rd
Worst Possible position post-R14: 7th

Cairns handed its fans an early Christmas present with a win last round to grab fourth spot back from Adelaide 36ers. The 36ers dropped a home game to bottom of the ladder Illawarra Hawks, while the Taipans – who lost back-to-back games in Round 11 – took back the spot they had worked so hard to earn after a slow start. Dubbed the most exciting team in the NBL by plenty on social media, the Taipans might not have the same star factor as other sides, but they have proved that they can impact a game outside the stats. A tough few games are coming up with a Boxing Day clash against United in Melbourne the biggest of the lot, before back-to-back games in Cairns either side of New Year, with matches against South East Melbourne Phoenix and Brisbane Bullets. The Taipans will need to win at least two games to retain fourth spot, but a third win would likely guarantee it given the 36ers have games against the top two teams as well as the bottom two ones coming up. While the Taipans might lack the star power other sides have, it would be remiss not to consider American import, Cameron Oliver in that star power bracket, with the 203cm forward shooting 16.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. While he averages less than an assist per game, he has his role off the boards to give it to the likes of Scott Machado (14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game) who does all the playmaking for the side, whilst pickpocketing the opposition with 1.5 steals per game. While those two have been the standouts all season, Majok Deng (13.2 points and 3.9 rebounds) and Kouat Noi (11.4 and 6.5) have also been strong off the boards. Cairns’ rebounding is a strength in the game, and the Taipans can move it end-to-end really well. Wins are just crucial now given the mid-table log-jam.

5 ADELAIDE 36ERS

Position: 5th
Wins: 8
Losses: 9
Points: 16
Difference: -37

vs. New Zealand Breakers | Sunday, December 29, 3:00pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre
vs. Perth Wildcats | Wednesday, January 1, 5:30pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre
vs. Sydney Kings | Saturday, January 4, 8:00pm | Qudos Bank Arena
vs. Illawarra Hawks | Monday, January 6, 7:30pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 2nd
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

Finalists last year, the 36ers would be ruing their missed opportunity when they went down to Illawarra at home last Friday night. They have a chance to atone in the New Year at the same venue, and have been treated to a relatively good fixture for a team having to play four games over the next couple of weeks. First they host New Zealand Breakers on Sunday, then welcome Perth in a New Years Day classic, before travelling to Sydney three days later for a date with the Kings. They round up their four-game schedule over Rounds 13 and 14 with a home match against the Hawks on Monday, January 6. Over the off-season, Adelaide lost a star in Nathan Sobey, but recruited one of the best talents in the NBL in Jerome Randle. The pure scorer has put up 20.2 points per game this season to go with 4.5 assists per game, while Daniel Johnson is averaging another couple of rebounds a game to go with his 16.8 points. Eric Griffin has had an impact off the bench and got better as the season has worn on, teaming well with Johnson in the forward-center role, as has Harry Froling who is another 211cm giant. Jack McVeigh has been an influence over the last couple of weeks and would not be far away from earning a start, while Ramone Moore has played both starting and bench roles this season. This next couple of weeks could determine Adelaide’s season, with the 36ers playing the top two sides and the bottom two sides, but remarkably could end up anywhere from second to last based on other team’s results. Expect them to maintain a spot in the mid-table, but it is fascinating just to see how much of a knives-edge their season is on.

6 SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX

Position: 6th
Wins: 7
Losses: 9
Points: 16
Difference: -6

vs. Illawarra Hawks | Saturday, December 28, 8:00pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Cairns Taipans | Tuesday, December 31, 8:00pm | Cairns Convention Centre
vs. New Zealand Breakers | Sunday, January 5, 3:00pm | Melbourne Arena

Best Possible Position post-R14: 3rd
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

The Phoenix started like a house on fire in season 2019/20, but have just been smouldering since, losing eight of the past 11 and just doing enough to stay in touch with the top four. They desperately need to start racking up the ‘Ws’ if they are not to fall behind, and have a kind enough draw over the next couple of weeks to do so. They have home games either side of the New Year against bottom two teams, Illawarra Hawks and New Zealand Breakers which if they are to be a real contender this season, should bank them without too much problem – especially given the Hawks and Breakers have a combined 3-12 record on the road – two of which came last round. Round 13 and 14 is make or break for the Phoenix, and realistically, with the exception of Mitch Creek every week, they have not had the consistency the teams above them have had. Creek has been phenomenal as expected and would be a challenger for the MVP this season, posting numbers of around 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one steal per game. John Roberson has shown his clutch ability, such as against the 36ers a couple of rounds ago when he sank 21 points in six minutes to win the game in overtime. Ben Madgen has been solid without being outstanding, while Dane Pineau and Adam Gibson have shown glimpses at times. They just need to find more consistency in their game, with more regular support for Creek from players that have potential, but just cannot fire together at times. The Phoenix could lift themselves up into the top four with wins here, or drop into the bottom couple if they lose them all. Three losses would spell danger for their finals hopes and no doubt there would be some reaching for the panic button if three losses eventuated.

7 BRISBANE BULLETS

Position: 7th
Wins: 7
Losses: 9
Points: 14
Difference: -41

vs New Zealand Breakers | Friday, December 27, 7:30pm | Queensland State Netball Centre
vs. Melbourne United | Sunday, December 29, 5:00pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Cairns Taipans | Friday, January 3, 7.30pm | Cairns Convention Centre
vs. Perth Wildcats | Sunday, January 5, 5:00pm | Queensland State Netball Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 3rd
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

Brisbane has shown this season that it is that genuine mid-table team that on its best day can challenge the top sides – such as knocking off the Kings last week – but does not quite have the firepower of the top three sides. They have a huge couple of weeks coming up with limited rest between games. Luckily for the Bullets, they have three of the four games in Queensland, starting with a must-win home clash against New Zealand Breakers on Friday night. They then make a trip down to Melbourne two days later for a tough assignment against United, before returning to the Sunshine State in the New Year for a head-to-head against the Taipans, and then at home two days later against reigning premiers, Perth. Like Adelaide and South East Melbourne, Brisbane’s season is on a knives-edge. Win all four and all of a sudden the Bullets have fired into the top four. Lose them, and they will be staring down the barrel of a bottom two finish. The Breakers should be a non-negotiable win given New Zealand’s track record on the road, while Brisbane genuinely play well at home (5-2) compared to their away trips (2-7) which means the Bullets will likely finish Round 14 with an additional two wins to their name, but potentially a third if they can grab the win against Cairns. Lamar Patterson (19.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists) deserves Team of the Year honours, working hard with recruit Nathan Sobey (15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists). The area of concern for the Bullets is the inconsistencies of the rest of the team, with Will Magnay starring in his first start last week and will likely remain there from here-on, while Matt Hodgson and Jason Cadee have been solid this season. Brisbane does not have the A-grade talent outside of Patterson and Sobey, but with more internal improvement such as Magnay’s double-double performance last week, they could trouble a few sides on the run home.

8 NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS

Position: 8th
Wins: 6
Losses: 10
Points: 12
Difference: -33

vs. Brisbane Bullets | Friday, December 27, 7:30pm | Queensland State Netball Centre
vs. Adelaide 36ers | Sunday, December 29, 3:00pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre
vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix | Sunday, January 5, 3:00pm | Melbourne Arena

Best Possible Position post-R14: 4th
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

A week ago this side was dead and buried, the fans were frustrated given the bad luck they had endured between injuries and suspensions, and their star player in Corey Webster was loaned to China in order to bank $150,000 with the season seemingly gone. A week later, New Zealand banked back-to-back wins, trumping the Phoenix at home, then finally breaking its road win drought with an important late win over the Illawarra Hawks. While the money for Webster will be crucial for the club, fans might begin to wonder what could be if the Breakers can build on the form from last round. They actually have a few friendly games coming up over the next couple of weeks with three sides outside the top four in Brisbane, Adelaide and South East Melbourne all on the schedule. The problem? They are all on the road, and with six consecutive losses when travelling until New Zealand finally broke the drought, the Breakers are not a side that travels well. They have to head to Queensland on Friday, before jumping on a plane to Adelaide for a second game two days later. They have a week’s break before crossing the ditch again, this time to try and repeat their efforts against the Phoenix, albeit on Australian soil. The bad luck that has plagued the Breakers this season has included injuries to NBA top five draft pick hopeful, RJ Hampton and Scotty Hopson, with Hopson’s replacement Glen Rice Jr coming into the side, having a massive impact in three games before having his contract torn up for ill-discipline off the court. Webster has since been loaned so with only Hopson in the side of late, it has been a real time of change for the Breakers. Others have had to stand up, which they have in recent weeks, with Sek Henry, Thomas Abercrombie and Brandon Ashley all playing important roles, as Robert Loe is beginning to become the starting center they had hoped. Realistically, unless the cards all fall their way and they can continue on the form they have shown – and more importantly learn to be a threat on the road consistently – finals are not something many would expect for the Breakers this season. They have some good young players coming up and could be a team to watch in 2020/21, but for now, it is about playing as well as they can and proving some doubters wrong for the rest of the season.

9 ILLAWARRA HAWKS

Position: 9th
Wins: 4
Losses: 12
Points: 8
Difference: -118

vs South-East Melbourne Phoenix | Saturday, December 28, 8:00pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Sydney Kings | Tuesday, December 31, 5:30pm | WIN Entertainment Centre
vs. Melbourne United | Saturday, January 4, 5:30pm |  WIN Entertainment Centre
vs. Adelaide 36ers | Monday, January 6, 7:30pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 5th
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

It is not often the bottom side on the ladder is the most watched and attended team in any competition, but it goes to show just how much of a drawcard potential number one pick in the 2020 NBA Draft LaMelo Ball is to basketball fans. Destined to be a terrific talent in the future, Ball puts bums on seats and helped the Hawks smash plenty of attendance and viewing records. It has been equally disappointing for the Hawks that Ball has been missing the last few weeks due to injury, with an expected return date early in the New Year. Aaron Brooks was set to form a really dominant one-two partnership with Ball in the NBL this season, but he managed just seven games before going down with injury and ruled out for the remainder of the 2019/20 NBL season. Without the pair in the side, the Hawks effectively lose 35 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists per game which is the combined average of the pair. They now have an incredibly tough draw over the next four games with a trip to Melbourne on Saturday against the Phoenix a challenging encounter, before a couple of games at home either side of the New Year, though both come against title contenders, Sydney and Melbourne. They wrap up the four-game schedule with a visit to Adelaide to face the 36ers in the last game of Round 14. Todd Blanchfield is the only Hawks player to have started every game this season, averaging 11.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per match, while AJ Ogilvy has been a consistent player off the boards with 10.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Theoretically, the Hawks could move as high as fifth, but would need so many results to fall their way. Though if they can win three of the four games somehow, then they put themselves in contention for finals. Realistically though, they are still three and a half games outside the top four, and it would take a miracle to get back from here.

Rollercoaster season for Phoenix to reach crossroads in Round 12

THE new boys on the block are certainly learning the ins and outs of the National Basketball League (NBL), which in turn has exposed them to ups and downs. But with just over two months remaining until finals action begins, South East Melbourne Phoenix are right in the thick of the race.

So far in the NBL 2019/20 season, two races have emerged albeit for two different purposes. The first being the battle for top spot, with the frontrunners being the Sydney Kings, who currently hold a record of 12 wins and three losses. Closely behind them are the red-hot Perth Wildcats who sit half a game behind the Kings, with a record of 12 wins and five losses.

But then there is the second race, the battle for third and fourth place. The teams included in this contest are Melbourne United in third (eight wins and seven losses), Adelaide 36ers in fourth (eight wins and seven losses), Cairns Taipans in sixth (seven wins and nine losses) and lastly, the South East Melbourne Phoenix who sit in fifth (seven wins and seven losses).

With the season having just passed its midway point this past weekend, the Phoenix find themselves dead even in their win-loss record and with a double header weekend coming up against the New Zealand Breakers on Friday night and then the ladder-leaders Sydney Kings on Monday, the Phoenix will have a chance to really prove their mettle in the race for a top four finish.

But how did this team’s inaugural season start and what led them to this point today someone might ask. For the Phoenix, their season has been anything but consistent with the team experiencing both winning and losing streaks under the guidance of first-time head coach, Simon Mitchell.

How did we get here?

To open the season, the Phoenix opened up their history with the first ever ‘Showdown’ with cross-town rivals and big brother, Melbourne United. With more than 10,000 Melburnians in attendance, the Phoenix stunned the Australian basketball community with an upset win over their well-established counterparts. The win was aided by their marquee signing in Mitch Creek, who in his first game in the green jersey, amassed a double-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. A similar stat line that he has maintained throughout the season. The campaign opener kicked off the Phoenix’s season, as they were triumphant in their first three match-ups including United. The next two victories came against two of the current bottom three teams in the league at the moment, the Brisbane Bullets (won 113-93) and the Illawarra Hawks (won 106-102). After going 3-0 to start their inaugural season, the Phoenix were on cloud nine, but they had a next level opponent on the horizon. One that was head and shoulders above the last combatants they had faced. The defending champions, Perth Wildcats. What occurred on Friday, October 25 gave the Phoenix a good indication of how difficult Australia’s top league could get and how much work this new team would have to do if they were to make it beyond the regular season.

The mantra that the Phoenix have followed so far to this point is not getting ahead of themselves and not dwelling too much on each result, which Creek touched on post-game after their first loss of the season.

“At the moment it’s about being cool, calm and collected for myself,” Creek said. “We’re young, we’re a brand-new franchise and we’re still figuring things out. We’re gonna be okay.”

Following that first game against Perth, the Phoenix would not go back-to-back in either wins or losses until their third encounter with Melbourne United, which kicked of their first losing streak of the season, falling first to United in a one-point thriller, then to the 36ers, and then to the Sydney Kings. Fast forward three weeks and South East Melbourne would emerge victorious against the Bullets away from home, lose to both Perth and Adelaide, and then shocking Cairns in an overtime classic at Melbourne Arena, leading us to today with the Phoenix sitting on a .500-win percentage with seven wins and seven losses.

What does the Phoenix’s season say about them?

The Phoenix have proved they have class to boot and can match it with the best with coach, Simon Mitchell emphasising the point of being a growing and emerging team. But he also stated in the press-conference following their comeback overtime win against the Taipans, “the training wheels are off.”

“We don’t consider ourselves an expansion team [anymore], we are what we are right now and we’re gonna have to blaze away through the rest of the season and just go and take care of our business.”

“It’s gonna be a hard run home for everyone.”

Given that the Phoenix can basically touch that fourth spot on the table with a good couple of a games, it is doubtful that Mitchell will have the same attitude that he expressed in that post-game press conference following their first defeat against the Wildcats. In terms of play, the Phoenix do indeed play an entertaining brand of basketball. One that has high octane offensive capabilities, but it also has a defence that has some kinks in it, which the coaching staff works tirelessly to improve.

Nevertheless, due to the Phoenix’s new chemistry as a result of it being their first season, it seems that it is only a matter of time before morale and trust start to mesh, which would be a promising prospect for one of the league’s more mediocre defences.

But as mentioned before, it is the Phoenix’s strong offence that shines through. At the forefront of their attack sits Creek, who showcases his skill on a game-to-game basis leading the league in points, averaging a remarkable 22.71 points per game. With his scoring ability comes his ability to move the ball as well, as he totals 3.93 assists per game in addition with 7.43 rebound per game. It should also be mentioned that with the return of Tai Wesley, Creek now returns to his usual small-forward position where he has proven more lethal in the past, a key sidenote in analysing this week’s contests.

Alongside Creek, sits sharpshooter guard John Roberson who helps share the scoring load and is often the reason opposing teams fall to the Phoenix’s three-point barrages, just recently dropping 36 on Cairns this past Sunday, which included eight threes from the import. Roberson averages a hefty 20.36 points per game, adding four threes a game, along with 5.43 assists to round out his contributions. With weapons like Roberson, Ben Madgen, Adam Gibson and Kendall Stephens in Mitchell’s backcourt it has looked like the smalls’ play that has determined results in the past, but in fact it is the Phoenix frontcourt that provides the best chance for the newcomer team to push past the regular season. The Phoenix frontcourt comprising the likes of Dane Pineau, Wesley, Daniel Trist and Keith Benson who have much left to give in the second half of the season.

For Pineau and Wesley, the weight of the defensive schemes is placed primarily on their shoulders given their experiences and ability level, while Creek does most of his work on the wings. Pineau, who has had a relatively solid season averaging close to eight points and eight rebounds a game, has increased his workload after being upgraded to starter under Mitchell following two years at the Sydney Kings. His ability to move the ball, crash the boards and coordinate the defence are Pineau’s primary weapons, which will also be key in both this Friday and Monday’s contests.

With Wesley finally back in the line-up following his nine-week hamstring injury, the Phoenix should have the ability to rebound more efficiently with Wesley’s inclusion two weeks ago. During Wesley’s three games since being re-activated he has averaged 11.3, 2.6 rebounds as well as 3.3 assists. These recovery games have been instrumental for Wesley’s return and he should be back to full form for the remainder of the season.

Round 12 schedule

vs New Zealand Breakers

Friday, December 20, 2019 @ Horncastle Arena

The Phoenix cross the Tasman to duel with the Breakers who are hot off a devastating loss to the Adelaide 36ers and we will have to wait and see if New Zealand comes out angry or deflated. Whichever one it is, it will be the Phoenix’s frontcourt that will need to step and help its guards, as we can expect a slashing style offence with the likes of Corey Webster, Sek Henry, RJ Hampton and Tom Abercrombie.

Given the match-ups as well for SE Melbourne’s backcourt, constant feeding into the bigs will be a good source of scoring for the Phoenix, as New Zealand has shown holes in its defence over the season, particularly around the basket. Wesley and Pineau should aim to get more shots up on Friday compared to previous rounds.

South-East Melbourne will also have the task of silencing a hostile Kiwi crowd which almost willed home a victory this past Sunday. To achieve this, Simon Mitchell’s men will need to get out ahead and quickly, something that has been lacking recently in the Phoenix’s mentality.

vs Sydney Kings

Monday, December 23, 2019 @ Qudos Bank Arena

Should the Phoenix earn a win on the road against New Zealand, the importance of their game against the Kings would become that much more crucial. The main concern for the Phoenix, would be their ability to contain the quickness of the Kings backcourt. Sydney’s main offensive weapon is their ability to penetrate defences and either dish off to bigs around the basket or find open wing players for the three-pointer.

Helping out in defence is a fundamental key in slowing down the steamroller that is Sydney’s offence, so for the Phoenix, communication and roles will once again be crucial. The main matchup however will not necessarily be Roberson versus Casper Ware, in fact it can be argued as being between Creek and Jae’sean Tate, with Creek back at the three spot. Tate does hold speed and shooting ability under his belt, but Creek’s defence should cover most of what is presented to him, as well as his rebounding ability and finishing around the basket.

Both games are important for the Phoenix, games that may define the rest of the season for them to see if they do belong in one of those top four spots compared with the 36ers, Taipans and United.

2019/20 NBL Team of the Week: Round 11

ADELAIDE 36ers, Perth Wildcats and South East Melbourne Phoenix have all earned two players in our Draft Central National Basketball League (NBL) Team of the Week for Round 11 after impressive performances.  Four of the remaining six sides had one player each in the 10-player squad, with only Brisbane Bullets and Illawarra Hawks missing out on any representatives this round.

The sole team with two starting players this round was the Phoenix, after suffering a narrow loss to Adelaide, then getting up over Cairns Taipans in an overtime thriller. The match-winner from the latter game, John Roberson earned a spot as a starting guard after averaging 27 points and four assists, while Mitch Creek was consistent as ever, posting up numbers of 26.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals across the weekend. Their opponents in that latter game also had a starting player, with Cameron Oliver named as the other forward following his average of 22.0 points and 14.5 rebounds. For the 36ers, they also had two players named, with the hot hands of Jerome Randle – who averaged 27.5 points, 6.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds – making the side, while teammate Eric Griffin found a spot on the bench.

Rounding out the starting five was Team of the Week regular, Shawn Long who had another weekend of back-to-back brilliant efforts. Long averaged 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, as well as 2.5 blocks. The reserve center for this week is a Team of the Week debutant, as New Zealand Breakers’ Robert Loe entered the frame. He is surrounded on the bench by other Team of the Week regulars, with the combination of Perth Wildcats’ duo Bryce Cotton and Nick Kay also earning a spot, as well as Sydney Kings’ Casper Ware who also made the final 10.

There were quite a few unlucky players to miss out this week, with Cairns duo D.J. Newbill and Scott Machado,  Illawarra duo Emmett Naar and AJ Ogilvy, Perth’s Terrico White, South East Melbourne’s Adam Gibson, Melbourne’s Melo Trimble, Sydney’s Jae’Sean Tate, Brisbane’s Lamar Patterson, Adelaide’s Daniel Johnson and New Zealand’s Thomas Abercrombie.

STARTING FIVE:

G: John Roberson (SEM) – 27.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 52.4 FG%
G: Jerome Randle (AD) – 27.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 55.0 FG%
C: Shawn Long (MU) – 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.5 blocks, 65.2 FG%
F: Cameron Oliver (CT) – 22.0 points, 14.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 60.6 FG%
F: Mitch Creek (SEM) – 26.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 58.3 FG%

BENCH:

G: Casper Ware (SK) – 28 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 53.8 FG%
G: Bryce Cotton (PW) – 23.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 47.2 FG%
C: Robert Loe (NZ) – 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 71.4 FG%
F: Nick Kay (PW) – 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 55.6 FG%
F: Eric Griffin (AD) – 17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 65.0 FG%

NBL Round 11 review: 36ers and Phoenix gain edge in mid-table race over Cairns

IN a round that saw scoring in abundance it was the league leaders that continued good form as Perth notched up two wins in their double-header weekend, while Sydney returned to winning form in their contest over Melbourne United. In the mid-table race, Adelaide jumped back to fourth, as they took care of business against the Phoenix and the Breakers with credit to Jerome Randle’s clutch performances. Whereas, Cairns fell back to square one (sixth position) as they could not get the job done against the Wildcats or Phoenix, thanks to John Roberson’s 21 points in six minutes in Melbourne.

Cairns Taipans (84) defeated by Perth Wildcats (88)

The round opened in Cairns for the matchup between two of the league’s hottest competitors, the fourth placed Taipans and the second placed Wildcats. In what was an even balanced game for the majority of the game that saw both squads firing, it was the defending champions who pulled out the stops towards the end of the game to outscore Cairns 25-15 in the final period, earning their four-point victory. Big buckets from marquee point guard Bryce Cotton and a dagger three pointer from Terrico White in the final two minutes allowed Perth to upend the Taipans’ string of previous victories as their chase for top spot continued. Both Cotton and White collected team highs with 24 and 21 points respectively, but it was Nicholas Kay that shined behind the scenes with a stat-stuffing 19 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. For the Taipans, Cameron Oliver stepped up big with 21 points along with a massive effort on the boards gathering 16 rebounds, while leader Scott Machado also finished with a double-double, rounding out his performance with 13 points and 12 assists.

DC Medal: 3 – Bryce Cotton (PW), 2 – Terrico. White (PW), 1 – Scott Machado (CT)

Adelaide 36ers (113) defeated South East Melbourne Phoenix (111)

Following Cairns’ loss the night before, fourth spot was up for grabs in Adelaide as the 36ers and the Phoenix battled it out in a fight to the end, that would not be decided until the final shot of the game, when Mitch Creek missed his game-tying layup on the buzzer. The shot fell millimetres short as the ball rattled out, allowing the 36ers to hold on for the win. Both teams shot the lights out as 224 points was split between the two sides allowing eight out of the ten starters to reach double digits. Randle came to play, as he once again made shots at crucial points in the game, tallying 26 points, eight assists and four rebounds. However, it was not just Randle that created chaos for the Phoenix’s defence, as big men Eric Griffin and Harry Froling put numbers up in chunks. Griffin was to say the least, efficient, going 8-13 from the field and totalling 20 points and 10 rebounds, while six-foot-nine center Froling had his coming out party on the season with 19 points in just 15 minutes of court time. In Creek’s return to the city of churches, his opening quarter was slow managing just two points, but this was remedied in the end, as he finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four assists for the Phoenix. Roberson continued to amaze with his 22 points extending his good performances in what has been a stellar opening season in the NBL, whereas Tai Wesley’s return from injury heralded 11 points in 12 minutes of play.

DC Medal: 3 – Jerome Randle (AD), 2 – Mitch Creek (SEM), 1 – John Roberson (SEM)

Melbourne United (81) defeated by Sydney Kings (104)

United was in good spirits leading into Saturday’s clash against the Kings, after their 22-point demolition of the 36ers last week. But, the ladder-leaders had even more motivation following their back-to-back losses in Round 10 and they showed this from the outset. United failed to outscore the Kings in any of the four quarters as Sydney shot at a high efficiency from all parts of the floor. With Melbourne’s below-par 26-71 (36 per cent) effort from the field, the visitors killed the noise from the home crowd, going 32-64 (50 per cent) and burying Melbourne with points in the process, convincingly earning their twelfth win of the season. Kings’ guard Casper Ware continued the point guards’ dominance that had been seen throughout the round thus far as he flustered the United defence obtaining 28 points, including going 9-11 from the free-throw line as he was an imperative part of his side’s offensive attack. His performance was partnered with Jae’sean Tate’s double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds). United’s rebounding was abnormally absent in their loss to Sydney, going minus eight on the boards tally (36-44), in particular for Shawn Long who despite collecting 18 points, only managed three rebounds in total. Melo Trimble was Melbourne’s main scoring contributor with 19 points and five assists, but good performances were few, with the Kings routing the home side. Sydney’s triumph keeps them on top of the table with the in-form Wildcats nipping at their heels only a single game behind in the standings.

DC Medal: 3 – Casper Ware (SK), 2 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 1 – Melo Trimble (MU)

Perth Wildcats (86) defeated Brisbane Bullets (78)

Perth returned to RAC Arena looking to round out their double-header weekend with two crucial wins, but in their way stood a stubborn Brisbane Bullets side that would prove to be difficult to put away. On paper both sides looked even, matching each other in rebounds, assists and field goal percentage. The match report’s main difference was free-throws, as Perth took out the category going 23 out of 25 from the line besting the Bullets who went 13 of 20. The consistency from the line coupled with a few good individual performances from the Wildcats’ main culprits, allowed Perth to keep Brisbane at arm’s length grinding out the eight-point victory. Cotton, White and Kay were once again in the spotlight combining for 60 of their team’s 86 points (23, 19 and 18 points each), while Jesse Wagstaff put in a solid day’s work amounting his game to 10 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. The Bullets who have been struggling to find their rhythm as of late, were gallant in their efforts against the reigning champs. Key performances by Nathan Sobey (15 points and three assists) and Lamar Patterson (14 points and eight rebounds) were the extent of Brisbane’s individual standouts as overall, the team showed encouraging signs. Perth extended its winning streak to four games and now tie the Kings on win with 12, while Brisbane sits a game and a half behind the Phoenix in seventh.

DC Medal: 3 – Bryce Cotton (PW), 2 – Terrico White (PW), 1 – Lamar Patterson (BB)

New Zealand Breakers (96) defeated by Adelaide 36ers (99)

As it turned to Sunday, the eighth placed New Zealand Breakers were in need of a victory at Spark Arena as the window for a late run to the finals was getting smaller, meanwhile a win for Adelaide would cement them in the top four. The 36ers came out firing owning the scoreboard all the way to the end of the first half, managing 35 opening quarter points and leading by as much as 20 late in the second quarter. Nevertheless, the New Zealand crowd willed its side back to lead by two mid-way through the fourth quarter. With both sides trading buckets in the last five minutes, Sek Henry blew by Anthony Drmic for the layup with 24.9 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 96-96. But in true Randle form, the guard pulled up from deep off of a Daniel Johnson screen to sink the three-pointer and send the Breaker army into despair as the 36ers stole the game 99-96. In terms of performances, all five of New Zealand’s starters received double digits led by Tom Abercrombie who finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, while Henry garnered 20 points. Scoring for Adelaide was a different story as big scoring outputs came from fewer players, namely Randle who accumulated 29 points and four assists. As for Johnson, who was quiet against the Phoenix in his previous game, set the record straight with an impressive 26 points and six rebounds. As a result of the win, Adelaide tie United for third with both teams sitting on eight wins and seven losses, whereas the Breakers fall further behind the back receiving their tenth loss of the season.

DC Medal: 3 – Jerome Randle (AD), 2 – Thomas Abercrombie (NZ), 1 – Daniel Johnson (AD)

South East Melbourne Phoenix (112) defeated Cairns Taipans (105)

With the weekend rounding out, fans who attended Sunday night’s game at Melbourne Arena were subject to a treat, as the Phoenix and the Taipans went the distance, in a game dictated by three-point shooting. Throughout the tit-for-tat exchange for the opening three quarters, neither team was able to gain the definitive edge over one another, but it looked like Cairns would ride the wave to an away victory early in the fourth leading the Phoenix by as much as 10. However, the Phoenix started to claw its way back, eventually only trailing by six with 24 seconds left. This was when Roberson found his stroke and knocked down two massive three-pointers in the space of 11 seconds to tie the game and send it to overtime. However, the carnage would not stop there for Roberson, it would continue all the way through extra time as well, as Roberson would score 15 of the Phoenix’s 17 overtime points, leading South-East Melbourne to their seven-point comeback win in front of an ecstatic Melbourne crowd. Roberson would take man-of-the-match honours with 32 points along with eight threes in his best game thus far this season. But it would be ignorant to not also mention Creek and Adam Gibson’s performances throughout regulation, as they both pieced together 25 points, as well as eight rebounds by Creek. For the Taipans, DJ Newbill played a big game, compiling 30 points in 42 minutes of play. Additionally, Oliver secured another double-double with 23 points and 13 rebounds, whereas Machado tallied 18 points and six assists. The loss by the Taipans rounded out an anti-climactic weekend as they slipped back down to sixth position. Conversely, the Phoenix moved up to fifth just half a game out of the top four and after a shooting performance like Sunday’s, which has not been seen since the opening rounds of the season, indicators look promising for the new boys.

DC Medal: 3 – John Roberson (SEM), 2 – DJ Newbill (CT), 1 – Mitch Creek (SEM)

Illawarra Hawks (73) defeated by Melbourne United (94)

Melbourne United have claimed an all-important Monday night blockbuster, downing Illawarra Hawks by 21 points in Wollongong. The Hawks blooded two new players for the game in Darington Hobson and Billy Preston who both saw minutes, including a start for Hobson, as the Hawks kept touch with last year’s grand finalists early. Melbourne led by a point at the first break, and then the home team was up and about heading into half-time, having scored 16-14 in the second quarter to lead by a point themselves at the main break. As if it flicked a switch for United, Melbourne metaphorically said ‘that’s enough’ and piled on 55 points to 33 in the second half to run out comfortably 94-73 winners. Long was at his absolute best once again, sinking 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, denying the Hawks shooters time and time again. He was joined among the best by Trimble, who sank a game-high 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists and one steal on the night. Mitch McCarron (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals) was also impressive in the win. For the Hawks, AJ Ogilvy was busy with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists, but it was Illawarra’s bench that contributed the most on the night. Angus Glover sank 15 points, three rebounds and had an assist, while Emmett Naar was the top player for the home said with 16 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals. On debut, Hobson had the three points – at just 10 per cent from the field, but managed seven rebounds, four assists and two steals in the loss.

DC Medal: 3 – Shawn Long (MU), 2 – Melo Trimble (MU), 1 – Emmett Naar (IH)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

27 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
26 –
25 – Lamar Patterson (BB), Shawn Long (MU)
24 – Mitch Creek (SEM),
23 –
22 –
21 – Casper Ware (SK), Melo Trimble (MU)
20 – LaMelo Ball (IH)
19 –
18 –  Jae’Sean Tate (SK),
17 – Scott Machado (CT),
16 –
15 – Cameron Oliver (CT),
14 – Daniel Johnson (AD), John Roberson (SEM)
13 – Nick Kay (PW), Jerome Randle (AD)
12 –
11 – Andrew Bogut (SK), Corey Webster (NZ),
10 – Eric Griffin (AD),
9 – Terrico White (PW),
8 –
7 –
6 – Nathan Sobey (BB), Kouat Noi (CT), DJ. Newbill (CT),
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), Scotty Hopson (NZ), Brad Newley (SK), AJ Ogilvy (IL),
4 – Chris Goulding (MU), Dario Hunt (PW), Brandon Ashley (NZ), Ben Madgen (SEM),
3 – Sek Henry (NZ), Dane Pineau (SEM), Didi Louzada (SK), Anthony Drmic (AD), Glen Rice Jr (NZ), Finn Delany (NZ)
2 – Matt Hodgson (BB), Jason Cadee (BB), Sunday Dech (IH), David Barlow (MU), Mitch McCarron (MU), Tim Coenraad (IH), Tom Abercrombie (NZ)
1 – Majok Deng (CT), Craig Moller (SK), Jesse Wagstaff (PW), Todd Blanchfield (IH), Keith Benson (SEM), Tohi Smith-Milner (MU), RJ Hampton (NZ), Angus Glover (IH), Emmett Naar (IH)

NBL Round 4 review: United strikes as Taipans emerge as wildcards

THE Sydney Kings are the only team to remain undefeated in season 2019/2020 with South East Melbourne Phoenix suffering their first loss of the year after their dominant start. On the other hand, Melbourne United got on the board with their first win of the season.

New Zealand Breakers (103) defeated Illawarra Hawks (72)

The Breakers got off to a flyer with a 30-18 opening term all but setting the tone for the rest of the match and making it hard for the Hawks to fight back. New Zealand controlled the flow and momentum of the game from the first whistle shutting down the Hawks. It was a battle of potential top NBA draft prospects LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton with the two going toe to toe throughout the match and showcasing their class. Although neither worried the scoreboard too much they displayed glimpses of brilliance and provided plenty of excitement with Ball racking up 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Sek Henry top scored with 21 points while Corey Webster was equally just as damaging for the Breakers with 17 points. Scotty Hopson also left his mark recording a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. For the Hawks Aaron Brooks caused pain on the scoreboard with 19 points, two rebounds and two assists with teammate Sam Froling also helping out with nine points.

DC Medal: 3 – Sek Henry (NZ), 2 – Scotty Hopson (NZ), 1 – LaMelo Ball (IH)

Adelaide 36ers (101) defeated Cairns Taipans (97)

It was a close contest with the lead ebbing and flowing throughout the four quarters. The Taipans started off hot posting 30 points but fell away in the second allowing the 36ers to sneak their way back in credit to a 33-point term. A last quarter burst from the Taipans had the 36ers worry with the Taipans well and truly eating into their deficit piling on 28 points compared to 17, but Adelaide stood strong prevailing by a mere four points. Jerome Randle led the way in attack for Adelaide notching up 22 points while both Daniel Johnson (19 points) and Anthony Drmic (13 points) played their part in their sides victory. Eric Griffin secured a double-double for his efforts with 13 points and 10 rebounds with Obiri Kyei making his presence felt off the backboard with eight rebounds for the match. But the Taipans were not to be outclassed with DJ Newbill posting a handy total of 18 points along with Cameron Oliver top scoring credit to his 21 points. Scott Machado also nailed 14 points along with four rebounds and eight assists in his teams’ narrow defeat.

DC Medal: 3 – Cameron Oliver (CT), 2 – Eric Griffin (AD), 1 – Scott Machado (CT)

Perth Wildcats (110) defeated South East Melbourne Phoenix (79)

Perth ended Phoenix’s unbeaten streak with a convincing performance in front of a home crowd. The Wildcats came out with a point to prove doubling their opponents score in the first quarter and keeping their foot on the throat throughout the match. Although the Phoenix mounted somewhat of a comeback in the third it was not enough to trouble the scoreboard. The shooting was relatively evenly spread across the board for the Wildcats with Terrico White putting up 17 points, Bryce Cotton 16 and Rhys Vague 12. Nick Kay proved to be unstoppable off the backboard with a game-high 13 rebounds with the next closest, South East Melbourne’s Dane Pineau with eight. Phoenix struggled to score with captain Mitch Creek only recording nine points while Kyle Adnam notched up 11 and Jaye Crockett recording the highest of the lot with 12. Overall it was a clinical performance from the reigning champions who simply outclassed the Phoenix at every occasion.

DC Medal: 3 – Bryce Cotton (PW), 2 – Nick Kay (PW), 1 – Terrico White (PW)

Melbourne United (104) defeated New Zealand Breakers (98)

After a disastrous start to the season United notched up the all important “W” in a tight contest with across the ditch rivals. United showed plenty of grit and determination with the Breakers getting the jump on them early before mounting a timely comeback. It all came down to the last quarter with Melbourne piling on 26 points compared to 17 with New Zealand all but letting the victory slip through their fingers. Melbourne power trio Chris Goulding, Melo Trimble and Shawn Long caused all sorts of headaches on the scoreboard with all three reaching over 20 points. Goulding put out a vintage performance hitting 24 points, Trimble notched up 24 points along with five rebounds and six assists but all eyes were on Long who scored a game-high 27 points and 13 rebounds. Mitch McCarron showed his class with six assists for United meanwhile Webster equalled his efforts for the Breakers with six. Tom Abercrombie was impressive off the boards with eight rebounds while Brandon Ashley proved to be a handful with 24 points and seven rebounds.

DC Medal: 3 – Shawn Long (MU), 2 – Melo Trimble (MU), 1 – Brandon Ashley (NZ)

Sydney Kings (94) defeated Brisbane Bullets (79)

An impressive second quarter blitz all but handed the Kings the win and kept their unbeaten streak alive. They were simply too good for the Bullets able to ride through the waves of pressure and revert to their structures with Casper Ware leading the way in terms of scoreboard pressure. Ware proved pivotal for the Kings with another 17 points but was ably assisted by the likes of Didi Louzada (14 points) and Shaun Bruce (12 points). Andrew Bogut was up to his usual tricks with 11 rebounds and 12 points. Despite being able to maintain four quarter pressure the Bullets showed they have some serious scoring prowess with Nathan Sobey and Lamar Patterson the only two to score 20 points or more. Sobey top scored with 21 points while Patterson amassed 20 points for the game. Taylor Braun proved he is a force to be reckoned with 13 points and five rebounds credit to his efforts.

DC Medal: 3 – Andrew Bogut (SK), 2 – Casper Ware (SK), 1 – Lamar Patterson (BB)

South East Melbourne Phoenix (101) defeated Adelaide 36ers (91)

The Phoenix got back on track putting the 36ers away with a 10-point victory in front of their home crowd. The Phoenix were a very different look team compared to their previous outing, owning the court and imposing themselves on at every opportunity. It was neck and neck for large parts of the match with neither side really able to get much separation from the other before South East Melbourne pulled away in the second half. John Roberson proved to be the missing piece and went bang in the clash against the 36ers with 24 points, four rebounds and seven assists. Creek upped the ante from his last outing with 18 points while Ben Madgen slotted 15 points and Adam Gibson nailed 14 points to get their side over the line. For the 36ers Johnson continued his hot form with 20 points but it was the efforts of Ramone Moore that gave them that competitive edge slotting 17 points, five rebounds and three assists. Harry Froling was also important with his 11 points for Adelaide to keep them in it.

DC Medal: 3 – John Robertson (SEM), 2 – Daniel Johnson (AD), 1 – Mitch Creek (SEM)

Illawarra Hawks (76) defeated by Perth Wildcats (81)

The Wildcats kept the party train running with another hard-fought win while the Hawks failed to see out yet another four quarter performance. Despite being given chances the inexperienced Illawarra side have only managed one win in their seven games. It was both teams second game of the round with Perth coming out the better credit to their clever game play and shooting power with Cotton leading the way with 21 points. Alternatively Tim Coenraad was the most prominent shooter for the Hawks with 18 points and four rebounds. Ball well and truly upped the ante with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while Andrew Ogilvy made his presence felt with nine points and nine rebounds. Damian Martin was crucial for the Wildcats amassing 10 rebounds thanks to his clever positioning and strong body work. Illawarra will also be counting the cost of the loss with Brooks ruled out for the season with a torn Achilles.

DC Medal: 3 – LaMelo Ball (IH), 2 – Bryce Cotton (PW), 1 – Nick Kay (PW)

Cairns Taipans (90) defeated Melbourne United (85)

Cairns Taipans moved up to fifth with a thrilling five-point win over last year’s grand finalists, Melbourne United last night. After United finally broke its winless drought to start the season, it hoped it could make it a second win on the road, but an exciting Taipans outfit proved too much. Despite trouncing them in the opening term, 31-19, Melbourne could not sustain the fierce pressure as the Taipans went into party mode, cutting the deficit to four by the main break, hitting the front at the last change and eventually getting up by five, 90-85. It was an even contribution from the Taipans, with Nathan Jawai top scoring with 18 points, while Cameron Oliver (17 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two steals) and Machado (14 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals) were the two most dominant Taipans. Newbill also racked up 16 points, while Majok Deng helped himself to 10 points, five rebounds and three assists. In his first game against his former side, Trimble picked up an equal game-high 21 points also recording four rebounds and three assists. However it was Long who was the dominant player on the court, particularly around the basket, recording a massive 18 rebounds to accompany his 21 points, and producing three blocks. McCarron was also strong again with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.

DC Medal: 3 – Shawn Long (MU), 2 – Scott Machado (CT), 1 – Cameron Oliver (CT)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

12 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
11 –
10 – Shawn Long (MU)
9 – Andrew Bogut (SK), Mitch Creek (SEP)
8 – John Robertson (SEM), LaMelo Ball (IH), Scott Machado (CT)
7 – Jae’sean Tate (SK), Nick Kay (PW), Cameron Oliver (CT)
6 – Lamar Patterson (BB), Daniel Johnson (AD)
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), Scotty Hopson (NZ), Eric Griffin (AD), Melo Trimble (MU), Casper Ware (SK)
4 –
3 – Nathan Sobey (BB), Brad Newley (SK), AJ Ogilvy (IL), Sek Henry (NZ)
2 – Matt Hodgson (BB), Dario Hunt (PW), Terrico White (PW)
1 – DJ. Newbill (IL), Majok Deng (CT), Dane Pineau (SEM), Brandon Ashley (NZ)

NBL 2019/20 Weekend preview: Round 1 – Inaugural Throwdown opens season

SEVEN of the National Basketball League (NBL) sides begin their campaign this weekend with Melbourne United having a double-up in Round 1, while Adelaide 36ers and New Zealand Breakers have an extra week of pre-season ahead of their start in Round 2. We take a look at the four games across the weekend with one game on each day to satisfy fans across the country.

MELBOURNE UNITED vs. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Thursday, October 3, 7.30pm
Melbourne Arena

The season opener is the inaugural ‘Throwdown’ between grand finalists, Melbourne United and new team on the block in South East Melbourne Phoenix. United is a proven talent that has lost some serious firepower, but also gained some at the same time which makes them very hard to tip against in the this contest. Melo Trimble made the massive move down south after a dominant season with Cairns, joining the likes of Chris Goulding, Mitch McCarron and the currently injured David Barlow. Shea Ili also crossed from the Breakers, with teammate Shawn Long also making the jump with the pair signing one-year deals. Sam McDaniel earned a full-time roster spot after a good season last year as a development player and continuing that form with the Southern Sabres in the NBL1.

South East Melbourne Phoenix have made it clear they are not in the competition to make up the numbers, with Sydney trio, Dane Pineau, Kyle Adnam and Deng Acuoth all joining the new franchise, with Brisbane’s Adam Gibson and arguably the top signing from the NBL contingent in New Zealand Breakers’ Tai Wesley. Seeing Wesley going head-to-head with Trimble will be great, but the most dangerous player is G-League and Boomers’ star Mitch Creek who tasted National Basketball Association (NBA) action last season and has come home to lead up the new franchise. As already mentioned, it is hard to tip against the established team in United, but with a few question marks over sore players, the Phoenix have more than enough talent to compensate and would love to open their NBL inaugural season with a win.

CAIRNS TAIPANS vs. SYDNEY KINGS
Friday, October 4, 7.30pm
Cairns Convention Centre

The Taipans finished last on the NBL table last season and will be keen to start the new season off on the right foot with an upset win over last year’s finalists, Sydney Kings. Playing in front of a home crowd, the Taipans will be without star Trimble who departed to join Melbourne, while Kuany Kuany will suit up for the opposition in this match. The Taipans managed to pinch Majok Deng from Adelaide, while mostly looking outside the country for new recruits with Los Angeles Lakers’ Scott Machado, G-League talent Cameron Oliver and Mirko Djeric from the European leagues coming into the side. They will need to be at their best and gel quickly if they are to make an impact early in the season, but will be able to rely on the likes of Jarrod Kenny, Nathan Jawai and DJ Newbill still running the court.

Sydney have made massive changes to its roster with just four players contracted that were on the list last season. NBL Most Valuable Player (MVP), Andrew Bogut will again be the centrepiece of the organisation, but this time he will have the talented Casper Ware who caused a stir crossing from rivals United to the Kings. Craig Moller joined him, while Shaun Bruce came from the 36ers with Kuany and Lucas Walker travelling south from Cairns. Brad Newley, Kevin Lisch and Daniel Kickert will look to create some stability in a side with the likes of young stars Brian Bowen (NBA) and Tom Wilson (AFL) both leaving the league completely. Despite the changes, Sydney head into this game as strong favourites, it will just be whether or not the Kings can gel with so many fresh faces in the door.

PERTH WILDCATS vs. MELBOURNE UNITED
Saturday, October 5, 5.30pm
RAC Arena

The match of the round is the Grand Final replay between reigning premiers Perth Wildcats, and unlucky runners-up United. The Wildcats are the most stable side of any team in the competition with eight players re-signed to the list, including crucial duo, Bryce Cotton and Terrico White. The pair will likely renew hostilities with Trimble and Ili who will rep the different colours in 2019/20. The ace in the pace is Dario Hunt who has joined the club from Italy, while Majok Majok transferred from New Zealand Breakers to the Wildcats over the off-season. With such an even team contribution leading to the premiership last season, the Wildcats should be no different in 2019/20 with so many ways to punish the opposition, led by the dominant Cotton.

United will head into this game with a match already in the books having taken on the Phoenix 46 hours prior. They will be keen to make the most of recovery, with the plane trip west likely to bring back some disappointing memories after going down to Perth in the deciding playoff series last year. They could start really strongly as the team that has had the first full game hitout in the round compared to the Wildcats who will undoubtedly celebrate last year’s success in front of the visiting side pre-game. But depending on how the Phoenix game goes, the Wildcats might have the fresher legs to finish the match which means it could be down to the wire. A win against their title nemesis would be crucial in the mental games for the season for Melbourne, while a win for the Wildcats will throw extra salt in the wounds for United. Trimble vs. Cotton is a much-watch battle to see which player can have the most impact for his club.

ILLAWARRA HAWKS vs. BRISBANE BULLETS
Sunday, October 6, 3pm
WIN Entertainment Centre

In the final game of the round, all eyes will be on LaMelo Ball as he makes his NBL debut against Brisbane Bullets at home in Illawarra. The potential 2020 NBA top draft pick will have plenty of exuberance in his first official game on Australian courts, teaming up with the likes of Josh Boone who was a massive recruit from United, while Aaron Brooks has returned after playing with Creek at the Timberwolves in the NBA. David Anderson, Todd Blanchfield, Tim Coenraad and Angus Glover all re-signed for the club that missed out on finals last season, while Sam Froling showed enough during the NBL1 to suggest he will be more than a handful for opposition clubs this season. Kevin White and Brian Conklin are among those who have departed the club, but largely as a whole, the Hawks have brought in far more talent than they have lost.

Brisbane announced a huge signing themselves over the off-season with Nathan Sobey signing on for three years from the 36ers. He will be the man to watch on the court, teaming up with Cam Gliddon and Jason Cadee as the key players within the Bullets’ arsenal. Like the Wildcats, they are a settled side with eight players re-signing from last season, as Adam Gibson and Jeremy Kendle were the key players to depart the club. This might be a tight contest given the relative unknown of the impact that the imports and recruits will have for the Hawks, with the Bullets having more of a known quantity. It got them to finals last season, and Sobey coming in will only strengthen the side. The Hawks should be marginally favourites due to the Triple B impact of Ball, Boone and Brooks, but the Bullets will not lie down in this contest.

2019/20 NBL season team preview: South East Melbourne Phoenix

IT is always an exciting time when an expansion side joins the pack, and now the second Victorian team takes to the court from tomorrow night with South East Melbourne Phoenix ready to throwdown a challenge against Melbourne United. They have not treaded lightly in terms of their recruitment policy, nabbing players from all over the world as well as National Basketball League (NBL) players who cross to the Phoenix for the 2019/20 season.

Position: N/A
Percentage: N/A
Win-loss: N/A

2018/2019 Overview:

With the Phoenix in their inaugural season, the second Victorian side will be keen to become the number one team in the state with an opening statement tomorrow night against United. When it comes to class and quality, the Phoenix are in it to win it, picking up G-League Boomers’ star Mitch Creek as their inaugural signing under coach Simon Mitchell. Creek made his NBL debut for the Adelaide 36ers, before stepping up last season in the NBA, playing four games on limited minutes for Brooklyn Nets, before going to Minnesota where he played the one game but was impressive in 12 minutes of action. But outside of Creek, the Phoenix have also recruited New Zealand’s Tai Wesley who ranked in the top 20 for points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals in a remarkably underrated season. South East Melbourne pillaged the Sydney Kings, picking up Dane Pineau who stayed in Melbourne after his stint with the Tigers in the NBL1, as well as Kyle Adnam and Deng Acouth. Adam Gibson joins from Brisbane, while Ben Madgen and Daniel Trist have returned from Europe.

Projected shining light:

While not an inexperienced player, it is hard to look past Creek and Wesley for the sheer impact they will have on the court when available. In terms of younger players, Acuoth has just turned 22 today, while young American Terry Armstrong has come from high school to test his abilities against senior players in the NBL. William Hickey is another homegrown talent who is one to watch this season after some impressive games for Melbourne Tigers in the NBL1, if he can get some serious minutes throughout 2019/20.

Weekend wash-up: NBL – Round 17

IN just the penultimate round of the regular season teams battle for the final available spot in the finals, while the three teams entrenched in the top four jostle for home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

 

New Zealand Breakers 107 defeated by Adelaide 36ers 114

With finals out of reach for the Breakers they hosted the 36ers with a chance to put a dent in Adelaide’s finals hopes and keep last years runners up out of the top four. After an inconsistent start to the season the 36ers seem to have found their stride at the right time and head into the final weeks of the season playing as well as anyone in the league. Adelaide came out the gates strong and opened up a double figure lead heading into halftime. Shawn Long and Nathan Sobey enjoyed quite the back and fourth duel as Long did everything he could to keep the Breakers within striking distance. New Zealand were able to cut the lead to single figures early in the final quarter and with momentum on their side appeared to be on their way to causing an upset victory. To their credit, the 36ers responded and put the game out of reach and established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Nathan Sobey finished with 27 points, five rebounds and nine assists in an excellent all around game, while teammate Ramone Moore added 18 points off the bench, providing a huge spark for the 36ers in his first game since January.

Brisbane Bullets 98 defeated Illawarra Hawks 87

The Bullets came into round 17 just a game out of the top four, needing to make up one game on the Adelaide 36ers over the final two rounds. They played host to the Illawarra Hawks who have had a great second half of the season but appears as though it will be too little too late. The two teams played the best game of the round, in what was mostly a defensive struggle with a slow tempo but an exciting game none the less. The margin was in single figures for much of the game and would come down to the final seconds of regulation. A pair of huge free throws from Adam Gibson with just 10 seconds left allowed the Bullets to tie the game and send it into overtime. In the extra session the Bullets took firm control, outscoring the Hawks 14-3 and keeping their finals hope alive. Lamar Patterson continued his strong stretch of play with 24 points to pace Brisbane, while the Hawks used an all around team effort which saw six players score in double figures, led by four bench players.

Sydney Kings 97 defeated Melbourne United 85

In the biggest game of the round and of the season to this point, the Sydney Kings hosted Melbourne United in Sydney, a place that has seen many successes for the visiting side. Both teams brought the intensity of the defensive end from the start of the game as baskets were hard to come by. Melbourne especially struggled to find their flow, with their usual high scoring offence scoring just 39 points in the first half. The Kings made key half-time adjustments to build on their narrow lead, opening up a 12 point advantage heading into the final quarter. Melbourne United were unable to make any inroads on the lead as the Kings got the huge victory and cut into United’s lead above the top of the table. The point guard, centre duo of Jerome Randle and Andrew Bogut was huge, with Bogut controlling the inside and creating space on offense for Randle to penetrate, attack and kick out to shooters. Randle finished with 21 points, while Bogut added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Melbourne United star Casper Ware struggled to put his imprint on the game, going just seven of 19 from the field for 17 points. The win drops United back into a three way tie in the loss column with the Kings and Wildcats as the race for home court in the playoffs heat up.

Cairns Taipans 79 defeated Brisbane Bullets 68

The Taipans have enjoyed a nice month of basketball, winning three games in the past four weeks after winning just one of their first 15 games. On paper this looked like an easy win for the Bullets which would further allow them to establish themselves as a finals fancy. This would absolutely not be the case however as the Taipans blitzed the Bullets early on, establishing a comfortable lead, which they would not surrender. The Taipans defence was unbelievable all day, keeping the Bullets to just 68 points for the entire game, this was highlighted by a first quarter in which they held them to only 11 points and a third quarter where they held Brisbane to 13 points. Their elite defence will be something to watch next season with the last several games showing the potential they have moving forward. Melo Trimble is a star who continues to impress with each passing game, scoring 23 points to lead the home team. Outside of Lamar Patterson and Jeremy Kendle the Bullets could not get anything going on the offensive side of the ball. The loss drops them two games behind Adelaide with just three to play and sees their final hopes fade.

Illawarra Hawks 81 defeated by New Zealand Breakers 96

After a disappointing outing in Brisbane earlier this weekend, the Hawks returned home to take on the Breakers who were also coming off a loss. The Hawks have been a tough out at home all season and their exciting play has energised the fans, helping to create a home court advantage and a difficult place to play. Unfortunately for the great fans of Illawarra there was not much to cheer about in this contest as the Breakers controlled the game from start to finish in a wire-to-wire victory where they never surrendered the lead. Shawn Long’s big stretch continued and teammate Tai Wesley had his best game in months, scoring 23 points on 10 of 14 from the field. For the Hawks, Brian Conklin impressed with 20 points but the lack of offensive success hurt the Hawks with just 81 points for the game.

Adelaide 36ers 87 defeated by Melbourne United 89

In the first of two huge Sunday afternoon games, Melbourne United continued their road trip when they took on Adelaide. Both teams looked good early and the intensity was there from both teams in a tight back and forth first half, where Adelaide held a 52-48 lead at the half. The defences took control in the third quarter in just a 18-16 third term which allowed the 36ers to build a solid six point lead heading into the final 10 minutes. Melbourne United as they have done so many times over the past two seasons, stormed home and turned the game into a tight one which would come down to the final minutes. Chris Goulding’s back to back clutch shots, tied the game at 84 and gave United the 86-84 lead. The 36ers had several chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute but were unable to. This resulted in a clutch stepback jumpshot from Casper Ware who iced the game and secured a huge win for United. The loss for Adelaide drops them back to only one game ahead of the Bullets heading into the last round. The win for United is huge in that it ties them for top spot with the Perth ahead of their huge encounter next week.

Perth Wildcats 95 defeated Sydney Kings 86

If we thought the game between Melbourne United and the Sydney Kings was intense earlier this round, then this game was something else. With both teams tied with only nine losses the Wildcats hosted the Kings looking to leapfrog them and head into the top spot in the standings. The Kings completely shut down the Wildcats in the first quarter, jumping out to a 26-12 lead and looked all the goods to take the game over. The Wildcats slowly crept back into the game, cutting the lead to 10 at the half and then four heading into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats finally took the lead early in the fourth quarter and set us up for a grandstand finish. Jerome Randle got hot, scoring seven points in a one minute stretch to regain the lead for Sydney. This run was immediately answered by Nathan Kay and Damian Martin who hit huge shots down the stretch to tie the game at 77 with just 24 seconds remaining. The Kings had a chance to close out the game in regulation but Randle missed a floating shot which allowed the Wildcats a chance to win at the buzzer which was also unsuccessful. The game would go into overtime before the Wildcats used their second half momentum to run out nine point winners and drop the Kings to third on the ladder, putting their name forward for home court advantage. The superstar guards Bryce Cotton and Randle put on a show for their teams, with Cotton winning the battle, outscoring Randle 27-25 as well as the win.

Weekend previews: NBL – Round 15

THIS round of the National Basketball League (NBL) begins back in Melbourne, with United hosting their first game in a while against Illawarra. The Australian Open (AO) Game (where a ticket acts as a ground pass to the Australian Open too) was a special occasion last year, and Basketball Australia and Tennis Australia have done wonders to form this alliance again. Cairns will again be out to spoil the makings of the top four as it takes on New Zealand, while Sydney and Brisbane will be a battle that will be looked back on at season’s end. The 36ers have two good chances to stamp their claim on making a surprise return to finals, with match-ups against Perth and Melbourne. The Wildcats will also be tested when they travel to meet ladder-leaders Sydney. The NBL returns to the nation’s capital for the first time in 10 years with Illawarra striking a deal with the Canberra Government, and will therefore play Cairns on Australia Day.

Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks
Wednesday, 7:50pm at Melbourne Arena


The key match-up: Mitch McCarron v Todd Blanchfield
McCarron was a great performer for United in their loss to Perth, shooting a season-high 21 points, along with nine rebounds and five assists. McCarron usually comes up clutch for Melbourne, and last week was no different. If United are to win, they need players like McCarron stepping up. Blanchfield has been well held against Melbourne this season, shooting a combined 22 points in two games at a an average of 44 per cent. Against New Zealand last week, he was on song with 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists so he’s one that also wants to end the season well, but will have a lot of focus on him.

Last time they met: Illawarra Hawks (87) defeated Melbourne United (81)
Melbourne led for a large portion of the first quarter, but Illawarra got out to a game-high lead of 15 points within the third quarter, enough of a lead that United, although gallant, couldn’t recover from. The Hawks had 39 bench points, as they were led by David Andersen who scored 18 points at 70 per cent along with four rebounds. Brian Conklin was also a major reason for the Hawks’ win with 15 points and eight rebounds. For United, Josh Boone was the standout with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

Season so far: United had a shock loss to the out-of-sorts Wildcats and gave up a chance to clinch top spot at the end of the round. Illawarra won against the Breakers and sit sixth.

The game: These sides have good history, with Melbourne holding a 2-1 lead over the Hawks so far this season. However, recent form is different. United have won three of the last five, and Illawarra the same, averaging 98 points in its last three matches. The Hawks have shown recently they can beat the top teams (Sydney and Perth in the last six matches) and are more than capable of beating United. United have the star power that makes then legitimate finals contenders with Casper Ware and Josh Boone always combining with each other. The Hawks have changes since their last meeting and don’t fall out of games nearly as much now, something that undid them earlier in the year. United should blast out early under the open Melbourne sky to avoid any catching up. United shouldn’t rely on their stars like in previous weeks though, with Illawarra boasting some good talent especially with silky players Jordair Jett and AJ Ogilvy off the bench. Melbourne hasn’t played at Melbourne Arena in some time but the fans will come and with eight wins from the last nine games at home, it should be a happy time. 


New Zealand Breakers v Cairns Taipans
Thursday, 5:50pm at TSB Stadium

The key match-up: Tai Wesley v DJ Newbill
Wesley had six points against Illawarra last weekend, but 20 points in the match against Cairns. He ran all around the Taipans with six rebounds and four assists too. Wesley is a pillar in defence when he needs to be, averaging 1.6 blocks a game (second in the league). Often unnoticed, Wesley should have plenty of attention on him and his opponent, Newbill will stick to him like glue. Last round, Newbill had 16 points and four rebounds and he’s draining threes like there’s no tomorrow. He needs to be better within the arc, not going over 50 per cent in his last six outings. 

Last time they met: Cairns Taipans (106) defeated New Zealand Breakers (98)
This was a game that couldn’t be decided after 40 minutes, as Cairns, who had only led six short times, were the better team in overtime to get the win. Cairns had one of the best games of the season, as Melo Trimble (32 points, five rebounds, five assists) and DJ Newbill (16 points, four rebounds) were good in extra time with Nate Jawai bouncing back strongly with 18 points and seven rebounds. For New Zealand, Shawn Long and Tai Wesley each had 20 points with nine and six rebounds respectively, and the former with four assists and three blocks too.

Season so far: Cairns was outclassed by Brisbane, before beating the Breakers at home to sit with a 4-17 record, albeit last. The Breakers endured a horror week, losing to fellow dweller Illawarra and Cairns, ending most hope at  four games behind in seventh. 

The game: It was only last round that these two met, and seventh versus eight could be a good watch. The Taipans will want to claim another scalp as they end their season on a high for the fans. The Breakers will probably be low on confidence after disturbing losses last week that put them way behind. They hold the home court advantage but have a 4-5 win-loss ratio at home this season. 

Brisbane Bullets v Sydney Kings
Friday, 7:43pm at Brisbane Entertainment Centre


The key match-up: Cameron Bairstow v Brad Newley
Bairstow, despite a 20-point game in Round 13, has scores of eight and nine, and before that, he was cruising with six double-figure games in a row. With plenty of fire power in Brisbane’s starting five, Bairstow still deserves to be there (51 per cent from the field, and leading three pointers with 61 per cent). His rebounds are big (5.2) and he needs them against the mighty Kings. Newley too has fluctuated recently, but he’s never been about big numbers. He’s had two consecutive games of six rebounds and three assists, so his talent lies there, with an ability to create turnovers and steal the ball away. 

Last time they met: Sydney Kings (75) defeated Brisbane Bullets (68)
Not exactly a game that was too exciting, but although Sydney led from the fourth minute, Brisbane tied the game twice in the third quarter. Sydney was just more dominant from the field and deep, as Andrew Bogut had a double-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Jerome Randle also had 17 points including 66.7 per cent from outside to go with four rebounds and two assists. Brisbane had Lamar Patterson continually keeping them in the contest as he ended the game with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Cameron Bairstow also had 17 points and eight rebounds.

Season so far: Sydney was outclassed by a clinical Adelaide outfit but managed to stay in first at the completion of the round. Brisbane was too good for Cairns and remain fourth. 

The game: A tough assignment for the Bullets as they look to compete with the best ahead of finals. A win here would see them leapfrog Perth into third, with a bit more relief over their aspirations to playing in the post-season. The Kings have every incentive to win too with Melbourne breathing down their neck for top spot. Sydney will know past history is out of the question (winning the past four against the Bullets), as much is on the line. Both of these teams’ fringe players will be just as vital as the big men and huge scorers. Bogut was fouled out early last week and if the Bullets get on his nerves again, they could do what the 36ers did last week,. 


Perth Wildcats v Adelaide 36ers 
Friday, 9:43pm at RAC Arena

The key match-up: Terrico White v Nathan Sobey

White is often in the shadows of likes of Cotton and Nicholas Kay but the 28 year-old is leaving nothing on the court. Before the Melbourne match-up, he was averaging 17.7 points in the six games prior, including two games over 60 per game. Against United, he shot at 20 per cent for nine points, but it’s known he gets back up quickly with his good vision of passing and intercepting. Sobey is a master across the court, as his eight assists last week as good as anyone else. He knows how to fill the stats column, but puts his body on the line for his team. He’s gone one for nine outside in his past three games but still fires on multiple other cylinders.

Last time they met: Adelaide 36ers (97) defeated Perth Wildcats (84)
A third quarter 23-14 lead to Adelaide put all doubt beyond the Wildcats, given the slump they were in. Since the seven-minute mark of the first quarter, Adelaide never surrended the lead. Adelaide had plus 16 in rebounds, with Harry Froling bringing down eight, while many others had seven including Daniel Johnson (17 points, four assists). Terrico White made four of seven from deep for Perth as he top-scored with 24 points with five rebounds. 

Season so far: Adelaide had a lot of success last round, beating Perth first of all and then the Kings later in the round. The 36ers sit fifth, but aren’t too far away from entering the top four. The Wildcats lost to the 36ers, but backed it up with a win over United to keep themselves in the third place. 

The game: Perth fans will still be nervous heading into this game despite a win over Melbourne last weekend. The Wildcats can’t afford anymore hiccups from here, and would be keen to continue along on a winning path yet again. The 36ers are dangerous and their starters are probably the best in the league in terms of how much they wok together. It’ll be telling for the 36ers too as they want to win to put a bit more pressure on the Bullets. Perth needs to make use of the home court advantage, but expect a scare from the 36ers since they’ve won four of their last four on the road, putting up over 100 points in each instance. 


Illawarra Hawks v Cairns Taipans
Saturday, 2:50pm at AIS Arena

The key match-up: Jordair Jett v Melo Trimble

These are two pocket-rockets of the competition, and they had a good battle the last time these teams met in Round 8. Jett has dropped less than 10 points in three of his last six games, and two of those were below 29 per cent. Jett is usually what the Hawks need off the bench and has relished the last two weeks (30 points at 61.8 per cent). He averages 1.7 steals, which Trimble will need to be careful of, as he averages 3.4 turnovers a game. It’s hard to put forward any argument against Trimble given his recent form (30.2 points in the last five, dropping below 50 per cent once in the last six). When he is on, he’s hard to stop but it’ll be a mammoth effort from the Hawks.

Last time they met: Illawarra Hawks (95) defeated Cairns Taipans (84)
This game was a lot closer than it shows, with the Taipans leading for most of the first quarter. The Hawks then took the lead and led by five at that break, never breaking stride after that. Cairns shot a whole 9.9 per cent less than the Hawks, attempting more shots but to no avail. Illawarra wasn’t throwing it all away, keeping composed, with Todd Blanchfield ending with 20 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Melo Trimble had 19 points, three rebounds and five assists in his side’s loss.

Season so far: The Hawks kept themselves with a chance of a playoff spot with a win over New Zealand, but still need some big wins. Cairns is progressing late, going one win and one loss last week, but will remain last. 

The game: These two sides’ record against each other isn’t too exciting, with just one game in the last four having a margin of under five points. But the Taipans are the biggest improvers in the league, as they both look to build into next season. There could be some experimentation but overall, it’s a chance to see some confidence heading into the off-season. Hopefully this will be a good contest in Canberra that can have some bearing on how locals perceive basketball in that area of the country. 

New Zealand Breakers v Brisbane Bullets
Sunday, 12:20pm at Spark Arena

The key match-up: Jarrad Weeks v Jason Cadee

Weeks has been largely unnoticed by opposition teams, but more should be seeing what he’s doing. He’s regularly getting good scores (including 22 points against Illawarra). He collected eight assists (a season-high) against Cairns in a sound game the Breakers had to win, but couldn’t. Cadee is also highlighting the part of his game which sees him provide good looks to his teammates. He averages 4.2 a game and like Weeks, he isn’t afraid of shooting anywhere on the court, being a headache for the opposition team, especially when shooting at 77.8 per cent like last round.

Last time they met: New Zealand Breakers (85) defeated Brisbane Bullets (84)
Adam Gibson‘s two free throws with 14 seconds to go were big in helping the Bullets claim an unlikely win. But Tom Abercrombie had other ideas, nailing a jump-shot with three seconds on the clock. Abercrombie had 15 points overall, as well as five rebounds and three assists. Patrick Richard was the best with 21 points, six rebounds and three assists. Gibson for the Bullets had 17 points, a four rebounds and assists apiece. 

Season so far: The Breakers aren’t out of the question but devastating losses last week would’ve hindered their spirits sitting seventh. Brisbane is holding onto fourth spot, with a big win last week helping.

The game: The Breakers get another home game this round, and need their inside team to fire. This is a huge test for the Bullets if they’re serious about playing finals, they need to win this important game and when they’re on a roll, it’s hard to stop them banging in threes to extend their leads.  Given the Breakers’ losses last week, they’ll want to show the league they can still play. 


Sydney Kings v Perth Wildcats
Sunday, 2:50pm at Qudos Bank Arena


The key match-up: Andrew Bogut v Angus Brandt
Bogut was found out against Adelaide last week, fouled out of the game early, meaning inexperienced pair Dane Pineau and Ray Turner had to try to step up in that centre position. Bogut won’t want a repeat situation, but against Perth, he’ll know he needs to stop their crashing of the rim, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of him fouling. Bogut is lauded for his blocks still (at 2.9) and this is a key component of his game. Brandt knows Bogut well from this season but has been off in the defensive department lately. He’s still pulling down big rebound numbers (5.2), but hasn’t had a block seven games.

Last time they met: Sydney Kings (98) defeated Perth Wildcats (97)
The Wildcats built themselves up all game and had a 15-point lead towards the end of the third quarter. Jerome Randle (22 points, three assists) saw the result even with 33 seconds to go before Bryce Cotton (26 points, five rebounds, five assists) converted two free throws at the death. Then, David Wear (18 points, six rebounds) came up clutch, netting a three for a special win away. Angus Brandt was good for Perth with a double-double, collecting 12 points at 85.7 per cent, with 11 rebounds and two assists.

Season so far: Sydney slipped against Adelaide but didn’t give up its spot on top, while Perth’s run is still on the downward despite a win over last year’s champions. 

The game: Even with Perth’s recent troubles, this game should still be touted as the match-up of the round. The Kings fans will certainly rally behind their team in this contest. These teams are two of the worst shooters in the league but are somehow first and third, so this game will be solely relying on defence.


Adelaide 36ers v Melbourne United
Monday, 7:50pm at Titanium Security Arena

The key match-up: Nathan Sobey v Casper Ware

These two are very similar in that they like to take the game on. Expect plenty of drives to the bucket, shooting from deep as well as run and vision to spot teammates in good positions. Sobey is electric on court, averaging 16.3 points at 46 per cent and a 5.2 average in both rebounds and assists. Rarely been shut down this year, Ware will be on him and will hope to limit Sobey’s impact. Ware himself has had a stellar season averaging 19.8 points and 4.8 assists a game. He had a minor hiccup last week in not converting a lay-up to give United the win, but it shouldn’t be dwelling on him as he knows he can come back from it. 

Last time they met: Adelaide 36ers (103) defeated Melbourne United (101)
United had the three-quarter time lead but a 28-19 final quarter from the 36ers allowed them to snatch defeat. Both teams shot at over 52 per cent from the field and were evenly matched throughout the statistics. Casper Ware was the play-maker in the last minute for United, but missed a lay-up. He still scored a massive 26 points with three rebound and five assists. Six Adelaide players all scored double-digits with Ramone Moore the best of the bunch with 18 points at 77.8 per cent, five rebounds and five assists.

Season so far: Adelaide went two from two last week and remain a chance for finals, whereas United had a chance to get top last week but lost to Perth unexpectedly.

The game: This game will have plenty of attacks from the 36ers with their classy passing and leading assists. The defensive prowess of United will be in play as well in stopping a lot of shots or gathering loose balls. The fleet of 36ers’ starters might be too hot for United to handle away but they need to trust in their team and the fact they’ve kept heir last three opponents to under 96 points, although have lost two of those games. United need to make sure of their chances and take their time, otherwise the result will get away from them.