Tag: cairns taipans

United create more space at the top of the table, knock off Kings by 3

MANY would have thought that after the Sydney Kings’ strong first quarter against Melbourne United on Saturday night, they were going to see things through in the following three terms.

This was not the case, as Melbourne emerged victorious in each of the last three quarters and would ultimately win the contest 83-80 at John Cain Arena in last night’s closer – tightening their grip on the rest of the competition with their ninth win of the season.

It is always a fun clash for the fans when these two rosters face off with one another, but it would be the Kings that gained the upper advantage early, going up by 12 in enemy territory at the turn of the first quarter, thanks to the combined work of Dejan Vasiljevic and Casper Ware.

Being a consistent force throughout the first half as a whole, Shaun Bruce maintained not only a good shooting stroke from the field, but he also passed the rock exceptionally ending his first two quarters of play with nine points and three assists. On the flip side for United though, it was noticeable that their frontcourt was going to need to be the difference in last night’s closer and as they trailed 34-43 at half time, it was evident that Dean Vickerman’s side were running out of minutes and options.

Another strong middle quarter followed Melbourne’s second term, winning the third 10-minute stretch 24-17 and cutting their deficit down to just two points with a quarter to play and a raucous Melbourne supporter base urging them forward in the fourth.

A hectic final two minutes in the concluding period would ensue with Shea Ili putting Melbourne up by six points following a corner three to get those in attendance on their feet. Two consecutive baskets from Ware, however, brought the game back to a single point, before Scotty Hopson returned fire with one of his own.

Ware backed up his superb fourth period after nailing another basket with 40 seconds remaining to cut the margin to one point once again. But after Ware missed out on a final chance in the last 24 seconds, the Kings would fail to draw even or get ahead in the end, as two more free throws by way of Jock Landale polished off a strong-looking Kings outfit by a mere three points.

In a game that could have easily gone either way, Melbourne’s 38 points in the paint most likely proved to be the difference maker in the long run compared to Sydney’s 28. However, it is also worth mentioning United’s 32 bench points, showing just how imperative Melbourne’s secondary unit was in the win.

Adding another game to his well-decorated belt of performances, Landale was spectacular with 20 points and eight rebounds going 57 per cent from the field. Off the bench, Hopson was showing hints of his old form from last season, with a solid 14 points, four rebounds and four assists. Meanwhile, other major performers for United also included Mitch McCarron (13 points, six assists and five rebounds), Ili (12 points and three rebounds), Jo Lual-Acuil (five points and 10 rebounds) and Yudai Baba (11 points and three rebounds).

Vasiljevic (22 points and four three-pointers), Ware (21 points, five assists and four rebounds) and Bruce (17 points, three rebounds and three assists) all recorded over 15 points, as the trio devastated Melbourne’s defenders constantly. Brad Newley was also another individual to have a memorable performance in what was classic performance from the veteran, with 10 points and eight rebounds in his side’s loss.

Melbourne’s dominance of NBL21 will move forward to next Friday in Round 8 when United take on Hopson’s old side, the New Zealand Breakers, while Sydney will look to push the Cairns Taipans further down the ladder with another win over the North-Queensland side come Thursday night.

Perth claims a clinical victory over Taipans to secure second spot

PERTH Wildcats have recaptured their 2020 National Basketball League (NBL) form which saw the side crowned premiers, romping home a 20-point win against Cairns Taipans (89-69). After a sluggish start to their 2021 campaign, the Wildcats have really started to kick into gear and flexed their muscles against the Taipans to leapfrog up the ladder into second spot.

In their first meeting since the semi-final last year, Perth wasted no time getting on the scoreboard and showcasing its intentions as John Mooney led from the front, wowing fans with his 10 points and four rebounds in the first term. The Wildcats skipped out to an eight point lead credit to their 25 point to 17 point effort, before the Taipans hit back in the second quarter of play. Working in overdrive to eat into the deficit, Cairns toiled away sharing the rock around and attacking the rim to heap on the points and send the Wildcats into a panic despite holding a slim two-point lead.

Beaten in the second quarter of play, the Wildcats flipped the switch in the third to cause all sorts of havoc for the Taipans limiting them to a mere nine points. They simply stifled the Taipans every movement while having a field day up the other end, piling on the points with great ease to establish an 11-point lead. Although Mooney quietened down after his scintillating start, the Wildcats did not, as they continued to mount pressure with their attacking style of play which flowed into the last quarter producing 28 points to 18. It was nothing short of a comprehensive win from the Wildcats who led at each change and impressed with their ball movement and flair to rekindle their status as a powerhouse club in the NBL.

“I thought it was outstanding, I think we were on point with our scout and how we wanted to defend them. We made some errors early in the game, but we adjusted at half time,” Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson said in relation to the defensive effort his side put in.

Perth led in almost every statistical area showcasing their overall dominance on the game. Boasting a higher shooting percentage from the field at 44 per cent Perth highlighted their scoring ability while also outclassing their opponents from beyond the arc nailing 12 shots from 40 attempts at 40 per cent while the Taipans managed a lowly 21 per cent. The Wildcats were fractionally stronger off the boards reeling in 41 rebounds to 40. They also amassed more assists (21-15), steals (5-4), blocks (3-2) and less turnovers (10-12).

In a trying encounter for the Taipans it was Cameron Oliver that stepped up to the challenge producing a double-double thanks to his 19 points and 14 rebounds. Oliver was involved in just about everything, throwing his weight around to have an influence while Fabijan Krslovic also chimed in with a handy 10 points and six rebounds in the loss. Captain Scott Machado was down on his usual output only recording eight points but did still dish off eight dimes while Kouat Noi had somewhat of an impact with eight points, five rebounds and an assist.

Bryce Cotton once again proved to have the ball on a string for the Wildcats with the guard running amuck. Cotton posted a game-high 23 points albeit at a lowly 29 per cent from the field while also recording eight assists and a steal. Mooney was a key cog for the Perth side producing 17 points and 12 rebounds adding another double-double to his season total. Todd Blanchfield contributed 15 points to the win while Jesse Wagstaff kept the good times rolling for the Wildcats knocking back eight points to accompany his seven rebounds. Although Mitch Norton may have not produced the biggest stats of the night with four points, four rebounds and six assists it was his overall defensive pressure on Machado that made him such a key figure in the side’s win.

Do Cairns have the instruments to turn their season around, again?

AFTER starting the 2019/20 season with an abhorrent record of two wins and six losses, the Cairns Taipans went on to win 14 of their next 20 games to secure the third seed in the standings and earn a finals appearance – a season after finishing with the wooden spoon honours of the NBL.

Today, the Taipans sit with a lowly record of three wins and seven losses and are slotted in eighth position as a result. But the question that needs to be asked is, “does Cairns have the ability to repeat the feat they did last season?”.

To best gauge how the rest of the 2020/21 campaign will pan out and how Cairns will fare, we will firstly look at the results the Taipans have obtained to this point and then secondly, look at the upcoming fixtures leading up to Round 10 which has not yet been released by the NBL.

Given the strictness of COVID-19 regulations at the time of mid-January, Cairns were lucky enough to enjoy their first five games of the season at their temporary home, the Cairns Pop-Up Arena, and their first nine games in Queensland. After their one-point win over the Sydney Kings, Mike Kelly and his side had cause for excitement.

The excitement, however, would end abruptly two days later after a 16-point loss to the new-look Illawarra Hawks and it marked the start of a six-game losing skid. Losses would come at the hands of more than half of the other NBL sides, including the Hawks, the Kings who they edged out in their first contest, Melbourne United, Brisbane Bullets and the New Zealand Breakers.

But with these numerous losses, there has been a number of indicators that perhaps fans have not seen the better side of the Taipans yet. The common factors that are easily visible with each of Cairns’ three victories always tend to be their ball movement. For example, in their Round 4 win against the Breakers, Cairns out-assisted New Zealand 18 to 12 in their 84-71 triumph. Against the Hawks in Round 6, the same trend could be seen again here with the Taipans winning out in the assists category 19 to 17.

Another prominent factor in the three wins for Cairns is their accuracy and quantity of success from behind the three-point line on these nights. In their first and third wins against the Kings and the Hawks, the Taipans went 13 of 32 (40 per cent) and 18 of 35 (51 per cent) from behind the arc. Meanwhile, the north Queensland side only found the triple on 31 per cent of their attempts but won the quantity of threes category with 10 triples to four over the Breakers.

While these two factors are nice to dissect, it is well known that if the Taipans are to find late season success, they will need to emerge dominant in more facets of the game in a competitive league like the NBL. But now we look at the contributions of individuals who have provided positive numbers, and a few who have perhaps a little more to give in the next 14 rounds.

It is no shock that Scott Machado, last season’s league-MVP runner-up, is leading the team on the frontlines. The 30-year-old who is now playing in his second season, also leads the squad in points per game (18.1) as well as the competition in assists (9.5). But despite being the NBL’s best distributor of the rock, Cairns has shown itself to be one of the league’s most shallow teams in terms of depth, with only one bench player averaging over four points per game (Jordan Ngatai – 4.4 ppg).

Similarly to NBL20, Machado’s partner in crime remains 203cm-tall forward Cameron Oliver. Averaging a titanic 17.1 points and 10.1 rebounds, Oliver is well on his way to a double-double season for two consecutive years, while also ranking third in the NBL for blocks with 1.8 per outing and will be by Machado’s side for the rest of the season producing at a high level. A good supporting cast amongst the starting five has been somewhat instrumental for coach Kelly, but without DJ Newbill as a consistently reliable force on the floor like he was last season, the job of filling his void has been a difficult one to say the least.

Continuing his impressive rise in the three/four spot over his time in the NBL, Kouat Noi is once again impressing the Australian basketball community averaging 13 points, 4.9 rebounds and half a block, including a dominant 27-point and five-rebound performance on Monday night against Melbourne. Furthermore, the play of Majok Deng (11 points and 4.8 rebounds) and Mirko Djeric (11.3 points and three rebounds) has been nothing to sneer at with the two making considerable contributions leading up to today. Unfortunately, though, there has been no news as of yet if Deng will be making his return on Friday against the Perth Wildcats, after exiting Monday’s game in the first quarter with an apparent knee-injury. A huge loss to the side if the injury is substantial.

To summarise, either the Taipans core needs to produce even more or the likes of Ngatai, Fabijan Krslovic, Jarrod Kenny and especially Mojave King (Next Star) need to step up. These are the two routes that Kelly faces and can encourage to his roster. At the end of the day, making that a reality will fall on the players collectively, as not only will the rest of the season remain just as difficult, but most of the remaining matchups will occur in an away environment.

The possible road to redemption will begin within the next three rounds of action in the NBL Cup, firstly in Round 7. Cairns will hope to entertain the defending champions on Friday before taking on cross-state rivals, the Brisbane Bullets, Sunday afternoon. Round 8 will see Cairns meet the Kings in their first game of March, preceding their next grudge match with the Adelaide 36ers. Their remaining games in Melbourne will conclude in Round 9 against the Breakers who they have beaten previously and the South East Melbourne Phoenix on March 12. Any game past here are yet to be announced.

It was the convincing rout of the second-seeded Hawks and an almost perfect performance against the frontrunning United, which resulted in a fourth-quarter defeat in Round 6, that has perhaps suggested a pivotal point in the Cairns season to date. If the Taipans can topple the Wildcats this week at John Cain Arena, many north-Queenslanders should not write off this team’s season quite yet.

If it can happen once, why can it not happen again?

Melbourne United overcome three-quarter time deficit to reign supreme

SUFFERING their first loss of the season during their previous Round 5 outing Melbourne United ensured that outcome did not happen again with a huge final quarter of action to narrowly edge out Cairns Taipains in a thriller, 88-81. Struggling to get going throughout majority of the game, United showed their class to run it home against the Taipans inspired by Japanese import Yudai Baba.

Coming into the clash on a two game winning streak Cairns had a real pep in their step smothering United’s every move and countering it with their attacking prowess. The Taipans wasted no time asserting themselves on the contest as they skipped out to an eight point lead while keeping Melbourne scoreless in the opening minutes of play. Their overall intensity and belief was up as they tussled hard for each possession and moved the ball with relative ease to boast a handy eight point lead at quarter time. Standings levelled out in the second quarter with United slowly working their way back into the contest outscoring their opponents 18 to 17 but that hardly dented the scoreline. There was no denying the influence Kouat Noi had on the game with the Cairns bigman imposing himself in every which way posting an impressive 17 point before half time as Melbourne failed to combat his commanding presence.

The second half got underway off the hands of Noi as he extended the lead for Cairns and edged the side towards their third straight win. But as the quarter went on, the tables started to turn as United’s defensive pressure intensified culling the margin to a mere four points at half time. Sensing a comeback victory some strong efforts from the likes of Baba and Scotty Hopson was exactly what the Melbourne side needed as they rallied in the final term to post 30 points while keeping their opponents to 19. Playing with a mix of calculated risk, United pressed hard to force turnovers and most importantly capitalise, stealing a seven-point win despite being down and out for majority of the contest.

It is near on impossible to separate the two sides when it comes to shooting percentage with Melbourne United just pipping Cairns at the post thanks to their 43 per cent conversion rate from the field compared to the Taipans’ 42 per cent. United were also more damaging from three point range credit to their 40 per cent accuracy. However, the roles reversed when it came to converting from the charity stripe as the Taipans flexed their muscles through their 82 per cent accuracy nailing 14 of their 17 attempts while United did not have anywhere near the same potency sitting at 66 per cent.

United could not be stopped off the boards, reigning supreme with 50 rebounds compared to the Taipans who only managed 37. United also collected more assists 18 to 17 respectively while also managed a higher amount of steals than the Taipans (9-5). Despite walking away with the chocolates the victors were more costly with ball in hand registering 15 turnovers to 14.

Without the likes of Shea Ili and Chris Goulding, there were three main contributors for United throughout their clash with Jock Landale taking centre stage. Landale was never far from the action walking away with a double-double after posting 18 points and 11 rebounds, with nine of them defensive. The ever-reliable Mitch McCarron plied his trade amassing 17 points, three rebounds, seven assists and five steals while Baba also stepped up to the plate in a coming of age performance credit to his 17 points, four rebounds and three assists. Jack White was a handy option especially from range with majority of his nine points a result of triples.

Starring in the first half, Noi continued that momentum to finish with 27 points, five rebounds and two steals to cap off a stellar performance. He was well aided by the likes of Cameron Oliver who collected 18 points and did what he does best as shown through his six assists while Scott Machado was the only other player that managed to reach double figures. In his 34 minutes on court Machado knocked back 14 points and nine assists while Fabijan Krslovic secured six points and eight rebounds.

Cairns surprise Hawks with final quarter flurry

THE Cairns Taipans have claimed a huge upset win over the second placed Illawarra Hawks defeating their opponents in an enthralling contest (101-95). With the lead chopping and changing throughout the game the Taipans put their best foot forward in the final term, exploiting their opponents to win their third game of the season.

It was a nail-biting start to the game with both sides throwing down plenty of buckets and showcasing their scoring prowess to keep the scoreboard flowing. The Taipans took the lead in the first quarter edging out their opponents by a point but the Hawks changed gears in the second term with their bigs taking charge. Finding the basket with relative ease, Illawarra found their groove to create some separation on the scoreboard and take a handy lead into the main break.

Down at half time, Cairns came out with a renewed sense of confidence and attack making the first points of the second half, to get the game back on their terms in the opening minutes. The Taipans reduced their buffer to a mere two points and looked set on keeping things that way with their intent and pressure, however Illawarra was not about to lie down. With the lead getting out to as much as 12 points midway through the third term, the Taipans rallied only facing a three point differential at the final change. But things got even more interesting in the final moments of the fourth quarter thanks to Cairns dominating the term. Playing the game on their terms, the Taipans kicked things up a notch to post a whopping 33 points to 24 to secure a win and claim a big scalp.

Shooting percentage lent in the favour of the Taipans securing 34 of their 73 attempts at 46 per cent from the field and while the Hawks converted more shots with 35 their overall accuracy was down at 40 per cent. From beyond the arc the victors also had the upper hand sitting at 51 per cent compared to 43 per cent. The Taipans did the most damage in the paint with 26 points to 22 but it was a different story when it came to scoring off turnovers with the Hawks showcasing their class to capitalise through their 19 points to eight.

The Hawks outclassed the Taipans with ball in hand to secure 18 assists to 16 while they also impressed when it came to steals and blocks with (6-3) and (6-2) respectively. On the rebounding front Cairns just edged out the Hawks with 47 rebounds to 45.

Captain Scott Machado had the ball on a string throughout the contest, posting 31 points for the match while also dragging down eight rebounds, all of which were defensive. Machado well and truly led from the front for the Taipans controlling proceedings and using his basketball nous to dictate the play with his six assists. Jordan Ngatai also impressed for Cairns recording 17 points at 66 per cent from the field while also collecting four rebounds. Mirko Djeric plied his trade registering 16 points in the win to accompany his three rebounds and five assists as Majok Deng and Cameron Oliver sunk 13 points apiece. Oliver also recorded eight rebounds, one steal and two blocks.

For the Hawks it was Tyler Harvey that once again took charge posting a team-high 24 points in his 32 minutes on court. Harvey’s stat line did not stop there picking up five rebounds, six assists and two steals. Justinian Jessup was not far behind with 17 points of his own, one rebound and two assists as Deng Deng kept the scoreboard ticking over with 17 points and five rebounds. Cameron Bairstow was a force to be reckoned with off the bench recording a double-double with his 10 rebounds and 13 points while Sam Froling was the only other player to reach double figures with 12 points.

NBL21 mid-season summaries: Bottom 5

YESTERDAY Draft Central summarised the seasons of each of the top four teams to this point in the fixture. Today we look at the summaries of the five teams that are aiming to displace them for a postseason finals spot in just over a month’s time.

5th – Sydney Kings
Record: 3 wins, 4 losses, % – 0.429

Sitting less than a game out of the top four, Sydney’s desire to rise up in the rankings will only intensify as Adam Forde’s talented roster will need not dwell on past failures given they share the same record as the Brisbane Bullets.

It was a sombre conclusion for the Kings after their first game ended, going down to Cairns by a single point. Remembering their sorrow from a week prior, Sydney answered back in the return fixture against the Taipans with a 99-91 win to even up their season record.

Two straight losses against the Bullets and the 36ers preceded two consecutive wins against Adelaide again and New Zealand, making up the bulk of their first seven games, before Illawarra edged out an 85-82 win in the battle of the two NSW clubs.

Prepping themselves for an important Round 6 where they will host both the Sixers and the defending champion Perth Wildcats for what will be a rematch of last year’s Grand Final.

Someone who will be an integral part of getting Sydney more positive results going forward will be Casper Ware, as the 31-year-old is averaging 20 points and three rebounds in his second season at the Kings. Import forward Jarell Martin is also proving that he is very valuable to his team averaging 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds, all while maintaining a 53 per cent conversion rate from the field. Last but not least, many punters have 23-year-old Dejan Vasiljevic as the top performing rookie of the year so far due to his 17 points and 3.3 rebounds per game averages – these numbers indicating a promising future for the former NCAA athlete.

 

6th – Brisbane Bullets
Record: 3 wins, 4 losses, % – 0.429

While the Brisbane Bullets only missed out on the finals due to percentage last season, the sense of urgency to chase down a top-four spot has yet to quite kick in, as they sit a win behind a .500 record and half a game behind the Phoenix who sit in fourth.

After being the unexpected first victim of the new and improved Illawarra Hawks side throughout rounds One and Two, the Bullets found themselves shocked and with no wins after two games (both losses were at home). But narrow victories against the Kings (90-87) and the Taipans (105-103) quickly allowed Brisbane to earn themselves a blank check after four games.

Brisbane would then fall to a red-hot Melbourne United in Round 4, which was further compounded at the start of Round Five falling to the Adelaide 36ers. Luckily for the Bullets, they would save face in the reverse fixture at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre toppling Adelaide by a solid 19-point margin, bringing us to today.

In terms of scoring output, it has been a two-man band between captain Nathan Sobey and newly signed import Vic Law, with the pair accounting for a combined 45 points per game as Sobey sports a league-leading average in scoring with 24.3 points, 3.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game with Law boasting 20.7 points and a team-high 9.4 rebounds per game. If the additional efforts of Jason Cadee, Tyrell Harrison and Orlando Johnson can become substantial for the remainder of the campaign, then Andrej Lemanis’s squad will pose a serious problem for the rest of the NBL.

 

7th – Perth Wildcats
Record: 2 wins, 3 losses, % – 0.400

Despite being one of two teams to have only played five game to this point in the fixture, many have been left to wonder how Trevor Gleeson’s side have taken as many defeats as they have so far this early on.

Things looked promising following a win in their first encounter with the South East Melbourne Phoenix (88-76), but after being snubbed the double in the Round Three rematch by one point it slowed the roll of the champions. Round Four was also a week to forget after losing out to the league frontrunners United by four points, but were able to salvage another win over the Phoenix a week after. The Wildcats and the Phoenix most recently faced each other for a fourth time, where South East Melbourne demolished Perth by a mammoth 25 points, deflating the reigning premiers morale prior to their contest this coming week.

It is hardly a surprise that the current league MVP Bryce Cotton is leading the side in putting the ball in the net with 22.6 points per game, while also averaging seven assists and over two steals. Second import John Mooney is also a primary producer with his 16.8-point, 11.4-rebound stat line, whereas former Hawks forward Todd Blanchfield is fitting in well at his new side with 13 points, 3.8 rebounds and two assists per game next to his name.

 

8th – Cairns Taipans
Record: 2 wins, 6 losses, % – 0.250

Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments this season, the Cairns Taipans have been struggling since mid-January ever since they were trounced by Illawarra at the tail end of Round One. Prior to that game, they were in relatively good spirits after a one-point victory over the Kings to begin the season.

Ever since then, the Taipans have run out of form with one of the worst success rates throughout the league after also losing to Sydney, Melbourne, Illawarra for a second time, Brisbane and New Zealand, enduring a streak of losses that would span five games. More importantly, four out of the five losses occurred in front of their home fans.

As of most recently, however, Cairns has since ended their five-game skid after defeating the Breakers in the second of the two teams’ matches, 84-71, and are now looking to continue some good form when they face off with both the Hawks and United in Round Six.

With DJ Newbill no longer a part of the side, both Scott Machado and Cameron Oliver have had to increase their production. Machado is operating at an impressive level averaging 17 points, 9.9 assists (again leading the league in this category) and four rebounds, whereas Oliver continues to do what he does best rebounding at an exorbitant rate, ranking second in the NBL with 10.6 per game and 17.5 points to tag onto that number.

While Mike Kelly has a solid core unit, individuals such as Kouat Noi (12.4 points per game), Majok Deng (11.6 points per game) and Mirko Djeric (11.5 points per game) need the extra support of their bench if they are to pull through with more victories to their name, especially as the number of games remaining continues to dwindle down.

 

9th – New Zealand Breakers
Record: 1 win, 4 losses, % – 0.200

The second of two teams to have only played five games, the New Zealand Breakers have performed the worst out of any team at this point in NBL21. But that could still change if Dan Shamir’s side can find some cohesion in the second half of the season.

Two losses to the 36ers in Rounds 2 and 3 were the first hiccups of the season for the Breakers, but some hope was reignited in the side when they defeated the Taipans away in Queensland to commence Round Four (85-79).

Unfortunately, that would be the extent of the side’s success, as not only would Cairns get the drop on New Zealand in the rematch two days later, but the Sydney Kings also handed the Breakers their fourth loss of the season in Round Five.

The positives have been few and far between to this point for New Zealand, although players like Tai Webster and Finn Delany have been having respectable seasons so far. Leading the team in points, rebounds and assists per game, Webster is having himself a campaign to remember averaging 20 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

While Delany is contributing 14.2 points and 6.4 rebounds on a consistent basis, others like Corey Webster (13.3 points) and former Bullet Lamar Patterson (10.4 points and 4.2 rebounds) are also doing their best to make the defence’s job more difficult each encounter. Nevertheless, there needs to major shift in tactics if the New Zealand side is going to climb off the bottom of the standings.

 

Catch the start of the NBL Cup tomorrow night when all nine teams will be competing for $150,000 and more wins to their name, as we kick off coverage for the second half of the NBL21 season.

NBL21 mid-season summaries: Top 4

AS we approach the sixth round of this year’s National Basketball League (NBL) campaign, the nine teams vying for the four postseason seeds now have a clearer picture of where they currently sit and what objectives need to be tackled, in order to put themselves in the best position possible to secure a semi-final berth.

Draft Central delves into a summary of how each team has performed up to this point and who their key contributors have been following Round 5. Here are the summaries of the teams currently sitting in the top four.

1st – Melbourne United
Record: 6 wins, 0 losses, % – 1.000

Back in late-December, single-year signee Jock Landale stated that United has the “potential to go undefeated,” and given how Dean Vickerman’s side has performed up to this point, that estimate seems to be becoming more and more realistic.

Opening up their season with a dominant 24-point win against fellow top-four competitor the Adelaide 36ers, Melbourne began their season with their best foot first.

Following their first result, United backed up their start 10 days later edging out the Taipans at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena 87 to 85 and could look forward to going back home with two wins under their belt. Four more victories against cross-town rivals South East Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Illawarra rounded out United’s picture-perfect start to the season and are now hosting the defending champions this coming Saturday, looking to knock off the Wildcats one more time.

Chris Goulding is continuing his NBL legacy in fine form leading his side on the scoreboard once again, averaging a decent 16.8 points per game as well as a few rebounds each time out (3.2). Providing top-notch service on the glass, Landale is doing exactly what he was brought on board to do, collecting over 15 points and seven rebounds per game.

Further adding to the team’s success are two more new signings with former Duke Blue Devil Jack White and former New Zealand Breaker Scotty Hopson providing large amounts of scoring, rebounds and assists between the pair. White ranks third on the team in scoring (10.3) and second in rebounding (6.8), whereas Hopson seeds fourth in scoring (9.8) and second in assists (3.8) adding multiple weapons for Melbourne to utilise going forward.

 

2nd – Illawarra Hawks
Record: 5 wins, 2 losses, % – 0.714

Taking into account that the Illawarra Hawks have gone through a roster makeover, appointed a new head coach, undergone two franchise name changes and have averaged 88 points per game, the Wollongong-based team have had an event-filled past six months.

Illawarra’s good fortunes for the season began with two back-to-back victories in the space of three days, firstly knocking over the Bullets and then the Taipans in what was a rout of the two Queensland sides. New coach Brian Goorjian kept his cool following a wonderful 2-0 start to the season and stuck to his “defence-first” basketball mentality, which in turn yielded similar results as the Hawks managed wins once again against Brisbane and Cairns.

Identical results would not follow the team down south to Victoria, as Illawarra faced their first and second tastes of disappointment, losing out to the Phoenix and then United. But, an 85-82 victory over the Sydney Kings has reasserted them as powerful contender for NBL21 before their Round 6 double-header against the Taipans and the Breakers this week.

Taking the league by storm, Tyler Harvey has dismantled every team that he has crossed to date, which has led to an average of 21.8 points per contest (third highest in the NBL). The frontcourt duo of Cameron Bairstow and Sam Froling have dominated the rebounding battles each week with the two grabbing 11 points per game each and at least 7.8 and 7.7 rebounds respectively, while Justinian Jessup is impressing many with his sharpshooting this season, averaging 14.7 points.

 

3rd – Adelaide 36ers
Record: 5 wins, 4 losses, % – 0.556

Having already played nine games to date, the Adelaide 36ers have played the most games out of any other team this season – meaning that each game between now and the end of the season mean a little more. After frustratingly missing out on the postseason in the 2019/20 season, Adelaide looks poised to rectify last season’s missed opportunities and certain rookies are proving to be invaluable when the side is in good form.

Splitting the difference between the two Melbourne-based sides to open their season, then suffering a second loss to the Phoenix, the Sixers found themselves with just one win from three games. Making some schematic alterations to his playbook, Conner Henry helped his team to a winning streak of three following triumphs over New Zealand twice and then the Kings to conclude Round 3, before Sydney returned the favour in Round 4. Adelaide then split results with the Brisbane Bullets in Round 5 leading to the current record of five wins and four losses.

Before their matchup with Sydney on Sunday, it was clear that Adelaide’s successes came primarily from their bigs, more specifically Daniel Johnson and Isaac Humphries. Johnson’s reign down low has been essentially unmatched averaging 21.3 points and six rebounds, as Humphries has been almost as potent averaging 17 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks (highest in NBL). Import Tony Crocker’s 10 points per game are the 36ers third highest amount from an individual, while young gun Josh Giddey is making a name for himself in his rookie season, leading the team in assists with 5.8 per game and contributing 9.2 points a contest in the process.

 

4th – South East Melbourne Phoenix
Record: 4 wins, 4 losses, % – 0.500

The best way to describe South East Melbourne’s start to their season would be the team absorbing one punch and then doling one out themselves, as in their back-to-back encounters with Adelaide and then Perth, the Phoenix would lose out in the first game then win the second. Testament to this pattern, the Phoenix started the season with a record of two wins and two losses looking to pick up their performances upon their return to Victoria.

Annoyingly for the league’s newest club they lost their derby meeting and local bragging rights against Melbourne United, 90-96, in their second game of Round 3. However, a motivating win over the Illawarra Hawks (98-82) put some wind in Simon Mitchell’s sails, before once again splitting the results against the Wildcats in Round 5, which was enough to secure them the fourth seed in the standings at this point of the season by half a game in front of the Kings (three wins and four losses).

As expected, Mitch Creek is setting the benchmark in scoring for the Phoenix, totalling 18.5 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game this season. Closely following him is Keifer Sykes who maintains averages of 18 points, seven assists and 4.5 rebounds. The only other double-digit scoring contributors for South East Melbourne are Kyle Adnam and rookie Yannick Wetzell, providing 13.8 and 10.4 points apiece.

Mid-Season team summaries for the remaining five clubs will be released tomorrow on Draft Central.

2021 NBL Top Performers to Round 5: Adelaide/Brisbane/Cairns

IN the first of our three-part series looking at the National Basketball League’s (NBL) top performers to Round 5 before the NBL Cup tips off, we focus on Adelaide 36ers, Brisbane Bullets and Cairns Taipans.

ADELAIDE 36ERS:

Wins: 5
Losses: 4
Position: 3rd

Isaac Humphries has been the dominant center in the competition this year, particularly with his ability to work both ends of the court. Averaging a remarkable 17.1 points, as well as 8.8 rebounds, Humphries is best known for his huge blocks. At almost four per game, the 211cm, 116kg man mountain makes life incredibly difficult for any opposition offence to put scores on the board in the paint.

The inclusion of Humphries has allowed star shooter and big man Daniel Johnson to almost play a secondary role, but more so focus on his offence. He is at a team-high 21.1 points per game, whilst averaging 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists, ranked third and second at the club respectively. The pair are two 200cm-plus talents who can run both ways and do just about anything, which has helped the 36ers remain well up in contention for the NBL title.

Young gun Josh Giddey (9.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists) burst onto the scene in only his second match to lead the 36ers to a win over South East Melbourne Phoenix. Still a teenager, Giddey remains a threat for his overall game, and is able to dish off dimes and collect rebounds, whilst holding up his end and putting up points. One who seems destined for the NBA in the future.

In terms of others, Sunday Dech (9.1 points, 5.7 rebounds) has been solid across the board, whilst import Tony Crocker has averaged 10 points per game starting every match, though fellow import Donald Sloan already called it quits, heading off to pursue other opportunities after six matches – three off the bench for just nine points and three assists.

BRISBANE BULLETS:

Wins: 3
Losses: 4
Position: 6th

In a season that has been inconsistent thus far, import Victor Law has been a welcome addition in response to the loss of Lamar Patterson over the off-season. The latter has hardly set the world on fire at New Zealand Breakers, meanwhile Law is averaging almost a double-double with the American putting up 20.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. He has provided teammate Nathan Sobey with great support on the scoring front.

Sobey is putting up great numbers with 24.3 points per game his bread and butter as a back court shooter. Throw in 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game, and the former Adelaide 36ers talent has backed up his first season in the Sunshine State with another impressive year, particularly with plenty of highlight-reel plays in 2021.

The issue with the Bullets is finding that third source of consistent scoring, with the next highest scorer being Jason Cadee (8.6 points, 2.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals). Law and Sobey have been the only two permanent starters, with Andrej Lemanis rotating Tyrell Harrison (6.3 points, 6.4 rebounds) and Harry Froling (5.0 points, 5.9 rebounds) through the five spot. Orlando Johnson (7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds), Anthony Drmic (6.8 points, 2.8 rebounds) and Tanner Krebs (6.8 points) have all had shots, but the Bullets are still finding the best combination to see them challenge for finals this year.

CAIRNS TAIPANS:

Wins: 2
Losses: 6
Position: 8th

Cairns Taipans’ season has not gone to plan despite looking good on paper from a statistical perspective. The Snakes have five players averaging double-figure points, with dominant big man Cameron Oliver putting up 17.3 points and 10.8 rebounds to lead the way, but they are not getting the results on the board. Oliver has been a source of points and physicality off the boards, and is also averaging almost two blocks per game to do whatever it takes to drag his side across the line.

Similarly, Scott Machado is putting up big numbers with almost a double-double of 17 and 10 from points and assists. He contributes with four boards a game, but even with those numbers, his field goal percentage is right down at just 39.2 per cent. From long-range he is at 37 per cent, but it is his dimes that make him such a valuable player with elite passing and vision across the court.

The other player who has started every match is forward Kouat Noi, who has averaged the 12.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per match from eight games. Majok Deng (11.9 points. 4.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks) and Mirko Djeric (11.5 points. 3.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists) are the other two who have reached double-figure points this season in what should see the Taipans battling for a top spot.

Unfortunately Cairns are languishing down in eighth so far with just two wins from six games, and sadly the majority have been at home. Victories over Sydney Kings (one point) and New Zealand Breakers (17) are the sole successes, though the latter came in their most recent game. It is hoped the Taipans can use it as a building block going forward, having suffered a few tight losses as well.

Picture credit: Getty Images

Cairns topple Breakers in bottom two clash

THE final game of National Basketball League (NBL) Round 4 saw the Cairns Taipans get back onto the winners list toppling the struggling New Zealand Breakers (84-67). Sitting second last on the ladder, the win created some separation as the Taipans made it two wins from eight appearances while keeping the Breakers winless.

Cairns raced out of the blocks in the opening quarter, putting the foot down and establishing a commanding lead while the Breakers struggled to find their rhythm and combat the offensive pressure the Taipans were applying. Their intentions were clear capitalising on their opportunities and extending their margin at half time thanks to a 19-16 quarter.

Holding an 11-point lead at half time the Taipans were not done with yet adding another 25 points to their total. Scoring with ease and imposing their defensive nature to keep the Breakers to 18 points for the term, it is fair to say Cairns had a real pep in their step and could sense a victory. Although New Zealand established some continuity in the final quarter to outscore their opponents, albeit by one point, they simply could not do enough to worry Cairns as the Taipan ran out with a 17-point victory.

When it came to shooting, Cairns had it all their own way, exposing the Breakers in each component. Overall field goal percentage was in favour of Cairns despite both sides shooting at a low per cent 44 and 35 per cent respectively. Converting 20 of 36 attempts from two-point range the Taipans had the upper hand but the Breakers were hot on their tails sitting at 52 per cent. The real difference came when looking at three-pointers with the victors managing a 31 per cent clip compared to 13 per cent with New Zealand only nailing four of their 30 attempts.

In terms of rebounds the Taipans led the charge notching up five more than their opponents (46-41) while they also recorded more assists (18-13). Blocks and turnovers also favoured the Taipans (4-2) and (7-9) respectively while when it came to steals the Breakers had the upper hand recording four compared to three. Both sides did most of their damage from inside the paint with a collective 68 points coming from there but the real kicker was points from turnovers as Cairns exploited New Zealand to register 11 points.

Majok Deng topscored for Cairns thanks to his 23 points and 60 per cent conversion rate. He was not alone as Kouat Noi also flexed his muscles on the points scoring front with 18 while also dragging down six rebounds. Scott Machado had a game to remember recording a double-double as 13 proved to be his magic number with 13 points and 13 assists. In his 15 minutes on court, George Blagojevic managed double digits with 10 points and four rebounds and while Cameron Oliver was down on his usual scoring production still managed to have a commanding influence off the boards securing 13 rebounds.

The Breakers had three players reach double digits with Tai Webster and Finn Delany knocking back 11 points apiece. Webster was plagued with inaccuracy only converting at a mere 25 per cent from the field while Delany ticked along at 62 per cent and collected four rebounds and two blocks in his outing. Robert Loe was the only other player to hit more than 10 points in his 18 minutes of court time and while Tom Abercrombie only downed eight points he managed seven rebounds. Lamar Patterson found some rhythm with eight points but could have had more had his shooting radar been on however he still dished off five dimes in his sides loss.

Resilient Breakers steal win over Cairns in fourth, Taipans lose six in a row

AFTER an extraordinary fourth quarter comeback and some vital free throw shooting in the dying stages of yesterday’s opener, the New Zealand Breakers have stolen their first win of the NBL21 season from the Cairns Taipans, 85-79, which as a result now extends their opponents’ losing streak to six games.

It was a particularly slow initial period for Cameron Oliver, attaching zero points to his name through 10 minutes of play, therefore earning him a spot on the bench to start the second quarter. After a 10-day break, the Breakers found their rhythm early on through the work of Tai Webster and Finn Delany, leading 25-20 at quarter time up in Cairns.

But the Taipans started to fight back for their home crowd in the second, taking the lead during the middle stages of the term. With Oliver starting to convert and Scott Machado commanding an efficient offense, the timing provided positive results leading into half time.

Edging out a three-point 44 to 41 lead at the main break, Cairns was looking relatively good for a side trying to shake a five-game losing skid. Machado was a major proponent for this securing 18 points, six assists and three rebounds throughout the first half, while Webster gifted the Breakers with 18 points of his own as they pummelled Cairns down low in the paint.

The contest started to fall heavily in favour of the hosts with Cairns extending their advantage over the Breakers to double digits late in the third quarter. Strong middle quarters proved to be a pivotal event during yesterday’s opener, but a minor late run for New Zealand brought the deficit back to just seven points – setting up a quarter of basketball that could mean a win for either side.

A few key plays by Lamar Patterson and Colton Iverson to open up the final stanza began to make the crowd uneasy, but Kouat Noi’s triple three minutes into the fourth settled some nerves and put the Taipans in good stead.

Many expected the Taipans to eventually run away with the game in the fourth, but through sheer resilience, the Breakers would fight back in the last couple of minutes to complete what was a titanic comeback after Patterson’s two free throws to give New Zealand the lead.

The next possession, an And-One from Oliver returned the lead to Cairns with 90 seconds on the clock. Two more free-throws from Patterson tied things up at 79 and a fastbreak dunk from Thomas Abercrombie propelled the Breakers to a two-point lead with 27 seconds remaining.

Four more free throws converted by Delany and Webster capped off a monumental fourth quarter effort by the Breakers to steal away an 85-79 victory, earning their first NBL21 triumph of the season.

While there was little to separate the teams statistically, it came down to rebounding and second chance points it seemed, as the Breakers won out convincingly in both of these categories. New Zealand out-rebounded the Taipans 49-41 after four quarters and earned a plus-seven in second chance points (13-6), which numerically proved to be the difference.

Best categorised as a two-man show, New Zealand’s performance overall was facilitated primarily by the combo of Webster and Patterson. Webster was on another planet entirely during his 32 minutes on the floor, accumulating 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, whereas Patterson was lethal from all over the floor with his 22 points and five boards. The only other double-digit producer for the Breakers was Delany, who scored 13 points and fell one rebounds short of a double double with nine rebounds, as Abercrombie was held quiet on the night with a humble eight points to his name.

Once again falling short in front of their own fans, Machado handled his own with 25 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. However, a slow first half did not deter Oliver as he picked up his intensity in the second finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Noi concluded a solid night on his end with 12 points and six rebounds.

The two sides will go at it again in Cairns to finish off Round Four on Monday night as the Taipans six-game losing streak continues as one of the league’s top headlines at this time, even more so due to the fact that it is occurring on their home court. On the other hand, New Zealand can make up more lost footing in the standings if they are able to topple their current opponents in their next time out.