Tag: Majok Deng

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?

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.

2021 NBL mash-up teams: State-by-state

FOR something different during the break, we decided to take a look at what mashed up teams would look like in the National Basketball League (NBL) competition, with the Victorian teams combined, as well as New South Wales, Queensland and then the three single teams in their respective states/country. We have looked at a starting five as well as a bench to get an idea about what the teams could look like if they were to join forces. For the purpose of the exercise we have not included Ryan Broekhoff given he only signed this week and is yet to play a game.

VICTORIA (UNITED/PHOENIX):

G: Keifer Sykes (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
G: Chris Goulding (Melbourne United)
F: Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
F: Jack White (Melbourne United)
C: Jock Landale (Melbourne United)

Bench:

G: Mitch McCarron (Melbourne United)
G: Yudai Baba (Melbourne United)
F: Scotty Hopson (Melbourne United)
F: Yannick Wetzell (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
C: Jo Lual Acuil (Melbourne United)

If you are talking depth, it is hard to look past the Victorian side, which is flushed across the lines. The bench five are good enough to compete against most teams, but the overall experience of the starting five is undeniable. Imagine a team with Creek, Goulding and Sykes letting loose, while the big men in White and Landale make life difficult around the basket. Hopson leads an amazing group off the bench, and keep in mind Broekhoff would walk into the side, remarkably sending Goulding to the bench. What a side.

QUEENSLAND (BULLETS/TAIPANS):

G: Scott Machado (Cairns Taipans)
G: Nathan Sobey (Brisbane Bullets)
F: Kouat Noi (Cairns Taipans)
F: Victor Law (Brisbane Bullets)
C: Cameron Oliver (Cairns Taipans)

Bench:

G: Anthony Drmic (Brisbane Bullets)
G: Mirko Djeric (Cairns Taipans)
F: Orlando Johnson (Brisbane Bullets)
F: Majok Deng (Cairns Taipans)
C: Tyrell Harrison (Brisbane Bullets)

Despite neither Queensland team setting the world on fire thus far this season, the combined Queensland team on paper would be quite impressive. The fact both teams have two elite scorers in Oliver and Machado (Cairns) and Sobey and Law (Brisbane), and they all play different positions make it one awesome line-up. The depth might slip a little, but they have plenty of options in the big men department, with Harry Froling another one unlucky not to nudge out Deng at this stage.

NEW SOUTH WALES (HAWKS/KINGS):

G: Tyler Harvey (Illawarra Hawks)
G: Justinian Jessup (Illawarra Hawks)
F: Justin Simon (Illawarra Hawks)
F: Jarrell Martin (Sydney Kings)
C: Sam Froling (Illawarra Hawks)

Bench:

G: Casper Ware (Sydney Kings)
G: Dejan Vasiljevic (Sydney Kings)
F: Didi Louzada (Sydney Kings)
F: Deng Deng (Illawarra Hawks)
C: Jordan Hunter (Sydney Kings)

It might be a shock to see a shooter such as Ware on the bench, and additionally that last year’s grand finalists make up just one of the starting five compared to the reigning wooden spooners, but on-form it is hard to see it another way. Both Ware and Vasiljevic deserve starting spots, but Harvey and Jessup have been unbelievable in their roles for Illawarra’s back court. Martin has been a standout four with the Kings, but otherwise, Illawarra has been one of the standout teams this season and it shows.

SA/WA/NEW ZEALAND (36ERS/WILDCATS/BREAKERS):

G: Tai Webster (New Zealand Breakers)
G: Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)
F: Todd Blanchfield (Perth Wildcats)
F: Daniel Johnson (Adelaide 36ers)
C: Isaac Humphries (Adelaide 36ers)

Bench:

G: Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers)
G: Lamar Patterson (New Zealand Breakers)
F: Tom Abercrombie (New Zealand Breakers)
F: Finn Delany (New Zealand Breakers)
C: John Mooney (Perth Wildcats)

It is no surprise that a team that features three different sides rather than two would be an incredibly strong lineup. Whilst New Zealand Breakers and Perth Wildcats have been inconsistent at times, they still boast elite talents, and if Patterson was at his best, than the starting five would be near-unbeatable. There have been a few tough choices here, with Mooney deserving to start, but hard to crack in against either Humphries or Johnson, and playing him at the three spot would be unrealistic. The back court is unbelievably deep, and the rotation would be hard to match with shooters coming off the bench left, right and centre.

Picture credit: Getty Images

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

NBL21 – Round 5 preview: Top of the table clash opens round

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) Cup fast approaching, the final round before all the teams descend on Melbourne takes place. Round 5 of NBL action begins tonight from 7.30pm with the ladder already taking shape in the competition.

THE HAWKS vs. MELBOURNE UNITED
Wednesday, February 10 @ 7.30pm
WIN Entertainment Centre

Opening the round of NBL action is a top-of-the-table clash between Melbourne United and The Hawks up at the WIN Entertainment Centre. The Hawks only lost their first game on the weekend to South East Melbourne Phoenix, moving to 4-1 for the season, whilst United were tested by Perth Wildcats, but got the job done to advance to a 5-0 season record. In terms of head-to-head clashes, the last time The Hawks knocked off United was way back in November 2018, with the latter having the better of the clashes since with four consecutive wins over the past two season.

Jock Landale has been a standout for United this season, with the 211cm Boomer averaging 16.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocks per game to be a dominant big man across the court. Teaming up with fellow five Jo Lual-Acuil (9.8 points, 6.8 rebounds) and forward Jack White (11.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks), the trio of talls have been hard to combat for opposition sides this season. It will be up to the likes of Sam Froling (11.4 points, 7.4 rebounds) and AJ Ogilvy (5.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks) to try and contain the bigs, whilst the battle between guards, Tyler Harvey (21.2 points) and Chris Goulding (16.8 points) will be a fascinating one.

Melbourne United are title favourites and will be favourites here, but they are on the road so The Hawks might look to upset them in front of The Hawks home fans.

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX vs. PERTH WILDCATS
Thursday, February 11 @ 7.30pm
State Basketball Centre

Sunday, February 14 @ 5pm
State Basketball Centre

For the second time this season, South East Melbourne Phoenix will face Perth, coming off a remarkable one-point win over the Wildcats at RAC Arena last time out on January 29. Now in Victoria, the Phoenix will look to keep moving up the table after a slow start to the season, having already jumped inside the top four with a 3-3 record. Having only played three games, it is hard to rule Perth out just yet, but the Wildcats will want to get moving, particularly with the double-up game coming on Sunday, three days after their Thursday night clash.

The damaging duo of Mitch Creek and Keifer Sykes up both ends of the court has been a real feature for the Phoenix in changing the team’s fortunes. Creek is averaging 19.0 points,. 6.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals, while Sykes has put up 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.5 steals. They will need to be at their best to go head-to-head with the league’s best player in Bryce Cotton (27.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.7 steals). Unfortunately for Cotton he has not had the same support around him as in past seasons, and will need John Mooney (15.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks) and Todd Blanchfield (11.0 points, 4.7 rebounds) to be at their best on the night.

The Phoenix just seem to have more depth to their list, with five players averaging double-figure points including the likes of Kyle Adnam coming off the bench. The home team should win this, but Perth can never be discounted in any match.

SYDNEY KINGS vs. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Friday, February 12 @ 7.30pm
Qudos Bank Arena

A Friday night blockbuster timeslot pits two teams that are yet to really fire too many shots in the NBL21 season. The Sydney Kings host the game at Qudos Bank Arena with a 2-3 record, though their opponents New Zealand Breakers are thus far anchored to the bottom with a 1-3 record. Victory here could see them overtake a number of teams however as the ladder is still feeling itself out. In their last clash over 12 months ago, the Breakers got up by seven points, though both teams have largely changed since then. The last four meetings have been decided by 10 points or less however, so expect this match to go down to the wire.

Sydney Kings have been bolstered this season by the inclusion of Jarrell Martin, who is putting up an impressive 19.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Teaming up with Brad Newley (12.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals) in the front half, it has taken some of the reliance off shooter Casper Ware (19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds). The development of fellow back courter Dejan Vasiljevic (16.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists) has also been a revelation for the Kings who can share the points around. By contrast, the Breakers have one of the biggest names on paper in Lamar Patterson, but the former Brisbane Bullets talent is yet to really live up to the expectations, averaging 11.5 points. 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. However the likes of Tai Webster (21.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists) and Finn Delany (14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks) have picked up the slack.

Sydney have seemed to adapt more as the season has progressed, and will be favourites at home in this match.

MELBOURNE UNITED vs. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Saturday, February 13 @ 5.30pm
Bendigo Basketball Stadium

Two teams at opposite ends of the ladder face off on Saturday evening, as the undefeated United – coming back from a trip north to face The Hawks – will host Cairns Taipans whose season is slowly slipping away. Now at 2-6, last year’s finalists will need to get a move on if they are to put themselves in contention for another post-season series, and upsetting the top team on the road will provide them with great confidence. The last time these teams met was January 25 and it did go down to the wire, with United scraping home 87-85.

The matchup everyone will be watching for is Landale (16.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocks) up against Cameron Oliver (17.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks) as the two best big men in the game do battle. Both teams have reliable shooters coming out of the backcourt as well, with Scott Machado continuing his remarkable form, putting up 17.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.0 rebounds, going up against the likes of Goulding (16.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists. United’s bench is remarkable, and considering Scotty Hopson (7.6 points. 4.0 assists and 2.0 assists) is yet to get his act together, the unbeaten side could improve even further. The Taipans have the names on paper, and it will be about just getting it to happen on the night, with Kouat Noi, Majok Deng and Mirko Djeric all averaging double-figure points per match this season.

United will start the game as strong favourites, though the Taipans showed last month they can match it with them for the most part which means it could be an enthralling contest.

BRISBANE BULLETS vs. ADELAIDE 36ERS
Saturday, February 13 @ 8pm
Nissan Arena

Monday, February 15 @ 7.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

For the first and second time in 2021, the Adelaide 36ers and Brisbane Bullets will take to the court over the weekend, when they lock horns in Queensland on Saturday, then fly south to meet in South Australia on Monday. These two teams have had some epic battles over the past couple of seasons, with the last three meetings being separated by six, two and nine points. Brisbane has had the upperhand of late, winning three of the past four, but in all bar one clash, the winning team has scored triple-figures whilst the losing side has fallen short of the century.

This year the 36ers have benefited from playing at home, racing to a 4-3 start, but will need to remember their away bags as they head to Brisbane to face a Bullets side sitting precariously at 2-3 on the ladder. Isaac Humphries and Daniel Johnson are the dominant big men for the 36ers, combining for 38 points and 14 rebounds, while Johnson also averages 3.4 assists and Humphries, 3.7 blocks per game. The latter leads the competition in the statistic and constantly denies opposition players at the basket. Young gun Josh Giddey runs the floor at just 18-year-old with 9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists, while Donald Sloan became the first import to depart the league in search of other opportunities. The Bullets have a star import themselves, with Victor Law (21.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocks) teaming up well with Nathan Sobey (25.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists). The issue is finding more support outside the duo, with the net highest point-scorer being Jason Cadee (9.2 points per game).

These teams will be hoping to take out both games, but they should start favourite in their respective home arenas.

SYDNEY KINGS vs. THE HAWKS
Sunday, February 14 @ 3pm
Qudos Bank Arena

Both the New South Wales NBL sides will front up for their second games on Sunday when they meet at Qudos Bank Arena. The Kings will be hoping to come off a Friday night win against New Zealand Breakers at the same venue, while The Hawks will hit the road following their home fixture at WIN Entertainment Centre against Melbourne United. Confidence could be a huge thing, but both these sides will be keen to get one-up on the other in the battle for the state.

The Hawks have been the better performing team of the two, sitting at 4-1 prior to the round, and the trio of Americans in Harvey (21.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals), Justin Simon (9.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks) and Justinian Jessup (13.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals) have been productive this season. Cameron Bairstow‘s return to the court has been a great addition to the Hawks, averaging 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in his two games this season. Much has been spoken about Sydney’s depth with Ware (19.4 points, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals) and Martin (19.0 points, 8.2 rebounds) as import scorers, while Vasiljevic (16.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists) and Newley (12.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals) pack a real punch.

The Hawks will be favourites for the clash, but expect it go down to the wire in the Sunday afternoon clash.

Picture credit: via SBS

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.

NBL21: Round 4 preview – Melbourne United and Hawks look to remain undefeated

ONLY two teams remain undefeated heading into Round 4 of the National Basketball League (NBL) with Melbourne United and Illawarra Hawks hoping to keep their hot streak going. The Breakers, United and Taipans all play two games this round as the Breakers hunt for their first win for 2021.

Brisbane Bullets vs. Melbourne United
Friday, February 5 @ 7:30pm
Nissan Arena

The Bullets will have their hands full when they come up against an undefeated Melbourne United side tomorrow night. United have showcased their depth and variety to share the scoring around and most importantly prevail in the tight contests to really grind out games. The Bullets are building some handy momentum stringing a couple of wins together making for an exciting battle between the two sides as they look to solidify their standings and prove a real force in the league.

Melbourne United have no shortage of options that can attack the rim and keep the scoreboard ticking over credit to the extensive depth in the squad. Chris Goulding is as consistent as they come averaging 17.33 points, 3.33 rebounds and two assists a game. It is also hard to look past the likes of Shea Ili, and youngster Jack White who stepped out of the shadows last round to take his season tally to an average of 13.67 points, 6.67 rebounds and one assist. Jo Lual-Acuil has proven to be a menace off the backboards and will be keen to impose himself against the Bullets boasting an average of nine rebounds a game, while also flexing his muscles on the scoring front with 11.33 points.

For Brisbane they have a number of key figures that have found their form of late with Victor Law a main target in both offence and defence. Law averages an impressive double-double thanks to his 22.25 points and 10 rebounds a game while also racking up a consistency two blocks and highlighting his ability to have an influence in all aspects of the game. Nathan Sobey is another commanding presence for the Bullets with the guard knocking back an average of 24.75 points while also amassing 3.75 assists and three rebounds. If United are able to limit the influence both Sobey and Law have then it will be a much easier challenge for the second placed side given the scoring proficiency somewhat drops off after the aforementioned duo with the next closest Jason Cadee with 10.25 points a game. In terms of rebounds the Bullets’ have a plethora of options with Tyrell Harrison leading the pack with nine and Harry Froling also a commanding presence with seven a game.

 

Cairns Taipans vs. New Zealand Breakers
Saturday, February 6 @ 5:30pm
Cairns Pop Up Stadium

It will be far from the game of the round in terms of ladder position, however expect both Cairns Taipans and New Zealand Breakers to leave nothing to chance. Sitting second last and last respectively on the ladder with one win between the two sides it will surely be a close contest between the sides as they look to progress up the ladder and gain some much needed form to spark their season.

The Breakers have struggled to find their mojo however in saying that have only played two games so far this season and will be on the prowl for a much needed win. Headlined by some exciting talent in Tai Webster the Breakers will be hoping the youngster finds his groove early and applies some strong scoreboard pressure as shown through his 24.5 points, 7.5 assists and five rebound average. Another player that will need close attention is Finn Delany with the forward showing that he is a real threat on the scoreboard amassing 17.5 points a game and 6.50 rebounds to keep his side competitive and put opposition teams under the pump.

For the Taipans Scott Machado is the man to watch, able to light up the court with his natural flair and vision down the court. Machado leads the league in assists per game thanks to his 8.83 while also collecting 16.33 points per game. Teammate Cameron Oliver is also a handy option for the Taipans averaging 18.83 points again while also registering an impressive 10.5 rebounds each outing highlighting his skillset to dominate opposition teams. Kouat Noi is another player that should not be underestimated for the Taipans with the 201cm forward knocking back an average of 11.83 points and sitting at 42 per cent accuracy from the field.  If the Taipans are able to get up and running early it will go a long way in throwing the Breakers off the scent and keeping them at arms-length.

 

Adelaide 36ers vs. Sydney Kings
Saturday, February 6 @8:00pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Currently holding down third spot on the ladder, Adelaide will be eager to keep that upwards trajectory going and clinch another win against the lowly Sydney Kings. Finding themselves in unfamiliar territory, the Kings have struggled to get going so far this season only registering one win, while Adelaide seem somewhat rejuvenated. Having only met last round, the victory will still be fresh in the minds of the 36ers who showcased their ability to grind out games and win ugly, making this matchup all the more enticing.

The 36ers have welcomed the inclusion of Josh Giddey into their side with the youngster wasting no time at all to find his feet and solidify himself as a big time player. At only 18, Giddey has quickly become a staple for Adelaide averaging nine points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Daniel Johnson leads the pack when it comes to scoring boasting an average of 21.67 points along with 5.83 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He is ably assisted by partner in crime Isaac Humphries who dons an average of 18.5 points at 65 per cent accuracy from the field to accompany his eight rebounds a game. Tony Crocker is another player the Kings will look to get a handle on if they are chance to get the jump on the 36ers, having played all six games and averaging 11.17 points with a conversion rate of 44 per cent.

Jarell Martin has proven to be a handy pickup for the Sydney Kings who have been riddled with injury throughout the season so far. Martin can find the basket with ease as shown through his average of 18 points a game and is ably assisted by none other than Casper Ware who has been somewhat down on his lofty standards. Ware averages 17.5 points a game and three assists while Dejan Vasiljevic has popped up as a points scoring option recording 17.25 a game. but if they are to topple Adelaide it will have to be a full court effort from the Kings to nullify their opponents and stop them from flicking the ball around.

 

South East Melbourne Phoenix vs. The Hawks
Sunday, February 7 @ 3:00pm
State Basketball Centre

With four wins on the trot, The Hawks are sitting pretty on top of the ladder and will look to extend their scintillating run of form with another victory over the Phoenix. Despite getting close in their Round 3 match, the Phoenix were unable to get over the top of United and will once again have their hands full with The Hawks on Sunday. It has been somewhat of an up and down season for South East Melbourne with the side yet to find that level of consistency and will be hoping to iron that out against their top of the table opponents.

A reinvigorated Hawks side has taken the competition by storm with Tyler Harvey Spearheading the attack averaging 23.25 points a game. Harvey is a real live wire that is able to continuously keep the scoreboard ticking over and he is not afraid to get his hands dirty recording 1.75 steals a game. Justinian Jessup Is another player to keep an eye out for in their clash against the Phoenix knocking down 14.5 points a game at 53 per cent accuracy while also recording 4.25 rebounds. Sam Froling has also showcased his skill set to hit the scoreboard with 12.5 points to accompany his 6.75 rebounds. Speaking of rebounds, Justin Simon leads the team with 8.5 per game across  his average 27 minutes on court. With such a well-rounded team and versatility aplenty The Hawks will be looking to once again put their foot down and continue their upwards trajectory

Headlined by Mitch Creek, the Phoenix will be hoping to regain some consistency and go back to their winning ways against The Hawks. Creek averages 19.8 points per game and 6.60 rebounds with Keifer Sykes hot on his heels with 19 points a game and 4.60 rebounds as the duo form a formidable combination. Sykes also leads the Phoenix when it comes to number of assists with eight per game. Guard, Kyle Adnam has also taken a step-up this season, showcasing his scoring ability with 12.8 points a game while Yannick Wetzell will be eager to impose himself on the contest.

 

Melbourne United vs. Perth Wildcats
Sunday, February 7 @5:00pm
Bendigo Basketball Stadium

In their second game of the round Melbourne United will be aiming to keep their winning streak running and create some separation from the Wildcats who are hot on their tails. On the other hand Perth will be well rested and looking to exploit United and shake up the top four. There is plenty of history between the two sides given the number of grand finals and close calls played out between the two sides making this matchup just as exciting with neither side willing to back down from the fight.

Melbourne have a plethora of options who are able to effectively ply their trade and dominate with Jock Landale more than proving himself as a big time player. Landale has taken like a duck to water since joining the side registering an average of 26.47 minutes on court and well and truly finding the basket to guide his side to victory as shown through his 15-point average, 56 per cent conversion rate, 7.67 rebounds and 2.67 assists. United might be forced to rotate their players and look to the bench given the tight turnaround of games with the likes of the ever consistent Mitch McCarron a steady head. McCarron is a reliable source of points with five a game while Scotty Hopson is yet to fire but could provide that additional spark to the side. In the end it will come down to the influence of the stars such as Goulding and co. to lead the way against Perth.

Competition leader, Bryce Cotton will once again be the main man in focus when United take on Perth given his innate ability to find the rim and score with great ease. Cotton is a constant threat from both down town and in the paint averaging a whopping 29.5 points a game, just shy of a 30-point average while also mustering up 6.5 assists and 2.5 steals showcasing his complete and utter demolition work. John Mooney has quickly found his feet in the Wildcats uniform boasting 16 points a game and a staggering 13.5 rebounds while Todd Blanchfield cannot be underestimated with his 13.5-point average. The Wildcats are littered with playmakers and viable options across the court, something will be hoping to capitalise on against a potentially tired United side.

 

Cairns Taipans vs. New Zealand Breakers
Monday, February 8 @7:30pm
Cairns Pop Up Arena

In a repeat of an earlier fixture, Cairns and New Zealand will once again meet and hope to change their fortunes. With only a short amount of time between their encounters expect both sides to come out with a real hunger and intensity to showcase their learnings of their previous meeting and distance themselves from the bottom of the ladder.

There is no denying that Machado and Oliver are the two lynchpins for the side with the duo renowned for their explosiveness and scoring but need added support from the likes of Mirko Djeric and Majok Deng if they are to really get going in season 2021 and live up to the highs of last season. Djeric averages 11.5 points a game along with 3.17 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Deng is relatively strong off the boards boasting an average of 4.67 rebounds and can chime in with his 10.5 points but will need to be on his a-game if the Taipans are to down the Breakers.

Similar to the Taipans set-up the Breakers have somewhat of a two-pronged attack in Webster and Delany however if they can get support from Corey Webster and Lamar Patterson can unleash his 2020 form the Breakers are an entirely different unit. Currently Webster holds an average of 17 points a game and two rebounds while Patterson collects an average of 4.50 rebounds a game and eight points at a lowly 27 per cent from the field. If they are able to turn their fortunes around it could work in favour for the New Zealand side.

Picture credit: Getty Images

Brisbane snatch second win from Taipans, Law wins it on buzzer

BRISBANE have stormed back in the final quarter of last night’s opener to force overtime and ultimately earn the upset win against the Cairns Taipans, defeating the out of form visitors 105-103 after a Vic Law layup ended the game in the dying milliseconds.

Even though Law and Tyrell Harrison got their names on the scoreboard early, it was Cairns that made the bigger effect in terms of conversion, jumping out to 16-8 lead through the first five minutes of the game.

Following five more minutes of first quarter play, for the first time this season the Taipans had themselves a lead after 10 minutes – this time on the road. Thanks to a healthy dispersion of points production from their starters, Cairns continued to attack the rim as well as hit their shots from deep, leading 23-19 at the first break.

It took a while for Nathan Sobey to score his first bucket of the clash, but in his absence early on Harry Froling was a standout performer for the Bullets particularly in the second quarter. The 211cm-tall Center had himself a solid eight points by the midway point off the bench yesterday, while Law had himself nine points and six rebounds after 20 minutes and Sobey accumulated eight points of his own in the end.

However, Cairns looked like a totally different side in the first half compared to previous efforts this season. After amassing 55 points in the first two quarters (the highest first half total of any team this season to date), they held a sizeable 15-point lead over Brisbane being led by Cameron Oliver who racked up 18 points and six rebounds in this time.

The Bullets started the third in good stead, putting the first eight out of 10 points on the board to begin the second half and cut the deficit back down to single digits. Shortly after, a heated exchange between Law and Oliver reignited the level of intensity between the two teams and the stakes became slightly raised as a result.

Andrej Lemanis’s side were unable to cut out a big chunk of their sizeable deficit in the third, despite winning the quarter 21-16. This would however set up a fourth quarter that would require the hosts to reverse a 61-72 score line with 10 minutes to play.

Surprisingly it only took six minutes in the fourth for the Bullets to equal things after a put back jam from Matthew Hodgson and some late foul trouble for Mike Kelly’s starters, which allowed Brisbane to gain momentum.

Key exits from Majok Deng and Oliver due to fouling out allowed Brisbane to capitalise in a final period filled with highlights for them and it looked like they would pull away. But a triple from Jarrod Kenny with 20 seconds left, therefore meant forcing overtime in the Battle of Queensland.

Kenny again converted from three in extra time, swinging things in favour of the Taipans with a couple minutes left, but Sobey answered back to tie things up again. He returned the lead back to the Bullets on the next play with an And-One.

Two out of three free throws made by Mirko Djeric cut the difference back down to one point, but a dunk from Law undid this the next possession. Scott Machado and Jason Cadee added to the high-octane overtime period, trading triples with the latter nailing his with 12 seconds on the clock.

The saga would continue after Machado knocked down a step-back three with six seconds on the clock, but the last laugh came from the Bullets as Law drove to the rim and finished the layup with mere milliseconds remaining, stealing away the match at the death.

While Sobey earned man of the match recognition with his 30 points, five assists and four rebounds, Law’s numbers easily matched his tremendous output on the night finishing with 29 points and 11 rebounds. The two helped facilitate the team’s 46 per cent shooting on the night, while the Bullets also accumulated 14 points off of turnovers. Cadee also fished with double-digits for Brisbane, compiling a 11-point, five-rebound and four-assist performance.

Similarly, to other games for the Taipans, the majority of their points came exclusively from the starters. Machado left with 23 points, 10 assists and five rebounds and Oliver did the same with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Deng had a solid night after his 15 points and six rebounds. Furthermore, Djeric and Kouat Noi each provided 11 points to the team.

After processing their win last night, Brisbane now finds themselves back on .500 with two wins and two losses as well as sniffing around the top four, in a match that had plenty of meaning behind it. They can continue a positive trajectory in the NBL standings next Thursday with a win over Melbourne United to kick off Round Four. Meanwhile, the Taipans can exact revenge at home against the Bullets next Saturday in the reverse fixture.

NBL21 Round 3 preview: Victoria to host first NBL match of the season as blockbuster round awaits

NATIONAL Basketball League (NBL) Round 3 action tips off tonight, in what is a blockbuster eight-game round, the biggest of the season thus far. The round yet again features a few rematches, as Adelaide 36ers, Perth Wildcats, Brisbane Bullets and Cairns Taipans all remain at home venues. For the first time this season, an all-Victorian clash between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix will take place, with Bendigo being the first host venue for the match.

Brisbane Bullets vs. Sydney Kings
Tuesday, January 26 @ 3pm
Nissan Arena

With no breaks for basketball fans, the Round 3 action begins at Nissan Arena, where the winless Brisbane Bullets host last year’s grand finalists Sydney Kings. The Bullets have lost both their games to a reinvigorated Hawks outfit, whilst the Kings bounced back against Cairns Taipans in Round 2 following a Round 1 defeat at the hands of the Snakes at the same venue. Heading into the clash, the Kings sit fourth with a 1-1 record and games in hand, percentage ahead of Adelaide 36ers, and not too far away from unbeaten teams, The Hawks, Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United.

Victor Law has made a promising start to his NBL career with the Bullets, having averaged 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 block per game. The American import is hard to contain, and he might be set for the towering Jarell Martin, who has similar numbers of 16.5 points. 9.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists, but has an extra seven centimetres and 17kg on him. Specialist shooter Nathan Sobey has been in great form from the back court, averaging a team-high 21.5 points per game. The battle within the match between he and Casper Ware (20.0 points) will be fascinating.

The general feel is that the Kings have a bit more depth to the squad, with Brad Newley (15.5 points, 5.5 rebounds) and Dejan Vasiljevic (14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) both contributing strongly, whilst Anthony Drmic (12.0 points, 3.5 rebounds) is the only other Bullets player to average double-figure points. Sydney heads in as favourites, though Brisbane will be keen to get a win on the board after back-to-back losses at home.

Adelaide 36ers vs, New Zealand Breakers
Wednesday, January 27 @ 7.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

The first rematch of the round sees New Zealand Breakers having another crack at Adelaide 36ers following their three-point overtime loss in Round 2. The 36ers sit at 2-2 from their four games, claiming wins over South East Melbourne Phoenix and the Breakers, whilst New Zealand only has the one game under its belt in season 2021. The 94-91 loss easily could have been a win after taking control through the middle of the game, but then the 36ers’ running out the game strongly.

In that match, Tai Webster showed just what he was capable of, posting a season-high 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists and completely nullify a returning Josh Giddey (four points, five rebounds and two assists) in their much-anticipated head-to-head. Webster’s performance was one of the individual efforts of the season, though the young star – who took the game away from the Phoenix in Round 1 – had the last laugh thanks to his team getting up. One man the Breakers could not find an answer to was Isaac Humphries (24 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks) in a remarkable effort. If the breakers are to get up, Rob Loe and Colton Iverson will need to restrict his ability to not only get to the basket, but also from protecting his own basket.

Humphries is averaging 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks this season, and after a quieter game one, has strung together three important matches. His teamwork with Daniel Johnson (23.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists) has been key for the 36ers, while Lamar Patterson will be better for the run after a solid 16-point, five-rebound effort in the loss.

Cairns Taipans vs. The Hawks
Thursday, January 28 @ 7.30pm
Cairns Pop Up Arena

Heading into the season, Cairns Taipans were predicted to be one of the title contenders after a promising season last year. Having added talent and lost very little out the door, the Snakes were tipped to really push the top sides, especially with a run of home games at the start. Unfortunately it has not panned out that way for the North Queensland side, with Cairns sitting 1-3 from four games. The one win was a solitary one-point victory over Sydney Kings in the opening round, before three consecutive losses to The Hawks, Kings and Melbourne United, albeit the latter two in single digits. On the other hand, The Hawks who were tipped to continue their rebuild under new coach Brian Goorjian have really lit up the competition, remaining undefeated in three matches, defeating the Taipans and Brisbane Bullets twice.

The visitors have a chance to double-down on winning against Cairns, having saluted by a comfortable 16 points in their Round 1 triumph. In that match, The Hawks bolted out of the blocks from the opening tip-off to pile on 31 points to 19 in the opening term and never look back. Cameron Oliver did his usual thing with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but it was the shared dominance of imports, Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup for The Hawks that was the difference in the end. Harvey put up 25 points, seven assists, two rebounds and two steals, while Jessup piled on 24 points, fie rebounds, two assists and two steals in a Player of the Match performance.

The duo of Americans – who are the two highest scorers for The Hawks at this point – have helped share the load alongside another American in Justin Simon (10.7 points, 9.7 points, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks) who can just about do it all. The Snakes have had some great contributions on paper, but not been able to get over the line. Oliver (18.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks) and Scott Machado (15.3 points, 8.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds) have been the unsurprising stars, thought 201cm Kouat Noi had put up 14.5 points and 4.8 rebounds so far this season. Overall The Hawks are expected to continue their winning form, but the Taipans can never be discounted considering they have all the pieces to knock off any side.

Perth Wildcats vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Friday, January 29 @ 9.30pm
RAC Arena

In another rematch between sides from last round, Perth Wildcats will look to make it back-to-back wins against a travelling South East Melbourne Phoenix at RAC Arena. Having split their back-to-back matches against Adelaide 36ers, the Phoenix certainly showed up on the night on Sunday, but were just outclassed by a better side, as the reigning premiers reminded the competition what they were capable of. While they might have lost 80 per cent of their starting side, the 20 per cent is still the best player in the competition, and he showed that on the weekend.

Reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton picked up where he left off with a dazzling 27 points, seven assists, five steals and two rebounds in a return to the competition. He led the way, but was able to work well in the back court with Mitch Norton who stepped up for 10 points, three assists and three rebounds, while Luke Travers came back after a couple of seasons and posted four points and seven rebounds. John Mooney provided some highlight-reel dunks thanks to 13 points and a massive 14 rebounds – eight offensive – while Todd Blanchfield picked up 16 points and four rebounds on debut for the Wildcats.

By comparison, Mitch Creek (17 points, five rebounds), Keifer Sykes (10 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Cameron Gliddon (15 points, two rebounds) all managed to worry the scorers, while Adam Gibson (13 points, five rebounds) was impressive off the bench. Despite their efforts, the Wildcats were just the better team on the night, and the Phoenix will need to find a way of limiting Cotton’s impact if they are to turn the tables on the Wildcats this week.

Brisbane Bullets vs. Cairns Taipans
Saturday, January 30 @ 5.30pm
Nissan Arena

In the two Queensland teams’ second matches of the week, the state rivals will go head-to-head for the first time in 2021. Having only played The Hawks – and losing both – the Brisbane Bullets will have the chance to pour on more misery to an unlucky Cairns Taipans side that has not been able to get over the line since Round 1. A win for the Bullets will immediately put them within reaching distance of the top four, while the Taipans can end the round with a level pegging at 3-3 if they can collect both wins.

Harry Froling has been in great form for the Bullets, averaging 8.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists coming off an impressive Queensland State League (QSL) season with RedCity Roar. He will have the biggest job on the court to try and contain Cameron Oliver (18.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks) who is the premier five in the competition. Whilst versatile enough to slide into the four role as well, Oliver is much more difficult to contain as that more athletic center, and it will be up to Froling, and Tyrell Harrison (4.0 points, 8.5 rebounds) to try and contain the big man.

Scott Machado is another worry for the Bullets, with the elite passer able to slice up defences and set up looks for Oliver and his teammates. Jason Cadee is the man to try and match him, averaging 9.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. If that can happen, and the likes of Victor Law and Nathan Sobey can continue their scoring run, than the Bullets are a chance. The Taipans deservedly go in as favourites though, and even outside of their top two, Mirko Djeric, Majok Deng and Kouat Noi all average double-figure points.

Adelaide 36ers vs. Sydney Kings
Saturday, January 30 @ 8pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

There might be no rest for the wicked, but there is also no rest for Adelaide 36ers who, like Cairns Taipans, will play a remarkable sixth straight game at home in three rounds. They need to find consistency, but the potential to get the job done, and come up against Sydney Kings at prime time on Saturday night. The Kings also sit at level pegging in terms of wins and losses (1-1), though both teams could be either plus-one or minus-one from their tally, having played an earlier game in Round 3.

After a safe return from injury last match, Josh Giddey will look to cause headaches from the back court, averaging 9.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in season 2021. A potential matchup with fellow Victorian Dejan Vasiljevic (14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) would be tantalising, whilst he could go head-to-head in a scoring battle – rather than a direct head-to-head – with Casper Ware (20.0 points, 2.0 rebounds). Isaac Humphries is in ripping form, and Jordan Hunter is one man that will need to be at his best to contain him, alongside Jarrell Martin who has given other sides headaches.

Every player on the Kings’ list that has taken the court has averaged at least two points and a rebound per game, which shows the depth of the squad on offer. Whilst others might have grabbed the headlines, Sunday Dech (8.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) has been quietly achieving, while imports, Donald Sloan (10.0 points. 2.8 assists) and Tony Crocker (10.0 points, 1.5 steals) have been solid inclusions in the 36ers’ rotation.

Melbourne United vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Sunday, January 31 @ 3pm
Bendigo Basketball Stadium

Basketball returns to Victoria on Sunday when Melbourne United hosts South East Melbourne Phoenix in Bendigo. The mid-afternoon time slot will allow day trips up to the regional venue, where the teams can finally lock horns having initially been touted as the overall NBL season opener. Now with the COVID-19 scare from early January seemingly back under control, the title favourites and top-of-the-ladder Melbourne United will look to take control against the Phoenix who sit at 1-2 and just outside the top four. If the Phoenix can upset the Wildcats over in Perth earlier in the round, they could have snuck into the playoff spots, but this will be one they want to get over their rivals.

In the two games thus far, United dominated Adelaide 36ers by 24 points way back on January 15, before a 10-day wait to claim an important scalp over Cairns Taipans by just two points last night. This time the wait is only six days, but it will be United’s third game, which will be the equal least of any team thus far by the end of Round 3. Jo Lual Acuil has been in great form teaming up with Jock Landale, with the pair averaging 26 points and 19 rebounds between them. Lual Acuil has 11.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in his two games, whilst the talented Boomer in Landale has notched up 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.0 assists per game. The experienced Chris Goulding (16.5 points, 2.5 rebounds), Kiwi Shea Ili (10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists) and Japanese national, Yudai Baba (10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) have all made an impact early.

Interestingly enough, one of the star’s of last year’s competition, Scotty Hopson has not had to have his usual impact on the NBL, averaging just 6.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. United will want to get the ball in his hands more often, as he could end up going head-to-head with Keifer Sykes. The American has starred with 17.3 points, 7.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds this season, as he and Yannick Wetzell (10.0 points, 9.7 rebounds) have both slotted in seamlessly. With Mitch Creek taking care of the scoring, the Phoenix have more depth than last year, and could worry United. Though in saying that, United are title favourites for a reason and have the most depth of the competition and should claim the points here.

Perth Wildcats vs. New Zealand Breakers
Sunday, January 31 @ 5pm
RAC Arena

Concluding Round 3 of the NBL is the furthest trip in the NBL, as New Zealand Breakers head west to take on reigning premiers, Perth Wildcats. The Wildcats tipped off their season with a win over South East Melbourne Phoenix and will be favoured to have doubled up on that performance earlier in the week. The Breakers dropped their first game in a tight one to the Adelaide 36ers, but showed signs that they could match it with them and are favourites to have reversed that result by the start of this game, given the teams meet tomorrow.

Two of the stars of the competition will be the headline acts for this game, with Bryce Cotton and Lamar Patterson both on show. Cotton was the match-winner for the Wildcats in the victory over the Phoenix, and he was well supported by Todd Blanchfield and Mitch Norton. Lamar Patterson is the man to stop for the Wildcats, having the potential to rip apart opposition teams for the Breakers. Import John Mooney looks a likely type to try and contain Patterson after a memorable debut last round. An underrated player in the competition is Finn Delany, who put up 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in the Round 2 win over Phoenix, teaming up well with Tom Abercrombie (11 points, four rebounds).

Perth do not have the same starting five as last season, but they will need to guard a host of players when the Wildcats are on defensive transition, because the Breakers have a combination of size and speed across the court. Mitch Norton has stepped up to start in 2021, while both sides have New Zealand talent that could shine in an important viewing for the Tall Blacks. The Wildcats will be favourites at home, but the Breakers could kick-start their season with back-to-back wins on the road in Round 3.

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