Tag: NBL

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.

Breakers’ win margin equals franchise record, demolishes 36ers by 44

AFTER a monumental first quarter effort, the New Zealand Breakers attained their second win of the season with a 106-62 triumph over the Adelaide 36ers, who have now fallen under .500 and have slidden right out of the top four.

The Breakers could not have asked for a better start, leading 14-0 during the fourth minute of play before Daniel Johnson got Adelaide on the board at John Cain Arena on Saturday. New Zealand’s lead would balloon out to a 26-5 lead, and it looked as if Conner Henry’s team had no answers with Isaac Humphries off the floor with a suspected foot injury sustained in the first quarter.

Leading into the first change, the Breakers were led by Corey Webster and his 13 points after 10 minutes, leading the 36ers 32-6, which would turn out to be New Zealand’s biggest quarter-time margin of the 10-minute-quarter era in the NBL’s history. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s 80 per cent shooting was the main headline, as Tai Webster had allotted seven assists as well.

Back-to-back triples in the final minute of the second term by the Webster brothers with both accounting for 38 of the team’s total points during the initial two stanzas, compounded Adelaide’s troubles further when both sides went into half time. The Breakers’ 60 to 30 lead at the midway point was dominant to say the least, with the side shooting at 68 per cent to this stage, knocking down 11 threes and forcing nine turnovers from Adelaide in the process. The question of whether New Zealand could follow through with a good second half, however, was still on the table.

While the third continued to roll along, more of Dan Shamir’s side made some contributions of their own with Colton Iverson, Thomas Abercrombie and Finn Delany earning their work for the night, helping the lead at the final break to 82-51, all but cementing the win for the cross-Tasman side.

New Zealand eventually cracked a 40-point lead in the early stages of the fourth and would then score their hundredth point in the seventh minute, capping off what was a fitting way to end yesterday’s thrashing. The margin of victory would then settle at a franchise-tying record 44 points and Adelaide walked off the court with their heads hanging low as a result.

Adelaide emerged on top in three statistical categories after 40 minutes. These were free-throw percentage (81 per cent), second chance points (12) and bench points (31). All categories seemed relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things, as New Zealand finished with a field goal percentage of 59 per cent, converted on 14 triples and would only turn the ball over six times.

Tai Webster took top honours despite sharing the same amount of points with his brother at 29, but Tai would also hunker down and contribute 11 assists to the cause. For Corey Webster, he would tag five rebounds and three assists to his 29 points, while Delany finished the next highest scorer with nine points and four rebounds.

A couple of highlight performances followed Johnson and Jack McVeigh, as they were the only two to tally more than 10 points. McVeigh led the team in points scoring 20 and five rebounds, whereas Johnson secured 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

The Breakers open up Round 8 on Wednesday against the Brisbane Bullets, looking to continue their momentum. For the 36ers, the road forward does not get easier as they will need to bounce back and snag a win away from the Illawarra Hawks and start their fight back into the top four.

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.

Melbourne United keep 36ers at bay to secure the win

A DOMINANT opening term all but gifted Melbourne United the “W” in their clash against Adelaide 36ers to keep their hot start to the season going, winning 82-73. Weathering the storm in the middle part of the game, United did enough to keep up with Adelaide who flicked into overdrive as the game went on but in the end could not outrun.

Melbourne wasted no time making their intentions very clear with Jock Landale imposing himself in the first minute of the game sinking back-to-back triples. United played with a sense of urgency and intensity, nullifying the 36ers in every which way and mounting the scoreboard pressure nailing a whopping 31 points to eight. Establishing a commanding lead at quarter time the pressure somewhat fell off from United’s perspective as the 36ers ate into the deficit. Hitting the scoreboard more frequently, Adelaide showcased their determination and hard working mindset to knock back 26 points and shut down Melbourne, keeping them to 16 points.

Outclassed in the second quarter, United struggled to recapture that same form they emulated in the opening term while Adelaide maintained its momentum to keep pressing. Desperate to stay in touch, the 36ers put in the hard yards to work the ball forward and cut the deficit to 12 points at the final change thanks to an 18-17 term. Adelaide won the final term of play producing 21 points but it was not enough to ruffle the feathers of United who had done enough to secure a nine-point win, largely due to the blistering first quarter of play.

United showcased their accuracy from the field sinking 28 shots from 67 attempts at 41 per cent while the 36ers converted 25 of their 66 attempts at 37 per cent. Melbourne were also stronger from inside the arc going at 47 per cent compared to Adelaide’s 39 per cent while the roles were reversed when looking at accuracy from deep with the 36ers hitting three triples at 36 per cent compared to United’s eight at 32 per cent.

Melbourne also flexed their muscles on the rebounding front, using their bigmen to cause havoc and reel in 47 rebounds to 37 while they also beat Adelaide at their own game producing 13 assists to 10. When it came to turnovers, the 36ers proved to be cleaner with ball in hand only registering 12 as opposed to Melbourne’s 14 while they also recorded more steals (10-8).

Daniel Johnson imposed his physical presence on the game knocking back a team-high 14 points at 40 per cent from the field. He outmuscled his opponents off the boards securing eight rebounds, two assists and two steals. Josh Giddey also continued to impress registering 13 points as Tony Crocker also nailed 13 to keep his side alive. Giddey was down on his usual output when it comes to assists, only managing the one for the game, however he did record eight rebounds. Isaac Humphries plied his trade, posting nine points while also walking away with eight rebounds.

Missing Chris Goulding once again, it was Mitch McCarron that stepped up to the plate downing 18 points in his 34 minutes on court. McCarron did not stop there, dragging down 10 rebounds to walk away with a double-double while also managing three steals and a block. Landale quietened down after his fast start to the match amassing 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Scotty Hopson was a key contributor in the win collecting 14 points, six rebounds and four assists while Jo Lual-Acuil recorded a double-double thanks to  his 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Kings climb back into top four

THE Round 7 opener of the National Basketball League (NBL) between Sydney Kings and New Zealand Breakers was fairly clean cut with the former surging to an 18-point win, 96-78. The Kings wrestled back full momentum after going down in the opening term and from there did not look like letting up, constantly pressing and exploiting their opponents weaknesses with the win rocketing them into fourth spot on the ladder.

Hoping to secure their second win of the season the Breakers came out with a point to prove in the first quarter putting in the hard yards and attacking the rim to outscore their opponents 30-20. The second term however was a complete obliteration as the Kings simply could not be denied piling on a whopping 26 points to six. Sydney stopped the Breakers in their tracks, halting any of their attacking plays and cutting through their defence with ease to steal the lead and claim the ascendancy heading into the break.

The playing field evened up in the third quarter as both teams wrestled for momentum and settled into the game after two fiery quarters of basketball. Boasting a 10-point lead the Kings were eager to extend their buffer and create some much needed separation getting out to as much as 18 points ahead before the Breakers chiselled down the margin to 13. A strong finish from the Kings gifted them their fifth win of the season posting 28 points to 23 and holding off a fast-starting New Zealand outfit. While they have struggled to secure back-to-back victories the Kings are building some strong momentum to mount an exciting campaign.

Sydney made the most of their opportunities sitting at 50 per cent from the field while the Breakers failed to fire on all cylinders converting at 45 per cent. In terms of dominance from inside two-point range, the Kings definitely had the upper hand nailing 30 of their 48 shots at 62 per cent as opposed to New Zealand who managed 25 from 46 at 54 per cent. The Breakers flexed their muscles from down town converting eight triples at 29 per cent with the Kings sinking five from 23, with the only other stat the trans-Tasman side leading – blocks – recording four to zip. The Kings impressed off the boards reeling in 10 more than the Breakers (44-34), while also showcasing their skillset to share the rock around with 21 dimes to nine. The victors collected seven steals to five and also registered less turnovers than New Zealand (8-12).

Jordan Hunter came to play, leading the way for the Kings and topscoring with 24 points despite only being on court for 19 minutes. hunter oozed nothing but accuracy and class not missing a single shot from the field to boast a 100 per cent accuracy while Dejan Vasilijevic dominated. The guard impressed in all facets of the game knocking back 20 points and 10 rebounds to secure a double-double with eight of those rebounds defensive. Casper Ware was his usual self, bobbing up with a handy 19 points, four rebounds and six assists, with Craig Moller the only other player to reach double-figures thanks to his 11 points. He also managed six rebounds and three assists.

For the Breakers it is no surprise that Corey Webster reigned supreme producing a team-high 24 points but could have had more given his inaccuracy sitting at 47 per cent from the field. His brother, Tai Webster was the next closest with 18 points while he also picked up four rebounds, five assists and three steals. Captain Tom Abercrombie managed nine points, four rebounds and an assist in the loss while Colton Iverson slotted eight points at 100 per cent to accompany his six rebounds.

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?

NBL21 – Round 7 preview: NBL Cup rolls on

THE National Basketball League (NBL) Cup continues into Round 7 of the season, with some teams such as Perth Wildcats making their move up the table, while others such as New Zealand Breakers desperately need a win to get back on track in season 2021.

SYDNEY KINGS vs. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Thursday, February 25 @ 5pm

A Thursday evening fixture sees the sixth placed Sydney Kings looking to stay in touch with the top four, coming up against a struggling New Zealand Breakers outfit. The Kings have had an up and down season, only winning back-to-back games once, and losing two of their past three matches. The Breakers on the other hand cannot seemingly catch a break, winning one from six, which was an on-the-road win against Cairns Taipans back on February 6. Since then they have dropped four consecutive matches and need to turn it around quick smart.

Casper Ware continues to be a problem for the Kings’ opposition, averaging 21.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game, shooting at 40 per cent from three-point range. He is well supported by fellow shooters, Jarrell Martin and Dejan Vasiljevic with their in-the-paint and jump shot efforts respectively keeping the Kings in contention. For the Breakers, Tai Webster is averaging a team-high 19.7 points and 5.3 assists and well as 7.5 rebounds, second in the latter stat behind big man Colton Iverson (6.0 points, 7.7 rebounds). Finn Delany (13.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) has been a shining light in the front court for the Breakers as he continues to develop.

The Kings should get the job done here, though the Breakers are desperate to turn their season around.

 

ADELAIDE 36ERS vs. MELBOURNE UNITED
Thursday, February 25 @ 7.30pm

In the prime time Thursday night game, Adelaide 36ers “host” Melbourne United, in a battle between two top four sides. The 36ers are travelling just above 50 per cent for the season, having won six out of 11, but have the lowest points differential of the top six sides with minus-39. United have been the benchmark all season and sit with a healthy 7-1 record, but did suffer defeat at the hands of their nemesis, Perth Wildcats last round, so will be keen to bounce back with a strong Round 7.

The battle between big men, Isaac Humphries and Jock Landale will be key to the clash, with 36ers’ Humphries averaging 17.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, while Landale has managed 16.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and an additional 3.0 assists per match. Both also have a strong second big man in Jack White (United) and Daniel Johnson (36ers), with White putting up 9.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, strong on defence, while Johnson is a more aggressive offensive big man thanks to 20.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Mitch McCarron (10.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals) will also need to watch out for young gun Josh Giddey (9.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.0 steals) in the match.

United will be the team to beat in this one, but the big men of the 36ers will be sure to cause some issues for the top side.

 

BRISBANE BULLETS vs. ILLAWARRA HAWKS
Friday, February 26 @ 5pm

Two teams up opposite ends of the ladder tip-off Friday night’s action, with the second placed Illawarra Hawks meeting the seventh placed Brisbane Bullets. The Hawks have played an extra game but stand at a strong 6-3 from nine matches, while the Bullets are 3-5 from eight. Brisbane comes into the game with just the one win in four matches and hoping to change their fortunes again. Back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Hawks back in the opening two rounds will spur them on for vengeance, while the Hawks have dropped three of their past four games after starting the season strongly.

Illawarra has a well-balanced squad with its trio of American guards causing all sorts of issues for opposition teams. Tyler Harvey (22.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals) leads the way, while Justinian Jessup (15.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals) and Justin Simon (8.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.2 steals) have also been prominent. The Bullets have relied a lot on the output of another import in Victor Law (19.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.9 blocks) at both ends of the floor, while Nathan Sobey remains one of the league’s higher volume shooters with 23.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists thus far this season.

This game is set to be a beauty, with Illawarra favourites to turn their recent form around, but Brisbane desperate for a win.

 

CAIRNS TAIPANS vs. PERTH WILDCATS
Friday, February 26 @ 7.30pm

It is danger time in Cairns for the Taipans whose season is on a knifes edge with three wins from 10 games. Perth Wildcats were in a similar boat not long ago, but have taken advantage of late and are starting to gel, moving all the way up to third on the table with a 4-3 record. Since losing to South East Melbourne in Round 5, the Wildcats have strung together back-to-back impressive wins over the otherwise undefeated Melbourne United, as well as Sydney Kings to get their season back on track.

The Wildcats’ win over the Kings last round showed the potency of the Bryce Cotton and John Mooney duo. Cotton has been a star in the league for many years now, putting up another consistent 24.6 points, 7.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals, but has found a partner-in-crime with Mooney. The big American averaged 18.1 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per match this season. Mooney will have his hands full with the likes of Cameron Oliver (16.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks) having another outstanding season, while the Taipans have five players hitting double-figure points. Scott Machado (18.1 points, 9.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds) is the key play maker for the Taipans, but only Mirko Djeric (11.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists) also has more than two assists.

Perth will be favourites ahead of the clash, but you can never discount the spread of talent on the Cairns roster.

 

OTHER GAMES:

ADELAIDE 36ERS vs. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Saturday, February 27 @ 5.30pm

MELBOURNE UNITED vs. SYDNEY KINGS
Saturday, February 27 @ 8pm

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX vs. ILLAWARRA HAWKS
Sunday, February 28 @ 2pm

BRISBANE BULLETS vs. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Sunday, February 28 @ 4.30pm

The South East Melbourne Phoenix will enter the round late, coming up against Illawarra Hawks on Sunday afternoon. Mitch Creek (20.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists) is just rolling along as he always does for the Phoenix, teaming up well with Keifer Sykes (16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.0 steals) has also been prolific as they eye off rising up the ladder from their 5-5 win-loss record.

The Hawks could draw level with United if the results go their way, while United take on the Kings, the 36ers face the Breakers and the Bullets and Taipans lock horns in an all-Queensland face-off.

Picture credit: AAP/David Mariutz

Dejan and Ware pair up to conquer 36ers, combine for 55

EACH quarter had a different leader up until the final buzzer on Sunday afternoon, as both the Sydney Kings and the Adelaide 36ers traded scoring runs for 30 minutes straight. But, it was the Kings that outlasted their opponents in the last period of play, securing a well-earned 94-77 outcome against the Purple and Gold.

With 52 points between the two sides scored in the opening term, the contest started at a really high pace to begin with. Unexpectedly, it was the combination of Thomas Vodanovich and Casper Ware that got the Kings off the ground, as the New Zealand international got his season up and going with eight first quarter points.

As Sydney led 30-22 at the end of one, Adelaide needed to produce positive outcomes on the floor and fast, before the game would get out of hand early on. Import Tony Crocker was the man for the job in the second quarter with an impressive bounce back effort after a sluggish start.

Crocker led the way with 13 points, two rebounds and two assists, as the 36ers won the second quarter 29-18 and took a three-point lead at half-time adding to Sydney’s stresses. But the work of Dejan Vasiljevic and Ware was more than enough of a precedent to give the Kings the confidence to overtake Adelaide with a good second half coupled with their 54 per cent shooting in the first two quarters.

In what proved to be a seesawing affair, the Kings quickly turned the odds in their favour by scoring 17 of the first 21 points in the first six minutes of the third period, returning the lead back to last season’s runners ups.

Continuing their good form from the first half, Ware and Vasiljevic maintained their steady flow of points as each held 21 points apiece with 10 minutes remaining, while the Kings completely shut down Adelaide’s offence, conceding just eight points in the third.

The lead would fail to change hands in the final stanza and end in rather one-sided fashion, with the Kings toppling the 36ers in the fourth quarter alone, 21-13, leading into Sydney’s solid 17-point win without Jarell Martin in their line-up.

Capitalising on Adelaide’s 16 turnovers, Sydney compiled 22 points by way of takeaways and 32 points from their effective bench unit. In addition, the Kings would make more shots than they would miss, shooting 51 per cent on the afternoon compared to the 36ers’ 42 per cent.

A quiet final period for Vasiljevic and Ware saw the duo finish with similar numbers to when they concluded the third period. Vasiljevic performed at a consistently high rate with 22 points, while Ware’s 23-point game saw him return to an elite level that has only reared its head a few times in NBL21. Yesterday also saw veteran player Daniel Kickert put up solid numbers in his first game of the season with 11 points and three triples.

Four Adelaide players scored 10 points or more with Crocker leading the team with 15 points and three rebounds. Meanwhile, Isaac Humphries (14 points and six rebounds), Sunday Dech (13 points, five assists and three rebounds) and Josh Giddey (10 points, seven assists and seven rebounds) were all major footnotes in their team’s defeat.

Adelaide will look to regain lost footing in the top four when they face the South East Melbourne Phoenix on Tuesday night, and prior to that the Kings aim to tackle down a Perth Wildcats side that is eager to get their season back on track.

Triple-double by Sykes helps Phoenix burn Bullets

WITH both the Brisbane Bullets and the South East Melbourne Phoenix coming off their biggest victories of the season, the two teams battled in yesterday’s opener for three out of four quarters, before the Phoenix ran away 99-83 winners after a 31-point fourth quarter – placing their record above .500 with their fifth win of the season.

The Bullets came into Melbourne on Sunday ready to play, landing the first punch and startling the Phoenix throughout the first 10 minutes, as Brisbane led 27 to 16 after an impressive 15-point run headlined the opening term.

Reinvigorated by team leaders Mitchell Creek and Adam Gibson during the first break, South East Melbourne opened the second with a 15-6 start, all but clearing the margin mid-way through the period.

Some impressive work by Matthew Hodgson and Nathan Sobey was enough to stave off a resilient Phoenix fightback. But after two, Simon Mitchell and his guys had tied things up already. While both teams were locked up at 44 points apiece, Creek was phenomenal through 20 minutes, harbouring 20 points and four rebounds already, while Sobey, Hodgson and Anthony Drmic had combined for 33 points in the same amount of time.

Seven consecutive points by the Phoenix to commence the second half dumbfounded the visitors, instilling the entire Green Team to step up their game in what appeared to be a pivotal moment of the contest. In another twist, Brisbane produced a nine-point run of their own shortly before the five-minute mark of the third, making for an entertaining final 15 minutes.

Keeping their noses in front 68-66 with a term to play, Keifer Sykes and the Phoenix had another great start with a 10-0 effort to put the side up by 12, placing South East Melbourne firmly in the driver’s seat.

The Bullets continued to fight in the dying stages of the meeting cutting the deficit to as little as nine points. However, a three from Cam Gliddon with seven seconds on the clock iced the game, while Sykes earned his triple-double at the start of that same possession just before the Phoenix closed out the win.

An impressive shooting night best described the Phoenix’s overall game, converting on 39 out of 76 shots (51 per cent) from the field last night, while doling out 23 assists in the process. For Brisbane, their biggest detriment was their inability to slow down South East Melbourne from deep, allowing 13 triples and only producing six of their own.

Finishing with 29 points, nine rebounds and an assist, Creek emerged supreme as the game’s leading scorer, but man of the match honours was unequivocally awarded to Sykes after he secured a 14-point, 11-assist and 10-rebound triple-double. Gliddon ruled from beyond the arc with 19 points off of five threes in 36 minutes of play, whereas Kyle Adnam had another strong outing with 15 points and six assists.

Hodgson showed up with an elite level of focus making nine out of 10 shots on his way to a team-high 20 points and nine rebounds. Sobey who leads the NBL in scoring was held to a modest 16 points, six rebounds and four assists as Coach Mitchell had a great game plan in place to neutralise the star. Lastly, Drmic was large off the bench with 16 points and four rebounds as well posing as the only other double-digit contributor – Vic Law finished with a lowly nine-point performance.

The Phoenix will look for the two-win week when they challenge the Adelaide 36ers on Tuesday night to conclude Round Six, whereas the Bullets will take aim at the Illawarra Hawks on Friday night.

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.