Tag: Perth Wildcats

Perth claims a clinical victory over Taipans to secure second spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotton and Mooney star in Perth’s grand final rematch

IT was a scoring fiasco for Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats however it was the latter that walked away with the “W” (113-106). Both sides came to play with their intensity up from the first few minutes of basketball as they looked to attack the rim and claim some much needed ascendancy to close out Round 6 of the National Basketball League (NBL).

In their first meeting since the 2020 grand final the rivalry well and truly came to the fore as the two sides battled bragging rights with the Kings coming up big in the opening term of play. Although Perth slotted the first points of the game Sydney seemed to have the game on their terms as the quarter went on with Casper Ware putting on a vintage performance and inspiring the Kings each step of the way. Holding a six-point lead at quarter time, Perth worked in overdrive to cut the deficit and get back in the game piling on 30 points while limiting the Kings to 26. Shutting down their movement and looking to attack the basket more regularly Perth were able to generate some strong momentum with Bryce Cotton stepping up to the plate.

With only two points separating the two sides, it was clear that this game was going to go down to the wire and while neither the Wildcats or Kings have had the same dominance they did last year they were eager to recapture some form. An excellent term of basketball from Perth was all they needed to not only steal the lead but create a handy buffer. John Mooney was the key instigator of change for the Wildcats nailing a layup to commence play and maintained that level of intensity throughout the term. Letting loose with 32 points to 17 Perth went into the final change up by 13 points and did not look like letting go despite Ware making his presence felt for the Kings. Sydney worked their way back into the contest playing with a sense of freedom and determination but could not do enough to topple the Wildcats who had built a strong foundation in the third to run out victorious.

Statistically speaking it was hard to split the two sides with Sydney sitting at 51 per cent from the field and Perth at 50 per cent and while they both boasted a 40 per cent accuracy from beyond the arc the Wildcats managed 15 triples compared to 14. Perth showcased their strength off the boards outmuscling their opponents to collect 46 rebounds to 32 while their natural game plan of sharing the ball around was also on display amassing 26 assists to 14. Although they fell short of the win the Kings proved to be more cautious with ball in hand only recording six turnovers to eight and also registered one more block (4-3). Majority of Sydney’s points came from in the paint knocking back 42 while the Wildcats put up 34.

It was the Casper Ware show for Sydney with the guard running amuck and posting a team-high 34 points going at 100 per cent from the charity stripe and 52 per cent from the field. Ware was involved in just about everything for the Kings picking up five rebounds and four assists. Didi Louzada was the next biggest contributor for Sydney piling on 19 points and making his presence felt from down town with five triples. Dejan Vasiljevic and Thomas Vodanovich also proved to be handy figures collecting 13 and 10 points respectively while also dragging down four rebounds apiece.

With Ware doing it up one end for the Kings, Cotton flexed his muscles with 30 points and fell just short of a double-double credit to his nine assists. But teammate, Mooney did manage to reach this feat with a staggering 18 rebounds and 30 points to well and truly wow the opposition. Mooney was virtually unstoppable in defence with 16 of his 18 rebounds defensive while also coming up with two blocks. Todd Blanchfield was a consistent figure throughout the match producing 17 points, three rebounds and two assists as Mitchell Norton did not muck around thanks to his 10 points and eight rebounds.

Overcoming a half time deficit is never easy as Perth Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson pointed out post-match, touting the impressive effort the side put in to flip the script.

“I thought it was a really gutsy win especially with how well they were shooting the ball in the first half. We had to wrestle that momentum back and I thought we did that just before half time I think about five minutes to go then we got it back to two points at half time so we built some momentum for the third quarter,” Gleeson said.

Perth end United’s undefeated streak in 2021

PERTH Wildcats handed Melbourne United their first loss of the season toppling the ladder leaders by a mere four points thanks to some Bryce Cotton magic with the reigning MVP winner showcasing his class to put the nail in the coffin to steal the lead within the final 40 seconds (89-85). The rivalry between the two sides continued last night as Perth found a way to do something the rest of the competition are yet to do in season 2021 – win against the Melbourne side. Despite being down throughout stages of the match, the Wildcats rallied to grind out the game and keep their season alive.

The Wildcats had a real sense of urgency and intensity from the minute they stepped out on court, nailing the opening points of the game. they skipped out to a quick lead before United settled into their rhythm despite boasting a different starting five to what the side is used to. From there, neither side could be separated in the first term of play with both United and the Wildcats managing to freely score, feeling each other out in attack to head into the first break even. The second quarter was played more on Perth’s terms as they posted 21 points to 17 to create a narrow lead at the main change.

Disappointed with their second quarter efforts, Melbourne United turned the afterburners on to work their way back into the contest. With a renewed sense of energy across the court Melbourne hit the lead midway through the term but it did not last long as Perth once again hit back. Culling the lead from four points to one at three-quarter time the game intensified as United looked to keep their undefeated record intact and the Wildcats aimed to claim the biggest upset of the season. But in the end it was the lower placed side that found another gear to overcome their opponents in the dying seconds of the game to reign triumphant.

Boasting a 48 per cent accuracy from the field, Melbourne United proved to be more dominant than Perth who managed 43 per cent only converting 26 of their 64 attempts. The victors were strong from down town sinking 13 triples to Melbourne’s 11 at 46 per cent and 40 per cent respectively. United were prominent in and around the basket posting 34 points in the paint compared to Perth’s 22 highlighting the differing style the two sides play. There was also a major differential between points made from turnovers with the Wildcats capitalising on their chances with 24 to 13.

Melbourne just edged Perth out on the rebounding front with 38 to 34 while they also shared the ball around as shown through their 21 assists to 15. But the Wildcats impressed with their defensive tendencies picking up 10 steals to five while also treasuring the ball recording seven less turnovers than their counterparts (10-17).

Recruit, Jock Landale wasted no time putting up another impressive performance for United collecting a team-high 20 points. Landale not only influenced the scoreboard but so too played a role off the boards with his 10 rebounds and four assists even though his side did not get the “W”. Coming off the bench David Barlow was the next highest scorer knocking back 11 points while Scotty Hopson and Sam McDaniel posted 10 points apiece. Mitch McCarron was handy for United recording eight points and eight rebounds however he coughed up the ball six times while Jack White also kept the scoreboard ticking over with his seven points.

For the winners, it is no surprise that Cotton led the charge with his 29 points. It could have been an even bigger outing for Cotton had he been more accurate from the field only going at a lowly 30 per cent. He also racked up seven assists and three steals while Jesse Wagstaff also played an integral role in the victory thanks to his 14 points and six rebounds. John Mooney just fell short of a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds all of which were defensive while Todd Blanchfield imposed himself through his 12 points, three rebounds and two assists.

NBL21 mid-season summaries: Bottom 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

NBL21 mid-season summaries: Top 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Wildcats start slow then finish strong, outclass Phoenix by 31

THINGS seemed relatively even following a quarter of play in last night’s clash between the South East Melbourne Phoenix and the Perth Wildcats. But, it was the visitors that ran away with the contest in the subsequent 30 minutes, as the reigning premiers convincingly handled matters, 106-75.

Promising signs early on came by way of the Phoenix, as Mitch Creek continued to attack Luke Travers on the offensive end. This led to yesterday’s hosts taking the immediate lead early on the first period, while Todd Blanchfield found his range with a three pointer four minutes in, beginning his night.

Despite the low scoring from both sides after 10 minutes of play it was South East Melbourne that trailed the Wildcats, with Blanchfield and John Mooney leading the way for Perth on 40 per cent shooting from the field, leading South East Melbourne 21-16 in the early stage.

Two quick baskets from Perth quickly extended their lead to nine points before Keifer Sykes answered back with his first triple of the night, bucking the trend of horrendous long-range shooting in the first half from both teams.

Scoring 14 of the first 19 points in the second, Perth had a firm grip on the match heading into half-time. Furthermore, with Trevor Gleeson and League-MVP Bryce Cotton’s roster leading in every single category, it was no surprise that the Wildcats had a comfortable 21-point lead rounding off a 25-11 quarter, and a 48-27 scoreline heading into the third quarter.

Blanchfield’s impressive initial two terms had Simon Mitchell’s side struggling to cope, as the former Illawarra Hawk worked for 10 points in 13 and a half minutes of work, while Mooney compounded his efforts with nine points and eight rebounds. Meanwhile Kyle Adnam led his side in scoring at half time with seven points.

The second half began just as the first had ended with the Phoenix being outgunned and outclassed by their opponents at both ends. A 9-2 run from Perth made the deficit seem almost insurmountable, but threes from both Sykes and Adnam reduced the lead back to 20, igniting some hope for the home crowd as their team trailed 52-73 at three-quarter time.

But unfortunately for the home team, nothing was able to stop the continual onslaught of Perth’s 33-point final quarter, capping off what would be eventual rout of last season’s newest NBL team.

Going down by 31 points at the State Basketball Centre, Mitchell is now scratching his head as for how to bounce back from last night’s horrid performance against the defending champions.

After shooting just 41 per cent on the night and losing out in the rebounding category 33-46, there was no doubting which team was more dominant. The only category South East Melbourne won was points scored off the bench – a hollow victory given Mitchell saw fit to give his secondary unit more minutes than usual due to the lopsided meeting.

Perth’s 53 per cent conversion rate, their plus-13 in rebounding and their 52 points in the paint was more than enough to get over the line in Melbourne last night.

Additionally, the statement victory has accordingly placed the Wildcats back into the top four on the standings and the side will now look to pursue the three other teams that currently sit above them.

Blanchfield finished the game with perhaps one of his best individual performances to date, racking up a team-high 22 points coupled with five assists. Next up on the docket was Mooney, who collected an 18-point and 13-rebound double-double, while Cotton (15 points and seven assists) and Jesse Wagstaff (12 points and three rebounds) were each double-digit contributors.

Out of the five starters from the Phoenix, just two managed to score 10 points or more. The first being Creek, who was able to string together a decent 16 points and 11 rebounds, whereas Sykes had a quiet 10 points and four rebounds in just under 29 minutes. Most noticeably, however, was Adnam’s 24 points and Ben Moore’s 18 points off the bench, as the two individuals were the side’s top producers on the night.

The second of the two games between the two squads will be played on Sunday with Perth looking to get their record above .500 with possibly their third win of the season. Meanwhile South East Melbourne look to get theirs back to even, as they dropped to fifth yesterday with loss number four to date.

Melbourne United prevail in come-from-behind win against Perth Wildcats

THE National Basketball League (NBL) battle between Melbourne United and Perth Wildcats continued last night with the game once again going down to the wire as United prevailed in the tight tussle (75-71). There was not much separating the two sides throughout the entire contest as they locked horns and the lead ebbed and flowed. But in the end, United found that extra gear to run it home and steal top spot collecting their fourth straight win.

It was blow for blow in the opening term with both sides trying to gain some rhythm and settle into the contest. Perth landed the first blow, opening the scoring account before Melbourne answered, with that dance continuing for much of the game. The Wildcats established a slim one point lead heading into quarter time and steadily increased that margin by the time half time came around boasting a five point lead thanks to a 28 to 24-point term.

Down by five points at the main change, United came out with a renewed sense of intensity and purpose with everything seeming to kick into gear. With increased defensive pressure and a new found ability to hit the scoreboard Melbourne managed to work their way back into the contest and flip the script and get to level pegging by three-quarter time. Their desperation and commitment continued in the final term, notching up 19 points and keeping the Wildcats to 15 as they skipped away to a strong come-from-behind four point victory.

It all came down to shooting accuracy with United flexing their muscles and making the most of their opportunities sitting at 49 per cent from the field compared to Perth’s lowly 34 per cent. It was a similar tale from two point range with United making 21 of their 34 attempts at an impressive 61 per cent while Perth struggled to find their radar only sinking 16 of 38 attempts at 42 per cent. Melbourne also had the upper hand when it came to accuracy from down town boasting a record of 32 per cent compared to 24. However when it came to dominance at the charity stripe, Perth had all the answers going along at a 85 per cent clip as opposed to 69 per cent.

Although the scoring was in favour of United, rebounds, assists, steals and turnovers all leant to Perth highlighting the overall closeness of the contest. The Wildcats showcased their strength off the boards dragging down 42 compared to 34 while Perth’s ability to share around the ball was on show registering 16 assists to 13. The Wildcats’ slick hands and read of the play also caused havoc recording nine steals to four while their cleanliness also shone true with 12 turnovers to 14.

Melbourne showed that they have a number of options that are capable of keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Although it was not the familiar faces that stepped up to the plate the win signifies the impressive level of depth United have as Jock Landale topscored with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists. Mitch McCarron was also handy chiming in with his 13 points at 62 per cent from the field while also amassing two rebounds, one assist and a steal. Yudai Baba was the only other United player to register double-figure points thanks to his 14 points, three rebounds and two assists. Dynamic duo Scotty Hopson and Jack White also added to their sides tally with nine and seven points respectively with the latter also walking away with eight rebounds, seven of which were defensive.

There were two main targets for Perth and it is no surprise that one of them was none other than Bryce Cotton. The guard was once again in scintillating form knocking back 24 points despite sitting at a 45 per cent conversion rate. He also managed seven rebounds and six assists in an all-round strong performance. Teammate John Mooney also stepped up to the plate sinking 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists as Mitchell Norton secured 11 points in his 22 minutes on court. Clint Steindl added a handy seven points to the total but it was not enough to get his side over the line.

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

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.

Picture: Getty Images