Tag: rj hampton

Young Guns in the NBL: RJ Hampton

NEW Zealand Breakers youngster, RJ Hampton has shown flashes of what could be, if he continues on this trajectory and develops to his full potential. He already has an impressive highlight reel and definitely has the capability to be a future basketball star. He is quick on his feet, able to dart around the key so fast that NBA players for the Thunder and Grizzlies get crossed up, giving Hampton a free lane to lay it in. He is so agile that he makes stagnant centres move all the way under the basket for an easy two.

Standing at 196cm and 85kgs Hampton can pull out illusive spin moves, fast-break finishes, reverse layups and riveting blocks.  Hampton’s rookie season in the National Basketball League (NBL) was filled with glimpses of elite-level stardom. Hampton’s best asset by far is his speed. He can break down defences off the dribble, change direction on a dime and shift his defender any way he chooses. He has shown all of this and more, from a season he came into as an 18-year-old. That is why the expectations for Hampton’s career are so high after a season averaging 8.8 points, 2.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds. Hampton was an integral asset for the New Zealand Breakers and played his role each time he stepped out on court. 

Throughout the 2019/20 season Hampton was excellent in coordinating the pick and roll on offence – something most rookies take years to master while also showcasing his play making abilities. He has good instincts about what to do with and without the ball and has taken some important strides in his ability to defend. When you consider he just turned 19 years old, it only enhances his stock. Add on to that the experience he accumulated from winning two gold medals for Team USA and Hampton has undergone an extensive learning experience already. He has proven his ability to evolve in high pressure circumstances and is always willing to take on advice which will go a long way in extending his career.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #2 – LaMelo and RJ go at it

EVERYONE just knew the game between the Illawarra Hawks and New Zealand Breakers – the first clash between likely top 10 NBA Draft selections LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton was going to be huge. What fans received was nothing short of expectations when in the very first possession for the Hawks, Hampton swatted Ball’s shot nearly into the stands. Every fan watching at home was on the edge of their seat as the large American audience tuned in for a battle between the future stars of their league. What other way could you explain the most-watched NBL game in history? Hampton, a silky smooth combo guard with size, going up against Ball, a flashy playmaker who also might be the most well known teenage basketball player outside the NBA. The two future stars put on a performance in Illawarra, showcasing exactly why they are ranked as some of the best basketball recruits on the planet. 

The night might go down as the first of many, many meetings between the two as they progress throughout their careers. The expectations for the duo ranged from just quality NBA players to carrying basketball entertainment for generations. Since the prospects decided to shake up the college and professional basketball landscapes by opting to play in the NBL, they have strengthened the league more than anything else ever could. In fact just Ball’s debut game for the NBL was at the time, the most watched game in NBL history. The duo drew over a million new fans on the NBL’s Facebook page, but could only play face-to-face once all season, making this moment all the more special.  

The showdown took place in front of 16 NBA scouts. That is more than half of the NBA having a representative to watch a Round 4 matchup between the two lowly ranked sides in Illawarra Hawks and the New Zealand Breakers. That is how much magnitude these stars behold just playing on the same floor. But Hampton looked to be as relaxed as ever, as his Breakers led a one-sided first quarter ending at 30-18. It was more of the same in the second, and even with Ball hitting back-to-back threes within the space of a minute, New Zealand had all but killed off any chance of a comeback, blowing its lead out to 27 points to end the fourth. But Ball was not going to leave without giving his fans something to remember. After a contested layup from Aaron Brooks missed, Ball came flying in from the baseline before throwing down a huge one handed put-back dunk. Even the Breaker fans got out of their seats. What a historic moment in NBL history.

Top 10 NBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 Phoenix upstage United in opening round
#9 Scotty Hopson’s consecutive buzzer beaters
#8 Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview
#7 Bryce Cotton hits game winner in grand final rematch
#6 Casper Ware torches former team in regular season
#5 Greatest comeback in NBL history
#4 LaMelo Ball posts back-to-back triple doubles
#3 John Roberson’s 21 points in last six minutes to win game
#2 LaMelo and RJ go at it

Opinion: What would happen if five Australians returned home to play in the NBL?

WHAT would happen in a reality where five of the best Australian NBA players returned to their home towns to play basketball in the NBL? Why? Maybe the NBA gets shut down because of the coronavirus, maybe they all just consequently and simultaneously become so patriotic for Australia that they take their talent to the Aussie leagues. It may sound silly, but Troy Hanning explains what it could mean for the NBL.

1 Ben Simmons (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

If you put Ben Simmons on the Melbourne Phoenix, it is a guaranteed championship. It is that simple. The only thing Simmons cannot do is hit a jumper from 10 feet away from the basket. 

But in a league where defenders are just a little slower to react and maybe a little shorter at the rim, Ben would average 40,15 and 10 by driving down to the rim and either dunking it or dishing it off to open cutters. Ben’s number one asset is that he is a point guard in a small forward’s body. He can dribble and dish at an elite level, and to add onto that, is 6’8″. That’s like being the most skilled driver in a race, and having the best car. If Ben was not 6’8″, with his elite dribbling skills and ability to find the open men, Ben would still be an elite point guard. Although his inability or insecurity to shoot long range jump shots is sometimes comical, the best of the best defenders have all taken a step back, anticipating the drive and still got scored on. So it is not like this limitation impedes on his impact on the game. 

Simmons clearly has confidence issues because it is not that he cannot shoot, it is that he choose not to. There are plenty of videos showing Simmons hitting threes at training or at a pre-game warm-up, efficiently. In fact his shot is actually pretty nice, but he has refused to shoot every year, which only adds to the pressure to shoot more. But when he comes to the NBL, he will have a little less media coverage and a little less attention. Maybe that lack of pressure serves to help Simmons’ shot. But even if he never gets better at shooting, or even never gets better at basketball, he is already a top 20 player on the planet, at only 23-years-old. So his biggest concern should not be his shooting, but his teammates, and that’s why South East Melbourne Phoenix is a perfect destination for the star. Simmons could have just as easily been signed by Melbourne United in this reality, but the temptation imagining him playing alongside John Roberson and Mitchell Creek, two men feared for their long range abilities, was just too much. 

Because for as great as Simmons is, we have never really seen him play in a system built to maximise his abilities. Which is honestly a compliment to Ben because he has been this good with teammates that constantly clog up the middle of the floor. If Ben was put in a team surrounded by four knock down shooters, the potential would be unlimited. Not to mention having the best shooter in the league in Roberson by your side, is a great way to start.

2 Dante Exum (Melbourne United)

In this reality, not only does Dante Exum sign with Melbourne United, but he also gets a completely new makeover, jumping from the point to the small forward. Do not get me wrong, Exum is a good point guard, but after contemplating every scenario of Exum at the one, the consensus was that the team is just too built around the backcourt of Shawn Long and Melo Trimble, to alter anything there. But surprisingly, this really works. Exum would be replacing Mitch McCarron’s spot in the rotation, who, while is a fairly decent scorer for the team, is just the one to make way in the starting five. Exum, who is a 6’6″ guard with a 6’9″ wingspan, would be used as a versatile small ball three who can make plays and defend nearly anyone on the court. World renowned as a phenomenal defender, who is athletic, long and quick, capable of shutting down anyone in front of him. It is fair to say that United would be lucky to have him in their arsenal. 

Although whenever anyone talks about Exum, it is never about what he’s done in the pros, but about his potential. But to be fair, he has never been put in a position to succeed. When he was drafted to the Utah Jazz, they already had point guard Trey Burke, so immediately Exum was coming off the bench. And once Burke left, the Jazz, while also prompted by the starting of Rudy Gobert, became one of the best defensive teams in the league. But that progress was stunted with an unfortunate torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). He then was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers who are simply a poorly run organisation, especially for a young player. That’s why in this reality, Exum can get as far away from Cleveland as possible, and be put on a team where he is given more attention, hopefully elevating his growth. With Melbourne United, Exum will be for the first time in his career, put on a team that highlights his strengths. 

Because the potential of Exum is a real thing. His performance in the FIBA Under 19s Championships where he led the Emus to the semi-finals is evident. Along with him finishing second in the lane ability drill at the NBA Draft Combine, literally a test to see how quickly you can sprint, shuffle and back pedal around the key. In United, with Trimble, Long and Chris Goulding all averaging over 17 points a game, Exum just needs to be reliant on defence. This role would suit his playing style almost perfectly, as by being the leader of the defence, he is contributing to the teams success immediately while being able to take his time to work on the offensive fundamentals patiently. The upside of this reality is endless, but even if Exum can never quite find his groove offensively, every team wants a ‘stopper’, who can lock up anyone, and Exum just fits this role naturally.

3 Aron Baynes (New Zealand Breakers)

With lineups getting smaller and smaller every year, and bigs becoming less relevant from one generation to the next, some people are beginning to question whether a team centred around a big, can still be a serious contender. The answer is that the evolution of the game has not led to the extinction of a valuable big man. Rather, it has fostered a period of evolution. Luckily for New Zealand, Aaron Baynes is the poster boy of a big man that has evolved successfully with the changing times. From attempting a combined seven threes in his first five seasons to 168 this season, the progression is evident. That’s a 2400% difference, keep in mind the season ended prematurely. A lot of the time bigs who can shoot are lanky, awkward ‘athletes’ who can’t hold their own with the physicality and toughness required in the paint. That is not Baynes. If coach Shamir wants a player to protect the paint, grab boards, then either hit an open three or bully his way to a bucket. That is Baynes. 

You can already picture it, Baynes setting a brick wall screen for Corey Webster, faking the roll, getting it and splashing it from the top of the three. The only real knock on Baynes (and nearly every other big man), is that he cannot create his own shot. Lucky for Baynes, the Breakers are full of selfless playmakers like Scotty Hopson and Sek Henry. But what stands to benefit the Breakers more than anything is Baynes’ esteemed experience. How often do you sign an upstanding veteran, whose played on four incredibly different teams with different expectations. From playing in two NBA finals to tanking, Baynes has seen it all, and has gathered a squeaky clean reputation. Nothing is worse than when you make a big free agent signing and the guy rolls in thinking the team revolves around him just to quickly become dismissive and deterred when things do not go his way. But Baynes’ teammates have had nothing but praise for the big man in each one of his stops, leading us to believe that his induction and progression with the Breakers would be more the same. If only this signing happened one year earlier, who knows, maybe RJ Hampton would stay another year. Baynes provides a similar physical presence to the likes of Andrew Bogut, and that guy has a pretty successful resume in the NBL. Just a classic bruiser in the paint who can attack the basket, hit a mid range and be a defensive nightmare for slashing guards.

4 Joe Ingles (Adelaide 36ers)

Having been born in the suburbs of Adelaide, the 36ers are the lucky team to sign Jinglin’ Joe Ingles. The former NBL Rookie of the Year left the league in 2009, and with his recent decline in minutes and his move to a bench role in the NBA, a return to the NBL might be more imminent than some believe. Ingles would be an asset to any team he plays on, because fortunate for Ingles, his skill set mixed with his size is exactly what every team in the modern NBL or NBA is looking for. A 6’8″ small forward who can be a team’s best playmaker while also shooting a career 40% from three. That’s because every value Ingles possesses, is transitional to any team or league Ingles is on. So when he joins the 36ers, he will still be an elite shooter, who can run an offence while also rebounding well, hence he will make the team better. Because of this versatility, he would also be the focal point of the offence, an important label every team needs yet the 36ers struggle to have, as the top three scorers of the team are all within five points difference of each other. Clearly Adelaide has the talent, but when you finish seventh in a nine team league, the roster just needs a superstar, a guy who can be the best player on a championship team in the NBL, that is Joe Ingles. 

What is crazy is that Ingles might actually be getting better. While the 32-year-old’s stats might only show a steady pace, Ingles limited experience in the NBA hints he still has more to learn, especially compared to other similarly aged athletes in the league. A great example of this development is in how he has been getting his three point shot off. In his first five seasons, 85 per cent of his threes came off assists, where Ingles would be waiting patiently somewhere on the three point arc for a driving cutter or fellow wing to whip him the ball, giving Joe an open shot. However this year, we have seen the Aussie begin to actually dribble into three-point attempts, coming down the court in transition or around a screen. This added element has not only expanded Ingles’ offensive skill set, making him a more lethal shooter from outside, but is evidence that Ingles still wants to grow as a basketball player. That desire to improve at his age, where he has already reached the NBA, and is already famous, and already has a bountiful salary, is a much less rare commodity then people would believe. That attitude is contagious and would really benefit a player like Harry Froling, who like Ingles, won the Rookie of the Year in 2019, and might have aspirations to one day play in the NBA. Coming from similar backgrounds, Ingles’ mere presence on the team might keep the future centrepiece satisfied and in 36ers jersey for a long time. 

5 Thon Maker (Perth Wildcats)

While Maker was born in South Sudan, he and his family moved to Perth at the age of five. He already has experience on the international scene for the Boomers and has an Australian passport. For this experiment given his hometown, Maker would qualify to play for the Wildcats. Maker is listed at seven feet and has a career accuracy of 32 per cent from three-point range. If that is not all you need to know about Maker before understanding how valuable a player like he is, he also possesses great leaping ability to go with his super-elite reach and wingspan. He can also run the floor, showing good ball-handling, passing, and shooting tools.

For other teams, there might be a little friction when a NBA player comes in and takes your spot, but this is one of the rare occasions where the team and the player just fit perfectly. In terms of dropping Maker at the five, it would look like the Perth Wildcats would have two options about how to execute it. First is to put Miles Plumlee at the four, accompanied by Maker at the five. This twin tower dynamic would wreak havoc in the paint. Just imagine Bryce Cotton sliding through massive screens to get a shot off, confident that one of the two giants will get the offensive rebound. Or if Cotten cannot get the shot off, since they are screen heavy, one of the two will likely have a mismatch they can exploit in the low post. However, having two slow centers risks the team being a liability when opponents inevitably try and switch the big fellas on the quicker guard. 

Although another plan of attack would be to just throw Plumlee on the bench. This is not an insulting adjustment because Plumlee has now more responsibility than ever. He is now the leader of the second unit and as a veteran with lots to contribute, he would thrive in this role.  When he subs in, there are going to be mismatches everywhere for the Wildcats to capitalise on. Since every contending team has at least one person sacrificing their talent for the better of the team, Plumlee would have to take the step back in order to win.

No matter how it happens, this team is much better with Maker than without. One of the Wildcats’ few flaws is their rebounding, so having a seven-footer who despite lacking strength, does not shy away from contact, is a clear advantage. The little to big dynamic of Cotton and Maker would sell out arenas, not just because it is an entertaining novelty, but there really is no ceiling to how good they can be. If they could master the pick and pop, they would be unstoppable. That is not an exaggeration, it would nearly be impossible to get over a screen from Maker fast enough to deflect him getting it and then trying to disturb the seven-footer shooting a jump shot. Maker and Cotton would be the evolution of the pick and roll. For him to ever reach this ceiling, it would take an incredible work ethic, which by all accounts Makers has, and a surge of confidence, which a league like the NBL can help foster.

2019/20 NBL preview: Round 17 – Little time left in the season, who will break?

THE battle for that elusive fourth spot in the finals is set to ramp up, as four sides are within a single win of snagging a higher position. Following United’s crushing defeat to the Breakers, they need to recover quickly if they are to hold on to their position in the standings, as they close out the round to an in-form Sydney side that is hot off the back of a South East Melbourne drubbing. On the other hand, the Bullets face an important double-header weekend in their quiet run to the postseason, squaring up to a down-and-out Phoenix side and an anxious 36ers squad raring to go in front of their home crowd. Lastly, out in WA, Perth is keen to steal top spot from the Kings, but will have to topple the Breakers who have fought back into the title conversation after their own successful double-header last week with convincing victories against United and Sydney.

Brisbane Bullets vs South East Melbourne Phoenix
Thursday, January 23, 7:30pm
Nissan Arena

Both of these sides go into Round 17 with very different feelings as to what is expected of them. The Brisbane Bullets, who just recently came off a strong victory against the Illawarra Hawks, now sit equal fourth with Melbourne United (both teams are 11-11) vying for that last playoff spot. Their expectation coming into the last week of January is to stay ahead of the mid-table pack, whereas for the Phoenix, their expectation is catching up with the pack. With just six games remaining, there is a slight chance South East Melbourne could regain lost footing, however, this would require a perfect ending to the season where the Phoenix would win all of their remaining games. This begins with Brisbane on Thursday night. For Brisbane in terms of strengths, it starts and ends with their frontcourt. Led by Lamar Patterson’s big numbers both in points and rebounds (20.59 points and 6.0 rebounds), good performances by Will Magnay (8.14 points and 5.67 rebounds) and the in-form Matthew Hodgson (10.3 points and 5.77 rebounds) would go a long way in attaining a must-win contest at home on Thursday night. For the Phoenix, it has been an uncharacteristic last month for Mitchell Creek (19.95 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists), who has been unable to find his rhythm as of late. In Creek’s last five contests, the small-forward has failed to crack twenty points in a game, while also getting diminishing numbers in his assists and rebounds. For the Phoenix to get the results they want at this end of the season, Creek will need to return to the form he had throughout the first half of the campaign. With Dane Pineau, John Roberson and Kendall Stephens running the backcourt, responsibility will fall to their bigs if they are to give the Bullets a run for their money.

Illawarra Hawks vs Sydney Kings
Friday, January 24, 7:30pm
WIN Entertainment Centre

In Round 17, we get to see the best team in the NBL matchup against the worst, but given the last time these two teams met it was the Hawks that came out on top in a shock upset, so it is best not to underestimate this Hawks side. It will be the Hawks that will need to find a way to stop the rampant Kings offence from gaining traction early on in the ballgame. Veterans in Todd Blanchfield and Tim Coenraad were able to hold off the Kings in their last meeting due to slick ball-movement and consistency from the floor. Blanchfield has been in terrific form, averaging 21.4 points per game over the last month and will be one of the go-to men for his struggling Illawarra team. In regards to Sydney, ultimately for the standings’ frontrunners, Sydney has one of the most lethal ball-handling duos in Casper Ware (19.8 points and 4.1 assists) and Jae’Sean Tate (15.7 points and 5.6 rebounds), who were instrumental in last week’s win against the Phoenix, need to use their speed to their advantages, thus creating space for shooters such as Daniel Kickert (8.6 points and 3.0 rebounds) and Didi Louzada (10.0 points and 4.1 rebounds). With the Perth Wildcats one lone win behind the Kings, it is imperative that they are not complacent, as an unlikely loss would shift the whole finals schedule. For the Hawks, being out of finals contention might prove to be good for the NSW side, as there is ample time to prepare for next season. But for the most part, it is about maintaining an adequate level of pride now for the bottom seeded team.

Adelaide 36ers vs Brisbane Bullets
Saturday, January 25, 5:30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Perhaps the most significant game of the round in terms of the standings, the Bullets enter South Australia two days after the first of their two games over the weekend looking to enter the top four, should Melbourne go down to Sydney the next day. For Adelaide, it is a matter of climbing back up the standings as they currently sit anxiously in seventh, coming off a hard loss to Cairns. With Adelaide lacking the necessary depth to challenge the Taipans for four whole quarters last week, despite a monumental 38 points from Daniel Johnson, this week will not be the time to repeat that same game plan. Bigs like Eric Griffin (15.0 points and 6.6 rebounds) and Harry Froling (7.0 points & 3.0 rebounds) seemed almost non-existent in their performances against the Taipans, indicating a major crossroad for the way the 36ers hope to finish the season, especially given the power and strength Brisbane has in its own frontcourt. While Brisbane has quietly risen up to fourth position, it should not go unrecognised that the Bullets’ captain Nathan Sobey has been playing a good brand of basketball up until this point in the season averaging 15.95 points, 3.5 assists and four rebounds a game, meaning given what is on the line for Sobey’s squad, you can most likely expect one of the captain’s best performances to date in his lengthy NBL career.

Perth Wildcats vs New Zealand Breakers
Saturday, January 25, 8:00pm
RAC Arena

It seems as if every single game from now on has a significance around it and this is another case of just that. A win for Perth may very well tie them at the top of the table with the Kings should they lose to United on Sunday. While for the Breakers, a win could edge them closer into the top four depending on the results of various other games. The clash between these two teams is set to be an offensive showdown with two of the league’s best wing players going head-to-head in Terrico White (16.6 points and 3.9 rebounds) and Scotty Hopson (19.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists). While these two stars of the league battle it out, Bryce Cotton (22.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists) would have the advantage against whoever would fill the one spot for the Breakers given his run of form as of late. Averaging over 22 points per game, Cotton has cracked the twenty-point mark in every game over the past month and it does not look like Rj Hampton or an injury-hampered Sek Henry have the repertoire to slow him down at this stage. Another focus point for New Zealand has been the attention around big-man Robert Loe, who until recently had really come into his own. In his last four encounters, Loe has averaged almost 14 points a game and has been a substantial threat around the ring and could be a major issue for the likes of Miles Plumlee and Nicholas Kay. A win for either team here would speak volumes for how their respective seasons can pan out.

South East Melbourne Phoenix vs Cairns Taipans
Sunday, January 26, 3:00pm
State Basketball Centre

South East Melbourne heads back home for their second game of the round looking to either continue their perfect string of games or take part in a less meaningful occasion, should the Phoenix go down to the Bullets in the round-opener. The Taipans however, have worked themselves into third position with a little bit of breathing room as they aim to keep a two-game distance from United and Brisbane or perhaps start to whittle down the deficit between them and the Wildcats. Last week was a major flex for Cairns late in the season, as Dj Newbill (19.6 points and 3.1 assists), Scott Machado (16.9 points and 8.1 assists) and Cameron Oliver (16.6 points & 9.2 rebounds) all dominated in their team’s performance against the 36ers, as all players produced massive efforts in the contest, showcasing possibly what the best form from the trio would look like, which is a stern warning to the rest of the league. Whilst the game plan should not be too different for the Phoenix following on from their Brisbane clash, again it will come down to their bigs’ ability to control the defensive glass and limit second chance points from the likes of Oliver, Kouat Noi and Majok Deng.

Sydney Kings vs Melbourne United
Sunday, January 26, 5:00pm
Qudos Bank Arena

The tipping point is at Melbourne United’s front door, as they currently sit in the middle of a major slump, losing four of their last five clashes, most recently against the Breakers in Auckland. With the added pressure of Brisbane now level with them in the standings, United should come out firing immediately in Sydney’s fortress and should settle for nothing less than a victory if they are to stay in the top four. While Melbourne’s shooting woes continue to hinder their run to the postseason, the biggest talking point is the abysmal run of late for point guard Melo Trimble (19.3 points and 5.0 assists). Averaging only 10 points per game in the last month and seeing a five-minute decrease on the floor in their loss to New Zealand, the United coaching staff have been testing new structures to get the struggling side in the air, with only a handful of games left to play. Perhaps the recent good form of Chris Goulding (17.4 points) and the defensive consistency of Shawn Long (19.4 points and 9.6 rebounds) is enough to topple a strong Sydney offence. For the Sydney Kings, their main objective on the night should be making United second guess their defensive strategies. Whether it be through various screens and post plays, it has been proven that with Ware and Andrew Bogut (8.5 points and 9.1 rebounds) both on the floor, the team’s ball-movement is unrivalled across the league and should cause Melbourne significant headaches when these two are on the floor.

2019/20 NBL preview: Round 16 – Milestones to highlight big round heading into finals

WITH only four rounds to go in the National Basketball League (NBL), expect some big performances and ladder defining games to take place in hope to secure that all elusive finals spot. Round 16 also marks plenty of milestones for a host of key players adding further excitement to the clashes.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS v. SYDNEY KINGS
Friday, January 17, 5:30pm
TSB Stadium

After gathering some momentum, the Breakers hit a wall last round dropping both their games and relegating them back to eighth spot on the ladder while their opponents firmed their spot on top. The Kings have been the team to beat all season and this game will be no different with Sydney looking to well and truly announce themselves on the competition and iron out any inconsistencies in their game play. However, finals are not completely out of the picture for New Zealand and they will know that, making for a game jam-packed with action. The Breakers have shown that they can do the unthinkable and stamp their foot down with their clever ball movement but the biggest obstacle will be shutting down livewire Casper Ware and big man Andrew Bogut. Both players are influential for the Kings able to turn the game on its head within an instant. Ware can score from anywhere and at any given time while Bogut’s no-nonsense attitude and big frame at the basket is hard to stop. But the Breakers have their own stalwart of players with the likes of Robert Loe and Scotty Hopson able to drop hefty totals when needed. Loe was well held in his second game last week, but knocked back 24 points in the game before showcasing his skillset and scoring prowess. If New Zealand are any chance to make finals they must win this clash against the Kings, which will be no easy feat.

PERTH WILDCATS v. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Friday, January 17, 9:20pm
RAC Arena

Being one win away from first place on the ladder expect the Wildcats to come out with plenty of intensity against the Phoenix in hope to snatch prime position. Both sides have the same winning pattern in the last five rounds – two wins, three losses – and will be looking for consistency heading into the finals. The Phoenix are a smoky to make finals but if they can pull off a coup here it could set them up for a finals berth but they must bring their A-game. On the other hand, Perth are well aware of the stakes at hand if they drop the game with the gap between them and third reducing. In recent weeks, superstar Mitch Creek has struggled to have his usual prolific impact on the scoreboard and will want to rectify that if South East Melbourne are any shot of toppling the Wildcats. Kendall Stephens made a big splash in Round 15 posting a team-high 20 points while veteran Ben Madgen also stood up to take control of the game. Both players will be hoping to duplicate their performances again this round to keep their finals hopes alive. It will prove to be a milestone game for Bryce Cotton with the Perth Wildcats shooting machine set to play his 100th NBL game. Cotton is no stranger to the big stage or big moments and will be looking to deliver once again while teammate Terrico White has also found some form in the past couple of games making them a deadly combo. Nick Kay should not be forgotten about able to hit the scoreboard and collect rebounds making them a well-rounded team.

BRISBANE BULLETS v. ILLAWARRA HAWKS
Saturday, January 18, 5:30pm
Nissan Arena

It has not been a great year for Illawarra who have struggled from the get-go and the Bullets will be aiming to capitalise on their inconsistencies in hope to progress further up the ladder. Brisbane will be searching for their fourth win in five weeks showcasing the hot form they are in meanwhile the Hawks will be looking to secure just their sixth win for the season. The Bullets have consolidated in recent weeks, running the court well and sharing the load around making them a real threat to be reckoned with. To continue the round of celebrations, Nathan Sobey will make his 150th NBL appearance while opposition player, Josh Boone will play his 100th with both players looking to leave a lasting imprint in their milestone matches. The Hawks will have their work cut out for them up against Lamar Patterson who can turn on the afterburners. Patterson is a real barometer for the Bullets, once he gets started he is hard to stop, going to post, dishing off assists and collecting rebounds. Support from Sobey, Cameron Gliddon and Taylor Braun will help to set up a strong foundation for the Bullets. Todd Blanchfield has been a shining light for the Hawks this season with the captain consistently leading from the front and doing his part to post a competitive total. He will need assistance from the likes of Sunday Dech and Tim Coenraad if they are any chance to rustle their opponents feathers.

CAIRNS TAIPANS v. ADELAIDE 36ers
Saturday, January 18, 8:00pm
Cairns Convention Centre

This could quite easily be one of the games of the round given how much is at stake for both teams. The Taipans have a firm grip on third spot, sitting slightly ahead of Melbourne United but the Adelaide 36ers cannot be discounted nipping at the heels of the top four. Cairns are coming off a loss last round while the 36ers will be riding high after securing a hard-fought win making it an enthralling clash between the two sides. Adelaide have proven they have what it takes to play finals and a win here could all but secure them a spot but the Taipans will be out for vengeance. DJ Newbill has been a key player for Cairns leading the way both on the scoreboard and with rebounds while Majok Deng has come into his own in recent weeks knocking back 18 points and six rebounds in Round 15. However, the most deadly duo for Cairns is Scott Machado and Cameron Oliver with the two able to single handily change the course of a game with their scoring prowess and basketball nous. Both had relatively quiet games by their lofty standards last week and will be looking to make amends against the 36ers. Adelaide are not without their own plethora of star players with the likes of Eric Griffin and Jerome Randle headlining the attack. Randle is renowned for his ability to stand up in clutch moments and deliver while Griffin is an imposing figure across the court. Daniel Johnson is another key player for the 36ers and will have to perform if his side is going to make it to finals.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS v. MELBOURNE UNITED
Sunday, January 19, 3:00pm
Spark Arena

New Zealand will host the inconsistent Melbourne United who have struggled to maintain their winning ways throughout the season. With a spot at finals on the line the Breakers cannot afford to leave anything to chance and must dominate from the first buzzer if they are to keep Melbourne at bay. Much like the Breakers, United will have to get on the front foot early to solidify their spot in the top four making it a do-or-die clash for both teams. Melbourne are coming off a disappointing loss and will be seeking to prove themselves against their lower ranked opposition and most importantly iron out any gaping flaws. In his 50th NBL game and career best form Shawn Long will be hoping to set the court alight with his damaging style of play, attack on the scoreboard and tenacity. Paired with the likes of fellow 50 gamer Melo Trimble the two could cause all sorts of havoc add in captain, Chris Goulding expect plenty of fireworks. The trio have plenty of potential with Stanton Kidd also developing into a key figure in the line-up and Shea Ili returning. Young gun RJ Hampton can have an impact for the Breakers while Sek Henry and Tom Abercrombie all know how to hit the scoreboard.

SYDNEY KINGS v. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Sunday, January 19, 5:00pm
Qudos Bank Arena

In the final game of the round there is plenty on the line with South East Melbourne Phoenix looking to stay in touch with the rest of the pack while the Kings are hoping to pull further away at the top of the ladder. It will be a tantalising match-up given the star power both sides have, however inconsistency has plagued South East Melbourne throughout the season and Sydney will be looking to exploit that. The Kings have gone from strength to strength and have an impressive win-loss ratio in front of their home crowd only dropping two games and winning nine giving them the upper hand heading into the clash. The hosts have plenty of options when it comes to scoreboard pressure with Jae’Sean Tate able to pile on the points along with Brad Newley and Didi Louzada. Throw in Ware and Bogut and the Phoenix are up for a tough battle but they will know how much a win here could change their season. Dane Pineau was red hot last round recording a double-double thanks to his 19 rebounds and 14 points while John Roberson is as cool, calm and collected as they come making him a game changer for the Phoenix. This game could go down to the wire so expect plenty of fireworks.

2019/20 NBL Round 15 preview: Race for finals set to tighten

WITH one win separating the first placed Sydney Kings and second placed Perth Wildcats a loss in Round 15 could see a new ladder leader. The battle does not stop there with a mere three wins separating third from eighth meaning each game this round could alter the ladder and shape the finals race.

CAIRNS TAIPANS v. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Thursday, January 9, 7:30pm
Cairns Convention Series

At the start of the season not many would have expected this to be the game of the round but both sides are coming in hot and are looking to extend their respective winning streaks. New Zealand have won their past five games while the Taipans have made it four from their last five making it a tantalising Thursday night battle. The Breakers have been dealt their fair share of struggles throughout the season but have found the winning formula in the last couple of rounds and will want to keep that momentum going if they are to make finals. Scotty Hopson has been key for them hitting the scoreboard time and time again while Tom Abercrombie has shown his worth recording a team-high 24 points in their last outing. The likes of Finn Delaney and Robert Loe have also been important for the Breakers with the duo combining nicely across the court. In front of a home crowd expect the likes of Scott Machado and Cameron Oliver to stand up and relish the pressure. Both know how to put on a show with their rangy shooting while Oliver has proven he is an asset coming off a strong performance of 12 rebounds and 21 points. It will be a tight battle and with plenty on the line expect the Taipans and Breakers to leave no stone unturned to secure prime position on the ladder.

ILLAWARRA HAWKS v. PERTH WILDCATS
Friday, January 10, 7:30pm
Win Entertainment Centre

It has been a testing year for the Illawarra Hawks who have been dealt a handful of injuries to key players and struggled to make a real splash. On the other hand, the Wildcats have continued to go from strength to strength despite suffering a shock loss last round. The Hawks have put up a strong contest week in, week out but have fallen short and with the Wildcats looking for redemption could be in for a tough match. Bryce Cotton has been up to his usual tricks shooting from anywhere and most importantly capitalising, making him a real danger man for the Hawks. If he and Terrico White can get off the chain early they could pose a dominant threat and cause havoc for their opposition given their scoring prowess. Another key player to look out for will be Nick Kay who can have a profound impact if given the time and space. The addition of NBA star Miles Plumlee will provide further depth, class and firepower to an already stacked Perth line-up. Illawarra will once again be without star recruit LaMelo Ball who has proven to be a real game changer and will be sorely missed in the clash given his tenacity, class and flashy gameplay. Josh Boone has made a splash in recent weeks along with Todd Blanchfield but if the Hawks are any chance to get over the line they will need big performances from their star players.

SYDNEY KINGS v. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Saturday, January 11, 5:30pm
Qudos Bank Arena

The top of the table Sydney Kings will be aiming to extend their lead, taking on the Taipans who have put their hand up for finals contention. Cairns have been in hot form in the past month but having played one game already this round could suffer some fatigue, something they cannot afford to do against a slick Kings outfit. The Kings have a plethora of star power both on the court and bench with Casper Ware the main instigator when it comes to scoring. Ware can explode out of the blocks with his dynamic movement and hustle to get in tight and attack the boards, meanwhile big man Andrew Bogut is a prominent threat for the Taipans given his stature and basketball nous. Throw in Jae’Sean Tate and the Taipans could be in for a real battle but have proven on more than one occasion that they can mix it with the best in the business. DJ Newbill is as experienced as they come and is a real leader for the group using his skill and body positioning to get within scoring range or gobble up rebounds. Fellow Cairns teammates Machado, Oliver and Nate Jawai must weather the storm that is the Kings and bring their signature play to the table to topple the ladder leading Kings in what could be another enthralling battle.

ADELAIDE 36ers v. MELBOURNE UNITED
Saturday, January 11, 8:00pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Expect plenty of excitement on Saturday night with both sides coming off important wins and looking towards the finals. Melbourne United had a slow start to the season unable to string consecutive wins but have found some form as of late, claiming victory in three of their past five games and will be looking to consolidate against Adelaide. The 36ers had a mixed bag of results in Round 14 and will be looking to potentially leapfrog the Taipans if they are held winless this round. It will be an interesting battle with United having a wealth of options to choose from and headlined by former New Zealand Breakers star, Shawn Long who is in career-best form. Melo Trimble has been relatively quiet in recent weeks and will be hoping to have a big impact against Adelaide to get his side over the line. The combination between Chris Goulding and Trimble has shown to be impactful in the past with their dynamic style and ability to bounce off each other while Stanton Kidd came into his own last round in a dominant outing. The 36ers are not without their own weaponry in the likes of Jerome Randle who if left unattended can cause all sorts of trouble collecting 43 points last round across two outings. Eric Griffin is another key player for Adelaide, able to have an impact at the basket, while Daniel Johnson provides plenty of excitement.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS v. BRISBANE BULLETS
Sunday, January 12, 3:00pm
Spark Arena

In their second game of the round and back on home soil the Breakers will be hoping to make it two from two to cap off a successful week. The Bullets have had an up and down season to say the least but will be seeking revenge after a loss on the buzzer two weeks ago against cross-ditch rivals. The Breakers have shown class and composure under pressure in recent weeks to prevail in tight matches, but will have to bring their A-game against the Bullets who have Lamar Patterson. The forward knocked back 35 points last round and will be wanting to replicate his hot form once again to guide his team to victory. Nathan Sobey and Ej Singler showed their worth last round going to post and using their skill to mount pressure both offensively and defensively for Brisbane. The Bullets have a tendency to fade in and out of games but if they find the right time to strike they could fly home happy. Youngster RJ Hampton has his moments but if he can have a big game for the Breakers it could set the side up and make them a real threat with finals quickly approaching. Sek Henry is another one that could explode out of the blocks after a couple of quieter games.

ILLAWARRA HAWKS v. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Sunday, January 12, 5:00pm
Win Entertainment Centre

It has been a disappointing past couple of rounds for the Phoenix who have simply fallen off the wagon making this clash with Hawks an interesting one. Although the Hawks have only registered five wins for the year they have shown glimpses of brilliance but have not regularly performed. South East Melbourne have struggled to maintain their consistency, putting together solid patches with key wins over higher ranked sides but then dropping the ball. Expect former NBA star Mitch Creek to be out for revenge after a quiet game last round only managing a mere 11 points by his lofty standards while John Roberson has continued to stand up and score freely no matter the situation. Roberson sunk 31 points in his side’s loss and will need support from the likes of Ben Madgen and Dane Pineau if they are any chance of winning against the Hawks. Illawarra will be looking for big performances from Emmett Naar and Sunday Dech who can both hit the scoreboard and apply defensive pressure with three steals collectively.

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

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

1 SYDNEY KINGS

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

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

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

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

2 PERTH WILDCATS

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

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

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

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

3 MELBOURNE UNITED

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

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

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

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

4 CAIRNS TAIPANS

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

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

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

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

5 ADELAIDE 36ERS

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

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

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

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

6 SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX

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

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

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

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

7 BRISBANE BULLETS

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

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

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

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

8 NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS

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

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

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

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

9 ILLAWARRA HAWKS

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

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

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

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

2019/20 NBL weekend preview: Round 12 – Mid-table logjam to split after the round’s games

IT has been a fairly even ladder between the top two and bottom two sides in the National Basketball League (NBL), with the positions third to seventh all separated by just a couple of wins heading into Christmas. With still plenty to play out, teams are trying to jostle to get ahead of one another as the home run begins in the new year.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS vs. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Friday, December 20, 5:30pm
Spark Arena

In the opening game of the round, South East Melbourne Phoenix cross the ditch to take on the New Zealand Breakers at Spark Arena. The Phoenix claimed the win in these sides only other clash, getting up 103-78 at Melbourne Arena. New Zealand has claimed all of its four wins at home this season, but still only run at a 50 per cent win-loss ratio. The Phoenix have picked up two wins from five encounters on the road, but have been shaky over the past month since a terrific start to the NBL season. New Zealand cannot move from its eighth placed spot even with a loss, though it could if it also goes down to Illawarra on Sunday. The Phoenix could leapfrog Cairns once again, and have two games in hand on the Taipans, whilst also putting pressure on Adelaide 36ers, with a better points differential. Unfortunately for the home side, this season has had a number of challenges that the Breakers have had to overcome, both on and off the court. An injury to American import Scotty Hopson saw him miss seven games this season, while Glen Rice Jnr lasted three games before having his contract torn up for off-field concerns. In fact, only one player – Thomas Abercrombie has started every game this year, while Sek Henry and Brandon Ashley have also taken to the court in each match for season 2019/20. On the other hand, the Phoenix have had a relatively stable line-up, with four players starting in every game and a further two featuring in every match. Mitch Creek (22.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.1 steals) has shown why he earned a spot in the NBA, while John Roberson (20.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists) showed why he is a match-winner last round with his 21 points in six minutes to haul the Phoenix over the line against Cairns. The Phoenix should win this, but have not been as solid as they were to start the season.

 

ADELAIDE 36ERS vs. ILLAWARRA HAWKS*
Friday, December 20, 8:00pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Challenging Melbourne for that third spot on the NBL table, Adelaide 36ers have been building nicely of late, moving clear of the other finals hopefuls below them. The 36ers know that can change, but they should not have a problem against the LaMelo Ball-less Illawarra Hawks. While the Hawks have shown some exciting form this season, for all their hard work, they sit at just three wins from 11 games, and just one from six on the road. They are also coming off three consecutive losses, while the 36ers have won two on the trot, and are 4-2 when in South Australia. In their only other matchup this season, Adelaide got home by six points up at Illawarra. With this game closing out the Hawks’ round ahead of Christmas, they get an extended break until the next round. With Ball still out injured and joining fellow American, and NBA player Aaron Brooks on the sidelines, the Hawks have to dig deep to get a result in this game. Todd Blanchfield (10.8 points, 4.0 rebounds) is the next highest scorer, with AJ Ogilvy (9.3 points, 6.9 rebounds) also impressive. To the Hawks’ credit, they share the points around on offence, with 13 of their 14 players averaging at least two points this season. Jerome Randle will be quite a handful for the Hawks, with the Ukrainian guard posting up 19.9 points and 4.3 assists per season. He is among the most in-form players of late after some massive numbers on the weekend. He and teammate Daniel Johnson – who has a massive 27cm on Randle – has also been huge throughout the season, posting up 16.7 points and 8.5 rebounds and becoming incredibly difficult to guard. Assisting Johnson in that big man role is Eric Griffin who has come off the bench on a number of occasions and earned starting spots for six matches, averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds. Adelaide should continue the form and get the points in this game.

 

BRISBANE BULLETS vs. SYDNEY KINGS
Saturday, December 21, 5:30pm
Queensland State Netball Centre

In their only game of Round 12, Brisbane Bullets host the top of the table Sydney Kings. The Kings have seemingly looked human of late, but still remain at the top for a reason, winning 12 of a possible 15 games thus far in 2019/20. The Bullets are still alive in the season, but they would want to get a move on, sitting two games outside the top four with a 6-9 record. At home they have had a much better time of it, saluting in four of their six games, while the Kings have not surprisingly been strong on the road with a 6-2 record themselves. Given the Kings have a huge clash two days later against the Phoenix, they would not want to drop this game. In the teams last encounter, it was Sydney that got up with a 10-point win in Brisbane, which followed on from a 15-point victory at home a couple of weeks prior. Brisbane has talent on its list, but needs it to fire more consistently, with former Adelaide guard, Nathan Sobey coming up against his old side. In season 2019/20, Sobey has averaged 15.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists – a slight drop in terms of rebounding and assisting – which his former teammates might be quick to remind him of if he does not produce in the match. Along with Sobey, Lamar Patterson has been a rock of consistency across the court, putting up numbers of 19.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. He would be a good shout for a Team of the Year candidate if the side was determined today. The Kings just have more depth and have been performing more consistently from week to week this season. Casper Ware is one of the recruits of the year, crossing from arch rivals Melbourne United, and averaging 21.2 points. 3.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Fellow American, Jae’Sean Tate has also enjoyed a strong season thus far, averaging 15.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. With Andrew Bogut (8.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists) still working the floor, the veteran center will always be one that the opposition attempts to contain. Sydney to get up in this one unless Brisbane really bring the heat for an upset.

 

PERTH WILDCATS vs. MELBOURNE UNITED
Saturday, December 21, 8:00pm
RAC Arena

Both these powerfully-supported sides go head-to-head prime time on Saturday night, with plenty on the line for the teams. Last year’s grand finalists have already played twice this season with the reigning premier Wildcats getting up by a combined three points in those outings. In the opening round of the season, Perth won 94-93 at home, before getting the job done in Melbourne just two weeks later in a 95-93 thriller. Two months on, and United is a different beast with a hot run of form over the past month and a half to go from the bottom of the table to third overall. Coming into this game after a win over Illawarra last round, United will have to be at their best to end the four-game winning streak of Perth. What makes these teams so strong is the fact they have elite talent, coupled with great depth meaning this contest will likely join its predecessors as going down to the wire. With a home court advantage, Perth is 6-2 for the season, while Melbourne is 2-4 when on the road and will need to break those troubles if it is to get up in this game. Bryce Cotton continues to stamp his authority on the competition week to week, putting up 22.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He and fellow American guard, Terrico White (16.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists) have thrown plenty of one-two punches this season, with Nick Kay providing good support in the forward role, thanks to 14.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game. United’s Melo Trimble has been the big points scorer this season, averaging 22 points and five assists per game since crossing from Cairns over the off-season. Shawn Long was possibly the recruit of the off-season, and becoming a legitimate chance for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) this year. The win would move Melbourne to within two games of Perth in second spot, while for the Wildcats, a victory would almost lock up a top two spot barring a second half of the season collapse.

 

ILLAWARRA HAWKS vs. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Sunday, December 22, 3:00pm
WIN Entertainment Centre

Two teams that are realistically out of the finals race unless they spark a run over the second half of the season, New Zealand Breakers travel to Illawarra to face the Hawks in the teams second games for the round. The Hawks are comfortably on the bottom of the table, a win and points difference behind the Breakers – again barring the results from earlier this round. In an afternoon game, the Hawks will be hoping to break the four-game head-to-head losing streak against New Zealand. The last time Illawarra triumphed in the matchup, was January 18 this year, having gone down to the Breakers a further two times last season, and two times this season. Last time the teams faced off was in New Zealand – as have been the past three encounters – with the Breakers winning, 91-79. With no Ball for this clash, Blanchfield and Ogilvy will be crucial to the Hawks’ chances, with Tim Coenraad (8.8 points and 2.9 rebounds) and David Anderson (7.6 points and 2.8 rebounds) the next in line who the Hawks will look to in this must-win game. While the Breakers have also struggled to keep a consistent team together due to injury and suspension, youngsters, Finn Delany (10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists) and RJ Hampton (9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals) have given the Breakers fans plenty of exciting moments. The talent is there, it is just getting it to work cohesively and get the wins on the board. The Breakers must win this if there is to be any hope of a finals revival, while for the Hawks, they will want to get off the bottom of the ladder in time and this is one of those games they have to get up in if they are to do it.

 

CAIRNS TAIPANS vs. ADELAIDE 36ERS
Sunday, December 22, 5:00pm
Cairns Convention Centre

The next game that features two teams with one coming off an earlier fixtures in the round and another playing its first of the weekend. Cairns Taipans will be keen to make the most of a home court advantage with a clash against Adelaide 36ers in this game, coming in fresh while the 36ers will have to overcome Illawarra at home on Friday night before crossing the country to face the Taipans. The Taipans have a 5-3 record at home, while the 36ers sit at 4-5 from their road trips. In the teams most recent clash back in Round 3, Adelaide got up over Cairns in a four-point victory. Cameron Oliver has been huge in both stature and impact this season, with the 203cm, 102kg forward averaging 16.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. Scott Machado (15.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 1.4 steals) and Kouat Noi (11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds) have provided strong support, while Nathan Jawai has also run out in every game for 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds. Johnson and Griffin provide the height and Randle provides the firepower for the 36ers, while Harry Froling‘s work off the bench, along with Obiri Kyei has handed the starters some relief this season. The 36ers need to win here in order to keep touch with the top four, whilst a win to Cairns could see the Taipans jump back into fourth spot and steal the position back.

 

SYDNEY KINGS vs. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Monday, December 23, 7:30pm
Qudos Bank Arena

In the final game of the round, played on the day before Christmas Eve, Sydney Kings fans are expected to pack out Qudos Bank Arena in the hope of receiving an early Christmas gift with a ‘W’ here. The Phoenix have been treading water after such a strong start to the season, but are capable of anything on their day. They did go down to Sydney in the teams most recent clash, losing 86-90 at Melbourne Arena. After dropping a rare game two matches back, the Kings bounced back with an important win over Melbourne United on the weekend, and will be keen to add another victory to its total. Sitting a game clear on top ahead of Perth due to playing two less games coming into Round 12, the Kings will be keen to extend their advantage on the reigning premiers. For the Phoenix, they perilously sit just outside the top four, and with two chances of victory in the Round, the league’s newest side cannot afford to start slipping much further behind for the good of its finals chances. A couple of underrated prospects for the Kings are young gun, Didi Louzada, with the Brazilian big man averaging 10.9 points and 4.3 rebounds, and Brad Newley who has posted 11.7 points and 4.6 rebounds. The Phoenix also do not have to rely on the likes of Creek and Roberson, with Ben Madgen averaging 11.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists, and Dane Pineau being the fourth player to start every game, managing 7.9 points and 7.4 rebounds, as well as an assist, block and steal throughout the season thus far.

Rollercoaster season for Phoenix to reach crossroads in Round 12

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

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

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

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

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

How did we get here?

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

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

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

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

What does the Phoenix’s season say about them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round 12 schedule

vs New Zealand Breakers

Friday, December 20, 2019 @ Horncastle Arena

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

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

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

vs Sydney Kings

Monday, December 23, 2019 @ Qudos Bank Arena

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

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

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

2019/20 NBL weekend preview: Round 11 – Rivals set to do battle

ARCH rivals, Melbourne United and Sydney Kings will create plenty of interest in the National Basketball League (NBL) Round 11, while Cairns Taipans hope to keep the streak going in a double-up effort against Perth Wildcats and South East Melbourne Phoenix.

CAIRNS TAIPANS v PERTH WILDCATS
Thursday December 12, 7:30
Cairns Convention Centre

Round 11 again opens in Cairns with a mouth-watering matchup between the two in-form teams in the league, the Taipans and the Wildcats. The Taipans look to make it four in a row after two big Round 10 wins against the Breakers and the first-placed Kings. Taipans stars DJ Newbill and Scott Machado were huge in both victories and will be looking to continue their form as the season passes the halfway point. Majok Deng also put up big numbers, dropping 20 off the bench against the Breakers. The Taipans have shot over 50 per cent in both games and will need to continue their efficiency again to topple a red-hot Wildcats. Perth are also coming off two Round 10 wins with one coming against the Kings. The usual suspects Bryce Cotton and Boomers star Nick Kay were key to both victories with two 20-plus point games and two double-doubles respectively. Both the Taipans and the Wildcats have been hot from the bench and will need to continue to score deep into their rosters. The key matchup will be between the two guards in Cotton and Machado. Cotton was able to hold Kings star Casper Ware to 20 per cent from the field in their victory and will be looking to do the same tonight to force Machado to pass the ball, as he averages just under three turnovers a game. This matchup beckons to be a tight contest, starting off Round 11 in an exciting fashion.

ADELAIDE 36ERS v SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Friday December 13, 7:30
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

NBL action returns to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre as the 36ers look to drop the South East Melbourne Phoenix in this Friday night matchup, with both teams looking to break into the top four. The 36ers lost their Round 10 match against a rampant Melbourne United side after suffering a 16-point quarter-time deficit they could not come back from. Eric Griffin came off the bench again but played starting minutes to combat Shawn Long. They each dropped 34 points in a classic battle in the paint which left nothing to be desired. With only three other players getting into double digits in points, the 36ers will look for improvement from star forward Daniel Johnson who did not make an impact against Melbourne in his 21 minutes of game time. The rebound deficit given up by the 36ers will have to tighten up again on Friday as Melbourne scored a whopping 29 fast-break points from their extra 11 defensive rebounds. The Phoenix suffered a loss at home to the Wildcats despite 31 points from marquee player Mitch Creek and a double-double from league veteran Ben Madgen. Luckily for the 36ers, the Phoenix also gave up a huge rebound deficit as small-ball with Creek at the four-slot did not pay off on the glass. Having won just one game out of their last five, you can expect the Phoenix’s big names to step up, including John Roberson who will have his hands full against 36ers leading scorer Jerome Randle in a salivating matchup between two of the league’s most dynamic point guards.

MELBOURNE UNITED v SYDNEY KINGS
Saturday December 14, 5:30
Melbourne Arena

The Sydney Kings travel to Melbourne for their third blockbuster matchup of the year with league rivals Melbourne United. The Kings look to extend their lead on top of the ladder, as Melbourne attempt to claw back wins after a poor start to the season. Melbourne enjoyed a blowout victory against the 36ers on the back of a monster 34 point and 15 rebound masterclass from Long. With typically even contributions from the rest of the roster, Melo Trimble enjoyed a solid night shooting the ball and Casey Prather produced a season-high for points in his injury-interrupted season. Trimble continued to push the pace on offence as United recorded 29 fast break points in a victory they will be looking to back up on Saturday evening. Inversely, the Kings are looking to bounce back from two poor Round 10 losses. The Kings shot just 39 per cent from the field against the Wildcats, an effort they improved in their second Round 10 match but also one they can not afford to do again against this experienced and rampant Melbourne side. Expect Ware to put on a show against his old side, although the matchup to watch will be in the paint between Long and decorated home-grown superstar Andrew Bogut. Both men will be looking to assert their position as the league’s most dominant big man. New signing Xavier Cooks is also a name to watch as he is expected to make his first appearance for the Kings this season.

PERTH WILDCATS v BRISBANE BULLETS
Saturday December 14, 8:00pm
RAC Arena

Perth make their second appearance in Round 11 as the Brisbane Bullets make arguably the toughest road trip the NBL has to offer. The Wildcats will be facing a fresh Bullets roster who are looking to start the second half of the season strong as they try to work their way up from seventh on the ladder. Cotton and Kay will be looking to continue their strong form in the season as they look for some more big performances from Terrico White. The Bullets will be disappointed with their season so far, however, a cross-country trip is a good opportunity to turn their season around. They will be riding on the coattails of forward Lamar Patterson who is coming off a monster 36-point effort off the bench in their loss to the Breakers. Coach Andrej Lemanis will be looking to guards Nathan Sobey and Jason Cadee to lift and control their offence after some quiet Round 10 performances from their standards. The matchup to watch tonight will be between Cadee and Cotton, with Cotton so often being the barometer for this Wildcat’s side, Cadee and his stringent perimeter defence will have his work cut out for him.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS v ADELAIDE 36ERS
Sunday December 15, 3:00pm
Spark Arena

The 36ers travel across the Strait to face the Breakers in New Zealand in what beckons to be a chance for 36ers to begin their finals assertion. The Breakers won one out of their two Round 10 match-ups but will be without Glen Rice Jr after he was released by the club due to a breach in bail conditions. A strong contributor in their loss to the Taipans, the Breakers will look elsewhere for some big numbers. Corey Webster and Tom Abercrombie were the leading scorers in their win against the Bullets but will need consistency in the back end of the year from starters like RJ Hampton and Scotty Hopson in order to string some wins together. The 36ers will play their second game of the round and will be hoping for some increased output from Johnson, so they can continue to eye in on the top four. The matchup to watch will be the battle of the big men again as the physicality of both Rob Loe and Johnson will be something to admire.

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX v CAIRNS TAIPANS
Sunday, December 15, 5:00pm
Melbourne Arena

In both these sides’ second game of the weekend, South East Melbourne Phoenix host the much-improved Cairns Taipans at Melbourne Arena on Sunday evening. The two sides are yet to play this season, and have had somewhat differing formlines, with the Phoenix only winning one of their past five matches compared to Cairns’ three-game winning streak. Creek emerges as the player for the Taipans to try and nullify, averaging 22.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season. Along Robertson and Madgen, Dane Pineau has been a starter every week, putting up 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Youngster, Kyle Adnam has also been gaining valuable minutes coming off the bench in all of the 12 games thus far this season. While Machado has been a playmaker in the forward half with 15.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game, Cameron Oliver has been the crucial big man off the boards with 7.9 rebounds to accompany his 15.2 points per game.

ILLAWARRA HAWKS v MELBOURNE UNITED
Monday, December 16, 7.30pm
WIN Entertainment Centre

Illawarra Hawks enter the weekend’s game with the longest break, having to wait until Monday night for a fixture against the reborn Melbourne United.  The Hawks are without LaMelo Ball until the New Year, and with Aaron Brooks also missing for the entire season after an early season injury, it is hard to see Illawarra mounting a comeback for finals. They are home here, with a 2-4 record thus far in 2019/20, while Melbourne has only won two of its four games on the road. If Illawarra can steal the points then it will put the Hawks within striking district of New Zealand in eighth. For Melbourne, this is simply a must-win with the top two creeping away and the mid-table log-jam battling for the best possible spot on the table. These teams are yet to play in season 2019/20, with United’s 113-89 win over the Hawks in January the last time they went head-to-head. In the absence of Ball, the Hawks will need Todd Blanchfield and AJ Ogilvy to stand up, being the next two biggest performances. For United, Trimble has been getting better by the week for his new side, averaging 22.1 points per game, Long’s impact across the season (19.6 points, 9.6 rebounds) cannot be understated. After his 300th game last weekend, Chris Goulding is another clever veteran the Hawks must find a way to contain.