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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 season review: New Zealand Breakers

MUCH like the 36ers of the 2018-19 season, the Breakers were keen to make amends for their failures from the previous season. The administration of the club saw that the best way to undertake their season objectives was to rip up the carpeting and make an abundance of signings in the preseason stages.

Not a bad finish

The Breakers would be slow to get off the ground early on in their campaign, as they would lose both of their opening games to the Kings in Round 1. Luckily for New Zealand though, the Breakers would host the bottom-of-the-table Hawks on their home court to put their best foot forward, demolishing Illawarra 103-72 in Round 2. But this is where it would all start to go downhill for Dan Shamir’s side.

Following an altercation at a bar, marquee import signing Glen Rice Jr would be arrested by Auckland police, which in turn would lead to his and the Breakers decision to part ways. The Breakers would accumulate a detestable 4-10 record at the midway stage of the season, which would entail losing eight out of their first ten matchups, signifying that not much was going the way of the Breakers organisation. Furthermore, this bad run of games was marred more by the injuries of important individuals such as Finn Delany, Rob Loe and Scotty Hopson. The most devastating event during the first half of the Breakers season, struck the heart of every New Zealand basketball fan, as long-time team manager Fata Letoa would unexpectedly pass away.

As the next half of the season began just a few days before Christmas, a hard-fought win against the Phoenix started to shift the tide across the Tasman. As a result, a solid five-game winning streak would arise for the Breakers and suddenly they were one victory off the .500 mark with nine games remaining. Next up, back-to-back losses to the Taipans and the Bullets would manifest as the Breakers only blunder throughout the second half of the season, which in hindsight was all that was needed for the Breakers to miss out on their second straight finals appearance for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The Breakers would go on to win six of their last seven games of the season to finish with a record of 15 wins and 13 losses. Their fate of sixth position in the end was one based on percentages, alongside the Bullets in fifth and United in fourth.

For many however, the season is best summarised as ‘the best of a bad situation’, which provides promising building blocks going into next season. The main concerns however are the re-signings of important players with Hopson and Brandon Ashley’s futures in question. These two mixed with the club’s faces Tom Abercrombie and Delany, could very well provide the basis for a championship-calibre side next season.

The Breakers platoon

Scotty Hopson

Even though Scotty Hopson missed seven games this season due to injury, he still proved himself to be one of the League’s most lethal players on the offensive end. Shooting the lights out at 47 per cent from the field, Hopson would conclude his season averaging over 19.1 points per game, slotting him in the League’s top 10. He would also go on to tally himself fifth in the category of assists, averaging 4.7 dimes per contest. He also earned himself the title of one of the League’s best rebounding wingmen (5.8).

While these numbers did not earn himself an All-NBL first team selection which many would say was unjust, Hopson has earned himself a reputation as a standout international prospect. At the Oklahoma City Thunder’s G-League side, Hopson has increased his minutes and has started to increase his role in turn. If the Breakers can re-sign Hopson for next season, then that would put his team in a very handsome position for success.

Sek Henry

Alongside Hopson was another import signing in Sek Henry. With Henry in the backcourt, it created space for both players to work, and more often than not it was a major hindrance on other teams. Henry’s season was successful from an offensive point of view for his first season in the NBL. Putting up 13.6 points and three and a half rebounds a game was a relatively impressive way of arriving on the Australian basketball scene. He would also be instrumental to many of New Zealand’s unexpected victories. With the 22-year-old turning many heads this past season, his worth as a player has been tested and any club would be happy to have him in the future.

Tom Abercrombie

The heart and soul of New Zealand’s basketball scene, Tom Abercrombie was needed more than usual to lead his side through the fog of this season. Abercrombie undertook his twelfth season at the Breakers and what was demanded of him was as high as it has been since the 2015-16 season. Playing 31 minutes a game and for the time since his rookie season back in 2008/09, he would shoot at 50 per cent from the field. Not only that, but he would also remain a reliable contributor from the free-throw line averaging 91 per cent from the charity strike, the best rate ever throughout his career. Additionally, he would return to old form on the scoreboard as he would average 12 points per game for the first time in five seasons. As Abercrombie has no intention of retiring just yet, the 33-year-old will continue to provide Shamir’s side a reliable leadership figure. One that would be more than willing to do what it takes to put his team in a successful position.

The coach’s corner: Dan Shamir

Shamir is the down-to-earth, see it as it is kind of guy, which is why in an interview with Stuff he was very hopeful with how his side was gonna stack up for next season in a country his family has started to call home.

“The beginning of the season was very tough for me personally because I’m all about the basketball,” he said. “We didn’t win, and it was very hard. “Although it was very good to come here, when you’re losing like that it makes for difficult times. But my family was so happy every day, from the moment we came here. “My kids love it here and don’t want to go back to Israel. “My wife enjoys it a lot. “From a family life perspective, it was great from day one. “Then we started winning and things became even better over here.”

If Shamir can keep the winning going for the Breakers, then his second season at the helm would make his trials and tribulations in his debut NBL season worth all the trouble.

NBL Round 20 review: United win finals race in hectic final round

In a shocking turn of events, Melbourne United has gone on to outlast both the Breakers and the Bullets, as they won both of their games in their double-header weekend, toppling the Taipans and the Phoenix. While the Kings and Wildcats cemented themselves in first and second, Illawarra and South East Melbourne capped off their seasons with impressive losing streaks. Here is Round 20’s sequences of events that finished off a remarkable NBL 2020 season.

Melbourne United (99) defeated Cairns Taipans (83)

With Cairns locking up their finals ticket in Round 19 there was nothing much to do for head Coach Mike Kelly to do except keep his players off the injury list, leading up to his side’s semi-final matchup against the Perth Wildcats. But, for Melbourne it was a much dire situation, as they knew they needed to win both of their remaining games to steal fourth position on the NBL ladder away from the Bullets and the Breakers. Nothing could separate the sides on the scoreboard in the first 37 minutes, which made Melbourne supporters very anxious in the stands. But a pull-up three from the top of the arch for Melo Trimble put United up by six with three minutes remaining, the floodgates opened for the home side. A 31-point final quarter for United was enough to pull away from a resilient Taipans side, resulting in a 16-point win, keeping their finals hopes alive to the final game of the season. Chris Goulding led his side from the field, securing 23 points and four assists, along with five three-pointers as you would expect from the veteran shooter, whereas a return to form for Trimble allowed for him to rack up 19 points in 25 minutes off the bench. David Barlow showed off his shooting accuracy with 15 points and three three-pointers, along with seven rebounds. The big men provided what they could for the Taipans, as Cameron Oliver and Nathan Jawai led in scoring with 19 and 16 points respectively, as well as 14 boards for Oliver in his side’s loss. With the Taipans’ loss securing third position for them, Kelly had to decide how he was going to use his players against the Bullets on Saturday, who needed a 34-point win to stay in the hunt for finals. For United, a win against the Phoenix on Sunday would decide if they would go to the finals or fall short to either the Bullets or the Breakers.

DC Medal: 3 – Cameron Oliver (CT), 2 – Chris Goulding (MU), 1 – Shawn Long (MU)

New Zealand Breakers (92) defeated South-East Melbourne Phoenix (83)

Given Melbourne’s win the previous night, New Zealand now had to return serve if they were to even be in a position to make the top four, and standing in front of that objective would be a stubborn yet desperate Phoenix outfit that was on a six-game slide, eager to be back in the winner’s column. Both sides opened up the game with efficient scoring with both sides just two points apart after ten minutes. Nevertheless, Scotty Hopson and Sek Henry came out of the shadows in the second period, whereas the Phoenix could not buy a bucket, being limited to just 15 second-quarter points. The Phoenix fought back hard in the third quarter, pulling the deficit back to even with one quarter left to play. But big plays by Breakers captain Tom Abercrombie late in the fourth proved to be the difference, as New Zealand was able to hold on at Horncastle Arena and keep their finals hopes alive, taking the contest by nine. With the Breakers winning all of the shooting statistics, it was hard to deny them their fifteenth win of the season. Being led by their lethal duo in Hopson (23 points, five rebounds and 11 assists) and Henry (14 points), it allowed both Abercrombie (18 points and five rebounds) and Robert Loe (18 points and five rebounds). Given the Phoenix’s best efforts, they were unable to get the job done, as six individuals reached double-digits, led by John Roberson (15 points and eight assists) and Dane Pineau (14 points and seven rebounds). The Breakers now had to wait for the outcomes of Brisbane and Melbourne’s final games, while the Phoenix could spoil United’s finals hopes if they were to win Sunday’s contest.

DC Medal: 3 – Scotty Hopson (NZ), 2 – Robert Loe (NZ), 1 – Dane Pineau (SEM)

Sydney Kings (98) defeated Illawarra Hawks (82)

While the Phoenix extended their losing streak to seven, Illawarra was at risk of finishing their season with a 10 game losing streak. After a competitive first quarter from the Hawks, it looked as if the fans in attendance were going to witness a close contest, but following a 26-17 quarter for the Kings, Illawarra did not recover resulting in an eventual 16-point victory for the Kings and putting them in good stead for their semi-final matchup. Casper Ware’s 19 points and three assists were instrumental, while Jae’Sean Tate’s 19 points and five rebounds were necessary in his side’s win. For Illawarra, it was a statement game for Sunday Dech, who finished with a game-high 26 points and five rebounds, while Angus Glover was good for 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists. With both teams finishing at opposite ends of the standings for the NBL 20 season, it was a fitting end to an exemplary season for the Kings as they went through the entire season in first position. As for the Hawks, a 10-game losing streak is how they ended their season, as they start their pre-season preparations early.

DC Medal: 3 – Sunday Dech (IH), 2 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 1 – Angus Glover (IH)

Brisbane Bullets (124) defeated Cairns Taipans (88)

In a unique situation that saw the Brisbane Bullets needing at least a 34-point victory to stay in the finals hunt and leapfrog the Breakers. Brisbane put on the accelerator almost instantly as they needed to reach that minimum lead as they would score a mammoth 39 points in the opening quarter, getting out to 24-point lead. It was important for Andrej Lemarnis’s men to know that to reach the 34 points, they needed to play good defence to keep the Taipans off the scoreboard, which they were able to do in the second half, limiting Cairns to just 43 second-half points. It was not until the final minute of play that the Bullets went clear of the 34-point deficit, winning the contest by a nail-biting 36 points putting them back in finals contention. Top scoring performances in Brisbane’s crusade to make the finals fell to Nathan Sobey, who came through with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and Cameron Gliddon surprised the home fans with 25 points and four steals, alongside seven massive threes. For a Cairns side that limited its starting five’s minutes, Majok Deng took the reins for his side with 20 points and seven rebounds, while Cameron Oliver put up a mere 13 points and three rebounds. With New Zealand no longer eligible to make the finals, all Brisbane had to do is hope that a Phoenix side in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, could upset United the following night. For Cairns, meaningless back-to-back defeats was quickly out of their minds, as a three-game series against the Perth Wildcats was on the horizon for the Taipans in a much-anticipated semi-final matchup.

DC Medal: 3 – Nathan Sobey (BB), 2 – EJ Singler (BB), 1 – Cameron Gliddon (BB)

Perth Wildcats (94) defeated Adelaide 36ers (79)

With both sides knowing their season’s fates, it was more of a celebration for the people of Perth as they watched their side cruise past a depleted Adelaide side. The Wildcats outscored the 36ers in three out of four quarters as a result of 50 per cent shooting making half of their 75 shots on the night. A strong inside efficiency from Perth’s bigs was the main contributing factor for Perth in their 15-point win, as four frontcourt players went into double digits, most notably Nick Kay who rounded out 23 points and six rebounds on his night. Miles Plumlee and Clint Steindl were the next best performers on the night from the home side with both scoring 14 points. Daniel Johnson topped off a stellar NBL season with 18 points and 11 rebounds, as Jack McVeigh locked in for 16 points and six rebounds of his own. Ousting the 36ers by 15 points in the end, Perth now look forward to a semi-final matchup against the Taipans obtaining their nineteenth win of the season, collecting their third consecutive win in the process. For Adelaide, back-to-back losses to end their season slots them in seventh place for their season with a record of 12 wins and 16 losses.

DC Medal: 3 – Nick Kay (PW), 2 – Miles Plumlee (PW), 1 – Daniel Johnson (AD)

South-East Melbourne Phoenix (90) defeated by Melbourne United (109)

Needing only a win to advance to the NBL finals, Melbourne United made sure their weapons were sharpened before going into battle against their cross-town rivals for the fourth and final time this season. High-octane offence was the flavour of the day, as 34 opening quarter points for United set the tone early for the rest of the game. While the Phoenix would go on to outscore United by narrow margins in the second and third quarters, a strong final quarter by Dean Vickerman’s men blew open the final Throwdown of the season, resulting in a strong-willed nineteen-point victory for Melbourne and a place in this season’s semi-finals. Following a game-high 28 points and four assists, it has become apparent that as of late, United has been relying heavily on Goulding’s offensive efficiency. Following Goulding to the finish line, was Shawn Long (21 points and 12 rebounds), Trimble (20 points and four assists) and astoundingly, Barlow rounded off a successful round with 18 points of his own. Without Mitch Creek for the Phoenix’s final game, Ben Madgen put up respectable numbers with 23 points and four rebounds, while Tai Wesley was big with 20 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks. Going down for their eighth consecutive loss, the Phoenix finished their inaugural season with a record of nine wins and nineteen losses. Whereas, United look forward to postseason matchup against the league leading Kings, in what will be a true test for United’s players.

DC Medal: 3 – Chris Goulding (MU), 2 – Shawn Long (MU), 1 – John Roberson (SEM)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

44 – Lamar Patterson (BB)
43 –
42 –
41 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
40 –
39 –
38 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK)
37 –
36 –
35 –
34 –
33 –
32 –
31 – Shawn Long (MU)
30 –
29 – Mitch Creek (SEM)
28 –
27 – Jerome Randle (AD), Nick Kay (PW)
26 –
25 – Scott Machado (CT), Melo Trimble (MU), Casper Ware (SK), Cameron Oliver (CT),
24 –
23 –
22 – John Roberson (SEM)
21 – Scotty Hopson (NZ)
20 – LaMelo Ball (IH), Daniel Johnson (AD)
19 –
18 – Chris Goulding (MU)
17 –
16 – DJ. Newbill (CT)
15 –
14 –
13 – Andrew Bogut (SK), Nathan Sobey (BB),
12 – Eric Griffin (AD)
11 – Corey Webster (NZ)
10 – Finn Delany (NZ)
9 – Terrico White (PW)
8 –
7 – Tom Abercrombie (NZ), AJ Ogilvy (IL), Dane Pineau (SEM),
6 –  Kouat Noi (CT),  Brad Newley (SK), Sek Henry (NZ), Robert Loe (NZ),
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), Anthony Drmic (AD), Todd Blanchfield (IH), Matt Hodgson (BB), Miles Plumlee (PW), Sunday Dech (IH),
4 –  Dario Hunt (PW), Brandon Ashley (NZ), Ben Madgen (SEM),  Didi Louzada (SK), Will Magnay (BB), Josh Boone (IH)
3 – Glen Rice Jr (NZ), Ej Singler (BB),
2 – Jason Cadee (BB), David Barlow (MU), Mitch McCarron (MU), Tim Coenraad (IH), Kendall Stephens (SEM), Reuben Te Rangi (BB), Darington Hobson (IH), Jo Lual-Acuil (MU), Majok Deng (CT),
1 – Craig Moller (SK), Jesse Wagstaff (PW), Keith Benson (SEM), Tohi Smith-Milner (MU), RJ Hampton (NZ), Angus Glover (IH), Emmett Naar (IH), Daniel Kickert (SK), Sam Froling (IH), Mitch Norton (PW), Cameron Gliddon (BB), Angus Glover (IH)

2019/20 NBL preview: Round 20 – United still in the hunt for finals

THE final round of the National Basketball League action is set to be a big one with the New Zealand Breakers, Brisbane Bullets and Melbourne United all still in contention for that elusive fourth spot on the ladder. While the battle for second spot is just as exciting with Cairns looming as the potential team to leapfrog the Perth Wildcats.

MELBOURNE UNITED v. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Thursday, February 13, 7:30pm
Melbourne Arena

It is do-or-die for Melbourne United who if they want to get any type of finals redemption from last year’s grand final loss, will have to leave nothing to chance. United have struggled with consistency throughout the season, stringing together a couple of strong performances and then going off the boil making them a real unknown. Melbourne has only won two of its past five games, speaking to its inconsistency and have not won against the Taipans so far this season. Cairns Taipans well and truly have the wood over their opponents and are in hot form sitting on a four-game winning streak and claiming victory in nine of their past matches. The Taipans have taken the competition by storm this season, steadily building into the year and creating a strong winning momentum to secure third seed and a spot in finals. There is no denying that captain, Chris Goulding is a real barometer for United with the experienced guard able to sense the moment and hit the scoreboard with his accuracy from three-point the most damaging part of his game. But Goulding will need support from Melo Trimble coming off the bench with his deft touch and scoring ability. Trimble knocked back 36 points in Round 18 and 13 last week, and will have to replicate that strong attacking intent to get his side over the line and give them a shot at finals. The team from up north have been unstoppable with Cameron Oliver and Scott Machado able to do a wealth of damage on the scoreboard. They both had a big day out the last time these two sides met with Oliver recording a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds making for an intriguing contest.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS v. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Friday, February 14, 5:30pm
Horncastle Arena

The fourth placed Breakers have everything to play for in their clash against new comers South East Melbourne Phoenix. New Zealand has had a rollercoaster season to say the least with players leaving and succumbing to injury but have somehow managed to hit their straps at the right time winning 10 of their past 13. A win here could all but sow-up fourth spot and their chance at finals whereas a loss could knock them out of contention. Despite a hot start to their inaugural season the Phoenix have simply been unable to maintain their dominance falling well and truly out of the finals race dropping 10 of their past 12 games. Without star, Mitch Creek who suffered a hyperextension last round, the Phoenix will have their work cut out for them and will look to the likes of John Roberson to lead the way on the scoreboard. Dane Pineau and Ben Madgen will have to step up to the plate, while youngster Kyle Adnam will be hoping to keep his hot form rolling coming off an impressive Round 19 performance of a team-high 19 points. The Breakers are not without their own star power with the likes of Scotty Hopson in blistering form coming off a whopping 31 points. Hopson along with Finn Delaney, Tom Abercrombie and Sek Henry have proven that they can stand up under pressure and deliver time and time again making them a damaging prospect for the Phoenix. Delaney has been in ripping form recording double figures in his past six games, so expect him to keep that form going.

SYDNEY KINGS v. ILLAWARRA HAWKS
Friday, February 14, 8:00pm
Qudos Bank Arena

With top spot all but guaranteed, the Kings will be aiming to iron out any issues ahead of the finals against the last placed Hawks. The Kings have been near-unstoppable throughout the season with their slick ball movement and explosive scoring along with their variety of options making them a very dominant line-up. Despite Sydney winning two of their three encounters the Illawarra Hawks have proven that when on song they can topple the best claiming a five-point victory in Round 13. But their most recent encounter showcased just how punishing the Kings can be with six players reaching double-figures headlined by Deshon Taylor with 17 points. Casper Ware is no slouch when it comes to the points department knocking back 24 points last week while Jae’Sean Tate backs himself from all areas on the court falling marginally short of a double-double last round with 17 points and nine rebounds. Brad Newley and Andrew Bogut are also imposing figures for the Kings with the latter a rebounding machine. The match-up between Sunday Dech and Ware will bring plenty of interest with the Kings guard well held in recent times only managing eight and 10 points respectively. Josh Boone will have to stand up for the Hawks while captain Todd Blanchfield has been a staple in their line-up. Andrew Ogilvy will be aiming to replicate his Round 19 form recording a team-high 15 points, four rebounds and seven assists in hope to get his side over the line.

BRISBANE BULLETS v. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Saturday, February 15, 5:30pm
Nissan Arena

The Brisbane Bullets are knocking on the door of finals and must win their clash against the third placed Taipans if they are any chance to secure fourth spot. But history is not on their side with Cairns winning six of their past games against the Bullets. The boys in blue have steadily risen-up the ranks knocking off unsuspecting teams with their precise ball movement and scoring prowess but Cairns will be looking to keep their dominant form going heading into finals and potentially snatch second spot. Last rounds loss will be fresh in the minds of Brisbane and will be looking to rectify their performance with a strong showing against state rivals. Expect both sides to battle hard considering the relatively even match-up across the court and just how much is at stake. Lamar Patterson has been a revelation for the Bullets with the star forward able to single handily change the course of a game with his drive to the basket and defensive pressure. Patterson scored 18 and 25 points respectively last round while Nathan Sobey showcased his attacking intent with a game high 30 points against New Zealand. Will Magnay is a defensive beast for the Bullets thanks to his strong rebounding and ability to swat the ball away leading the league in blocks. Cairns captain, DJ Newbill has taken his game to a whole other level in 2020 and can flick a switch to kick it up a gear and record a win. Majok Deng has blossomed throughout the season becoming a real talent for Cairns relishing the extra court time while both Oliver and Machado are game changers.

PERTH WILDCATS v. ADELAIDE 36ers
Saturday, February 15, 8:00pm
RAC Arena

With a shot at first spot on the line, expect the Wildcats to throw everything at the 36ers who have been plagued with inconsistency throughout the 2019/20 season. Perth is a class act, able to pull something out of the hat even when it looks impossible, while Adelaide ooze unpredictability. Unfortunately, the 36ers are out of the finals race but can still have an impact on the postseason positioning with a win here and considering their recent track record it is quite possible having won their past two encounters. It is a milestone round for Adelaide with Joey Wright coaching his 500th game and potentially giving the spark the 36ers need to win, but the Wildcats are no easy beats able to mount pressure in ways no other team can.  The 36ers have a wealth of stars across the court with Jerome Randle able to hit the scoreboard time and time again while big man Eric Griffin is a real excitement machine for Adelaide with his basketball nous and skill. Throw in Daniel Johnson who is coming off a solid performance and the 36ers could do enough to rattle their opponents and get the wood over them. But it is hard to worry the likes of Bryce Cotton who is simply ice cold when it comes to scoring holding the leading points title. Nick Kay is also a handy influence on the scoreboard with 23 points to his name last week while Terrico White can chime in to wreak havoc.

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX v. MELBOURNE UNITED
Sunday, February 16, 3:00pm
Melbourne Arena

The final game of the home and away season is set to be a big one. Melbourne United’s future rides on their performance in this round and a win in the opening game could all but gift them with a fighting chance. Playing against an understrength Phoenix could be exactly what the doctor order for United to sneak into fourth spot and play finals. With Goulding able to put on a masterclass and Trimble showing some form in recent weeks coming off the bench a big performance from star recruit Shawn Long could thrust United into finals. Long has been vital for Melbourne with his points scoring ability and strong frame consistently able to gobble up rebounds. Despite their three key players United will have to rely on the performances from other players such as Mitch McCarron and David Barlow if they are any chance to romp it home. But the Phoenix will not go down without a fight and will be looking to end United’s hopes. Forward Tai Wesley will be hoping to make a splash in his first game against United since their opening clash while Adam Gibson and Kendall Stephens will have to up their ante to cause some of trouble on the scoreboard. But given what is at stake expect Melbourne to play with plenty of intensity and passion to down their cross-town rivals.

NBL Round 19 review: Breakers and United keep fourth spot open, Bullets lose back-to-back

EVERYTHING that would set up a very important Round 20 next week came to fruition, with victories from the Breakers and United headlining the weekend, whereas back-to-back defeats for the Bullets against the Breakers and Perth could prove detrimental as they face-off with the Taipans next Saturday. A nail-biting victory from the Kings against the Phoenix went to overtime, while Cairns solidified their third seed with a convincing outcome over in Adelaide. Here’s what occurred in a decisive Round 19.

Brisbane Bullets (87) defeated by New Zealand Breakers (91)

As a game with a lot of writing on it, the atmosphere at Nissan Arena was electric to say the least. Following an offensive blitz to open up the game with a 10-0 run, the Bullets kept the Breakers at bay for three-quarters. But, the Breakers, led by Scotty Hopson stuck around with 10 minutes left to play in what was one of the most entertaining quarters of basketball this NBL season. After exploiting his matchup on Lamar Patterson for the majority of the game, Hopson would again drive by his fellow MVP candidate to put his Breakers side up by four, with less than two minutes remaining. A layup by Finn Delaney sealed it for New Zealand, ending one of the longest winning streaks of the season and reigniting the race for the final postseason spot. The main difference maker was the turnover to points ratio, as New Zealand forced 13 turnovers out of Brisbane and capitalised with 19 points as a result, compared to Brisbane’s seven. Hopson put on a stellar performance with 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while his supporting cast in Sek Henry and Delaney (11 rebounds) was impressive, with both scoring 15 points. Carrying his side on his shoulders, Nathan Sobey put his best foot forward, rounding up 30 points of his own, whereas a limited Patterson conjured up just 18 points. Given the Breakers only had one game in Round 19, they will have to wait for next week, when they face off with the Phoenix to try to earn a finals spot. But the Bullets had to move on quickly with a clash on Sunday against an in-form Wildcats.

DC Medal: 3 – Scotty Hopson (NZ), 2 – Nathan Sobey (BB), 1 – Finn Delany (NZ)

Melbourne United (95) defeated Illawarra Hawks (72)

If Melbourne United was to have any chance of sneaking into the top four, a win against the Illawarra Hawks was an absolute must on Saturday night and in front of their home crowd, a performance is what they put on. From start to finish, United dominated in almost every area, particularly on the boards, earning a plus-nine on the glass, out rebounding the Hawks 51-42. This neutralised Illawarra’s numerous attempts at closing the deficit, eventually ending in a 23-point drubbing, which kept Melbourne’s slim yet possible finals chance alive. In a slight turn of events, no one from United put up spectacular numbers, but with six individuals hitting double-digits, it is hard to fault the team’s efforts. The lone case for an above-average performance which could have been argued, was Chris Goulding’s 20 points. Shooting six three-pointers and collecting five rebounds, Goulding showed a statement that should his side make the playoffs, then every team should be worried about Melbourne as an opponent. Shawn Long and Melo Trimble proved to be relevant to their side’s victory, with both putting up 13 points apiece, Trimble going one assist short of a double-double, and Long doing the same in rebounds. For Illawarra, Andrew Ogilvy led his side in points with 15, along with seven assists, as Josh Boone put up respectable statistics with 10 points and seven rebounds. With Illawarra’s fate for their season decided a long time ago, attention went towards Melbourne United’s next round as they size up a double-header, clashing with Cairns on Thursday night, then the final Throwdown of the season three days later against the Phoenix, needing to win both games if they are to have any chance of sneaking past New Zealand and Brisbane.

DC Medal: 3 – Chris Goulding (MU), 2 – AJ Ogilvy (IH), 1 – Melo Trimble (MU)

Adelaide 36ers (80) defeated by Cairns Taipans (99)

While Adelaide’s loss last week to New Zealand eliminated their chances of making the finals, Cairns’ aspirations to finish off one of their best seasons to date did not waver as they pummelled Adelaide in front of their own fans taking out the contest by 19 points. Despite, Adelaide’s bench getting up on the scoreboard with 46 points compared to Cairns’ 24, it was once agains the Taipans’ starting five that pushed on the accelerator, as the ‘big three’ produced once again. With Cameron Oliver being the top-scorer this time around (31 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks), Dj Newbill shooting at a high-clip (17 points, four assists and 50 per cent shooting) and Scott Machado facilitating the offence as usual (12 points, seven rebounds, six assists), their run to the finals is making Cairns’ a scarier and scarier prospect to face for Sydney and Perth. With Joey Wright allowing his secondary players some more court time, a more levelled scoring output was the summary for the 36ers stat line. Daniel Johnson led the side with 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Jerome Randle only managed a mere nine points, six rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes of play. Cairns’ last leg of the season is looking better and better as they have now come out on top in their last four encounters, improving their season record to 16 wins and 10 losses, whereas Adelaide cemented their season spot in seventh with the final round still yet to play.

DC Medal: 3 – Cameron Oliver (CT), 2 – Daniel Johnson (AD), 1 – Majok Deng (CT)

South East Melbourne Phoenix (96) defeated by Sydney Kings (99)

Given the fact that the Phoenix were in the midst of a five-game skid, the game should have been a runaway for the top-of-the-table Kings, but it was anything but that, as a resilient South-East Melbourne side pushed the championship favourites to the limit. With Sydney getting out to an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter, not many people saw a Phoenix comeback on the horizon. However, led by their backcourt in John Roberson and a surprisingly dominant performance by Kyle Adnam, South East Melbourne won the next two quarters to tie up the contest at the final break. Good shooting by both sides was the summary of the final quarter, one that was neck and neck the entire way. After a loose ball foul from Kings’ guard Jae’Sean Tate with two seconds remaining, Phoenix forward Dane Pineau went to the line and sunk both free-throws in clutch fashion tying the game up and sending the clash to overtime. But a big three from Deshon Taylor put the Kings up by seven with just over a minute remaining after regulation, holding off the Phoenix at the buzzer and coming out victorious by three points and solidifying their position as the minor premiers of the 2019/20 NBL season. Casper Ware and Tate were once again the main culprits in the Kings’ stolen victory down in Melbourne, with Ware securing 24 points and Tate with 17 points and nine rebounds. A good performance from Taylor saw him collect 12 points whereas Brad Newley found his stroke with 14 points and seven rebounds. Roberson and Adnam each led the Phoenix with 19 points, while Mitch Creek finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. A sixth straight loss was the result for the Phoenix and sets up a final chance for redemption ahead of their double-header in Round 20. The Kings log their nineteenth victory of the season and hold off Perth in the race for top spot, even if they get unfavourable results next week due to their impressive points percentage.

DC Medal: 3 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 2 – John Roberson (SEM), 1 – Casper Ware (SK)

Perth Wildcats (85) defeated Brisbane Bullets (72)

Coming off a demoralising loss to New Zealand in the round-opener on Friday, Brisbane needed a win to basically secure their ticket to the postseason. However, their ambitions took another hit as the crowd at RAC Arena proved too much for a now deflated Brisbane Bullets outfit. In what was a predominantly close game, Brisbane actually looked a chance to hand Perth their fourth home loss of the season, but the awesome play of Bryce Cotton and Nicholas Kay was the main factor in deciding the fourth quarter, getting Perth’s lead out to double-digits and maintaining their distance from the Bullets, ending in victory by a convincing 13 points. Cotton’s 25 points, six rebounds and five assists were impressive enough as it was, but Kay’s 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists only created further problems for the Bullets. Clint Steindl also hampered Brisbane’s defence as four three-pointers and 14 points only rounded out Perth’s night. Patterson showed off his stat-filling abilities once again with 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Sobey and Matthew Hodgson each had 11 points on the night. Brisbane now has their work cut out for them in the final round of the season, after losing back-to-back games over the weekend. To make matters worse, New Zealand now sits in fourth position due to points percentage, as well as the deciding matchup for Brisbane being at home against the third seeded Cairns Taipans next Saturday. Perth’s win solidifies second position for the season, with a matchup against Cairns being the almost definite semi-final matchup.

DC Medal: 3 – Nick Kay (PW), 2 – Bryce Cotton (PW), 1 – Lamar Patterson (BB)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

44 – Lamar Patterson (BB)
43 –
42 –
41 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
40 –
39 –
38 –
37 –
36 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK)
35 –
34 –
33 –
32 –
31 –
30 –
29 – Mitch Creek (SEM)
28 – Shawn Long (MU)
27 – Jerome Randle (AD)
26 –
25 – Scott Machado (CT), Melo Trimble (MU), Casper Ware (SK)
24 – Nick Kay (PW)
23 –
22 – Cameron Oliver (CT),
21 – John Roberson (SEM)
20 – LaMelo Ball (IH)
19 – Daniel Johnson (AD)
18 – Scotty Hopson (NZ)
17 –
16 – DJ. Newbill (CT)
15 –
14 –
13 – Andrew Bogut (SK), Chris Goulding (MU)
12 – Eric Griffin (AD)
11 – Corey Webster (NZ)
10 – Nathan Sobey (BB), Finn Delany (NZ)
9 – Terrico White (PW)
8 –
7 – Tom Abercrombie (NZ), AJ Ogilvy (IL)
6 –  Kouat Noi (CT), Dane Pineau (SEM), Brad Newley (SK), Sek Henry (NZ)
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), Anthony Drmic (AD), Todd Blanchfield (IH), Matt Hodgson (BB)
4 –  Dario Hunt (PW), Brandon Ashley (NZ), Ben Madgen (SEM),  Robert Loe (NZ), Didi Louzada (SK), Will Magnay (BB), Josh Boone (IH)
3 – Glen Rice Jr (NZ), Miles Plumlee (PW)
2 – Jason Cadee (BB), Sunday Dech (IH), David Barlow (MU), Mitch McCarron (MU), Tim Coenraad (IH), Kendall Stephens (SEM), Reuben Te Rangi (BB), Darington Hobson (IH), Jo Lual-Acuil (MU), Majok Deng (CT)
1 – Craig Moller (SK), Jesse Wagstaff (PW), Keith Benson (SEM), Tohi Smith-Milner (MU), RJ Hampton (NZ), Angus Glover (IH), Emmett Naar (IH), Ej Singler (BB), Daniel Kickert (SK), Sam Froling (IH), Mitch Norton (PW)

The actors in this season’s NBL final performance

WITH just two rounds remaining in the season, the number of the teams capable of making the NBL Postseason are dwindling, as the Adelaide 36ers and the South East Melbourne Phoenix are no longer in contention. Despite this, onlookers are still left with six high quality sides vying to cement their best possible position on the ladder, as two home games in a best of three series is imperative in advancing to the next round. Here are the teams still yet to know their positions come the final game of Round 20.

A SURE THING

1st: Sydney Kings

For the first time in NBL history, a team is on track to go the entire season at the top of the league standings and that team is the Sydney Kings. Sitting at a 70 per cent win rate, the Kings have been formidable to say the least throughout their campaign so far. More impressive than the Kings’ 18-8 season record, is their remarkable record at home. Going up against the rest of the League at Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney has gone down only twice in 13 contests and if they are to lock up the first position on the table, teams that get setup to face the Kings in the postseason, should most definitely be worried. Looking ahead to the Finals, the players that need to step up have to be the backcourt duo of Casper Ware and Jae’Sean Tate. Ware (19.5 points & 4 assists) and Tate (16.3 points & 5.7 rebounds) have shown consistently throughout the year, that they can be reliable for four straight quarters and if the ball falls into their hands, you can be sure that they can make things happen. In terms of big men, Andrew Bogut has conducted himself like an All-NBL Team player with his commitment on the boards and acting as the Kings defensive anchor. Again, he will need to perform as well if the Kings are to be successful this season.

2nd: Perth Wildcats

Trailing the Kings by one win in second position, the Wildcats are focussed on stealing that top spot if they are to defend last year’s championship season. Following their hard-fought victory against the Kings at home on Saturday night, that top-spot looks like a real possibility, but the Wildcats have struggled to win on the road, which come the end of the season, will be deciding factor on whether they finish first or second at the end of Round 20. The major talking point for Perth currently, is the absence of Terrico White and Damian Martin due to injury. White, who has been instrumental for his side so far this season, averages close to 16 points per game while shooting at a 40 per cent clip and if by some chance he’s not healthy for the finals, then Perth will have some real issues to address when it comes to that. It’s a no brainer that two of Perth’s biggest producers are Bryce Cotton and Nicholas Kay. For Cotton, it has been an MVP calibre season as he leads the League in scoring with 22.4 points per game along with over three and a half assists to boot, proving to be one of the NBL’s most lethal scorers from the field. As for Kay, it has been a statistic filled season to sum it up, tallying 14.4 points, 7.65 rebounds and over three assists to round it out. Furthermore, the addition of ex-NBA player in Miles Plumlee will further strengthen the Wildcats frontcourt and their team’s 90 point per game will be the biggest worry for opposing teams come the postseason.

3rd: Cairns Taipans

Following their victory against the Illawarra Hawks on Friday night, the Cairns Taipans cemented their spot in the postseason, which was a major moment for the Taipans-faithful after finishing dead-last in the NBL 2018/19 season. After sitting relatively low in the standings for most of the first half of the season, a substantial winning streak propelled Cairns into the playoffs discussion and Mike Kelly could only preach to his team to take it one game at a time, as they currently sit in third with 15 wins under their belt. There has been two words that have credited Cairns with their season performances thus far, with those words being “big three”. Scott Machado, Dj Newbill and Cameron Oliver sit front and center amongst the best three-player combinations across the country as they eye down either Sydney or Perth for a semi-final matchup. Being perceived by experts and media as the favourite for this season’s Most Valuable Player award, Machado has excelled tremendously at the point-guard position in all facets of the game, averaging close to 17 points and 8.2 assists a game, as well as three and a half boards. For Newbill, it has been a fairytale season at both ends of the court, leading his team in scoring with 19.75 points a game and just over three assists as well. Defensively, he also sits amongst the league leaders for pickpocketing with almost a steal and a half a game to put next to his name. The third piece of the trio in Cameron Oliver, has been spectacular on the boards up to this point sitting at the top of the standings trailing only Melbourne United’s Shawn Long, with nine rebounds a game. He’s also been productive on the scoreboard with 16 and a half points per game. No doubt will these three be a hassle for the rest of the playoff contenders in the next few weeks.

INSIDE LOOKING OUT

4th: Brisbane Bullets

The Bullets by a country mile are the NBL’s hottest team as of the last month and a half. Following their monumental performance against Melbourne last Saturday, Brisbane’s current winning streak reached six, the longest streak by any team so far this season. It would be silly to think of reasons for Brisbane’s success story this year other than Lamar Patterson. The 196cm forward has led his side from the depth of the eighth position on the ladder, to being almost one win away from a final’s appearance. Averaging 21.6 points, six rebounds and over four and a half assists per game, Patterson sits in the middle of the conversation for the MVP award as a result. At his side, Will Magnay who has been in tremendous form throughout the second half of the season, will need to be a presence throughout the next couple of weeks if they’re to keep their opponents off the scoreboard. Despite Magnay’s low scoring output, it’s his defensive output that stands out. Averaging close to six rebounds and over two blocks a game, Magnay’s presence around the ring makes most shooters nervous no matter their ability.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

5th: New Zealand Breakers

The only team sitting on a .500 record, the Breakers have wins to secure and little time to do it, if they are to make up the game and a half difference separating them and the Bullets. After securing two victories in round 18, the Breakers certainly have their hopes high on making the finals, but they will need to hope that Brisbane fails to cash in on their last few games. Nevertheless, the Breakers hold that power in their hands for the first game of round 19 as both sides meet this week at The Armory come Friday night. Scotty Hopson has the chance to make the biggest difference should games come down to the wire, given the import Small Forward averages 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and almost four and a half assists per game, proving to be one of the most venomous wing players in the Australian Basketball scene. Supporting him throughout the entire season has been Shooting Guard Sek Henry, who has also been a threat from the wing, collecting 13.5 points a game along with a handful of assists in every game. The first step for the Breakers begins Friday night, a loss for them would put them out of contention. It is literally a do or die situation.

6th: Melbourne United

Despite going down by a mere four points to Brisbane last Saturday, Melbourne showed promising signs in their convincing win against Perth the previous Wednesday, perhaps hinting at a possible return to their old form in this last leg of the season. With three game remaining and sitting two games behind fourth position, everything needs to go right for Dean Vickerman’s side as they matchup with the Hawks, Taipans and Phoenix in the run home. Following a 36 point performance against Brisbane, Melo Trimble might have picked up a second-wind following a horror run of games prior to last week and with the 25-year-old import averaging close to 20 points, 4.76 assists and three and half rebounds a game, he’s keen to make up for lost ground. Down in the key, Mr. Double-Double in Shawn Long has been dominant the last couple of weeks, with 2-meter Centre leading the league in rebounds (9.3 rpg) and putting up 18.5 points per game. Should the small-big duo of Trimble and Kemp put on impressive displays, they are sure to put United in the best possible position to sneak into the finals picture. Supporting the young guns in the side, Chris Goulding has shown that he’s still in his primetime years, presenting quality numbers on the scoreboard week in, week out, gathering 16.8 points per contest, whilst maintaining over three three-pointers per game as a result. Should the Bullets lose to the Breakers and Melbourne topples the Hawks, it’ll make for a very entertaining final round to the NBL 2019/20 season.

2019/20 NBL Team of the Week: Round 18

AN even spread of talented stars make up our Draft Central National Basketball League (NBL) Team of the Week for Round 18, with eight of the nine teams represented in the 10-player side. One game was called off early due to a leak in the roof, so performances from the New Zealand-Illawarra game was not taken into account as that would impact the averages of those players. Instead, we looked at those teams other respective games, though the Hawks missed out on having a representative this week anyway. The Breakers on the other hand had two, the equal-high for the round along with the Brisbane Bullets, while all other sides had the one representative.

Brisbane had two players in the starting team this round with center Matt Hodgson standing tall with a double-double of 14 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocks, while regular Team of the Week representative, Lamar Patterson had yet another double-double thanks to 31 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals in Brisbane’s win over Melbourne United. Joining Patterson in the forward half is Mitch Creek who returned to his best form with 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while a pair of American imports regained their spots in the guard starting positions. Adelaide 36ers’ Jerome Randle produced 22.5 points, five rebounds and five assists across the two games, while Perth Wildcats’ Bryce Cotton helped himself to 25.5 points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists across the Wildcats’ two games.

On the bench, New Zealand has two players making the side with veteran Tom Abercrombie, and young gun Finn Delany both making the team. Joining them was Cairns Taipans’ Scott Machado and Sydney Kings’ Jae’Sean Tate, while Melbourne’s Jo Lual-Acuil made his debut appearance in the side this season. Though the 10 selected had some impressive games, there were a number of great individual performers who came close to selection. Perth’s Terrico White and Nick Kay, New Zealand’s Sek Henry, South East Melbourne’s John Roberson, Adelaide’s Daniel Johnson, Cairns’ Cameron Oliver and Melbourne’s Shawn Long all came close to making the final side.

STARTING FIVE:

G: Jerome Randle (AD) – 22.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 18/34 FG%
G: Bryce Cotton (PW) – 25.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 17/45 FG%
C: Matt Hodgson (BB) – 14 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks, 58.3 FG%
F: Lamar Patterson (BB) – 31 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 57.9 FG%
F: Mitch Creek (SEM) – 27 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 47.4 FG%

BENCH:

G: Thomas Abercrombie (NZ) – 31 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks, 68.8 FG%
G: Scott Machado (CT) – 12 points, 2 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks, 80.0 FG%
C: Jo Lual-Acuil (MU) – 12.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.5 blocks, 10/21 FG%
F: Jae’Sean Tate (SK) – 23 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 76.9 FG%
F: Finn Delany (NZ) – 21 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 72.7 FG%

NBL Round 18 review: Wildcats claw back into top-spot race

A KEY win for the Wildcats against the Kings reignited the race for top spot, with only two rounds remaining in the 2019/20 season, whilst a hard fought four-point victory by the Bullets over Melbourne United created a game and a half gap between fourth and fifth position in the standings. Unfavourable weather caused an unexpected ending to the Illawarra/New Zealand game on Sunday afternoon in what was an action-packed Round 18 of the NBL.

Melbourne United (88) defeated Perth Wildcats (67)

Melbourne was finally able to upend their three-game losing streak this past Wednesday in the annual open-air matchup over at Melbourne Arena, keeping their season alive in the process. With both teams struggling to hit their shots throughout the game, it came down to who had the most players scoring effectively and ultimately, it was United that took out that category. With five players, including a career-best performance from Jo Lual-Acuil (15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks), reaching double-digits, it was hard for Perth to slow down the home side’s relentless offensive onslaught. Chris Goulding was also a top-performer for his side, with 17 points and three three-pointers, in another good shooting performance for the veteran. Whilst showing positive signs in many areas of the game, only two players managed to put up decent numbers for the Wildcats. Unsurprisingly, it was the duo of Nicholas Kay and Bryce Cotton that produced the majority of Perth’s points, being accountable for 44 of their 67 points (23 and 21 points respectively). The win for Melbourne keeps their finals hopes alive a week longer, but a tough matchup against Brisbane was to come up three days later, while the loss for Perth amped up the pressure to gain top spot, as they were to face-off with the Kings on Saturday night.

DC Medal:  3 Chris Goulding (MU), 2 Jo Lual-Acuil (MU), 1 Nicholas Kay (PW)

New Zealand Breakers (113) defeated Adelaide 36ers (89)

With New Zealand on the brink of elimination from the race to this season’s finals, it was unlikely that they were going to let this contest slip through their fingers in front of their home crowd. A strong start by the Breakers created the tone of what was to follow throughout the game. A 57 per cent clip for the home-side was everything the Breakers needed, which was enough to topple a struggling 36ers side as of late, that also gave up 14 turnovers in Friday night’s contest resulting in 26 points off of turnovers for the Breakers. It was New Zealand’s backcourt that proved to be the difference, as Tom Abercrombie took out man-of-the-match honours with 31 points as well as seven field goals from three-point range. For Finn Delaney, it was a big night on the boards, collecting 10 in total along with 21 points, while Sek Henry posted 18 points and eight assists. Daniel Johnson of the 36ers came away one rebound short of a double-double with 24 points and nine rebounds. Additionally, Jack McVeigh put up solid numbers on the night with 20 points while it was a quiet night for Jerome Randle only putting up 10 points and managing six assists. The 36ers would not dwell on the loss, as they now faced their final strike if they were to make the postseason, whereas the win saw the Breakers sit hot on the heels of Melbourne United who were sitting pretty in fifth.

DC Medal: 3 Tom Abercrombie (NZ), 2 Finn Delaney (NZ), 1 Daniel Johnson (AD)

Cairns Taipans (99) defeated Illawarra Hawks (75)

Looking for their third-straight win in front of their home crowd, the Taipans came out firing on all cylinders, opening up a 12-3 lead to start the game. With big second and third quarters to follow for Cairns, the result was put beyond doubt before the final period had even begun, culminating in a 24-point drubbing of the Hawks. Despite dominating on the boards, Illawarra failed to make an impact on any other facet of the game, most notably their 19 turnovers. For Cairns, it was their ability to shoot the ball from deep and getting to the free-throw line that helped get them the win, knocking down 14 threes and going 82 per cent from the charity strike (19 of 23). But in terms of performances, it was once again Cairns’ big three in Scott Machado, D.J. Newbill and Cameron Oliver that made the difference. Newbill’s scoring ability was once again on display with 20 points and four threes, as Oliver racked up 17 points and four big blocks, and for Machado it was a stellar night at the top of the key, securing 12 points and 11 assists. Josh Boone’s 19-point performance was Illawarra’s lone highlight, as they went down in their seventh consecutive loss. While Cairns secured the win, the Taipans need to stay vigilant with an unstoppable Brisbane Bullets outfit one win behind them in the standings.

DC Medal: 3 DJ Newbill (CT), 2 Josh Boone (IH), 1 Scott Machado (CT)

Brisbane Bullets (87) defeated Melbourne United (83)

The battle between then-fifth placed Melbourne United and fourth placed Brisbane Bullets was a battle to the very end as both teams were looking ahead to a finals spot. It was Melbourne who looked the better side at the end of the first half, leading by nine points. But the Bullets were not going down easily, looking to continue their winning streak at home with only two rounds to play. The clutch play of Lamar Patterson was consistent throughout the last quarter and with less than 30 seconds to play, nailed a three-pointer in David Barlow’s grill from the top of the arc, completing their comeback second half and putting the game out of reach for United, delivering the Bullets their sixth win in a row, their longest streak of the season. Patterson’s dominance earned him 31 points, 12 rebounds and five threes, while Matthew Hodgson collected 14 points and 13 rebounds as he battled with Melbourne’s Shawn Long. Melo Trimble continued his recent run of good form with 36 points in 30 minutes, as Long was good for 15 points and nine rebounds. The win for Brisbane solidifies its position in fourth position as the Bullets sit a game and a half in front of the Breakers with a game in hand, whereas Melbourne fell two games behind the pace in sixth position, making their pursuit of a finals spot much more challenging.

DC Medal: 3 Lamar Patterson (BB), 2 Melo Trimble (MU), 1 Matthew Hodgson (BB)

Perth Wildcats (110) defeated Sydney Kings (100)

In another battle between the first and second ranked teams of this season’s NBL, it was the latter that took home the win in what was a possible preview of the NBL 2019/20 Grand Final Series. With both clubs shooting at an incredible efficiency throughout four quarters it was only a matter of time before someone was to pull away and that came in the third quarter for the home side. After the Wildcats outscored the Kings 29-21 in the third period, they led at the final break by a formidable 16 points, which proved too much of a deficit to overcome for the ladder-leaders, earning Perth a much needed win in the pursuit of the top-spot taking out the contest by 10 points. Cotton impressed the spectators once again at RAC Arena totalling 30 points and four rebounds, while his right-hand man in Kay proved to be important once again, as he notched up 21 points and 10 rebounds once again for another double-double. For the visiting Kings, Jae’Sean Tate mustered a respectable 23 points and nine rebounds, while Brad Newley played an awesome game of his own, putting up 17 points and five rebounds. The result of the game tightens the distance between first and second to just one game and with two rounds remaining, a late shift in the table is not out of the question.

DC Medal: 3 Bryce Cotton (PW), 2 Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 1 Nicholas Kay (PW)

Illawarra Hawks (52) defeated by New Zealand Breakers (65)

With the Breakers on the brink of falling out of the finals race, the pressure was starting to mount for the boys from across the Tasman. But the ending they got was not one that they were expecting. Despite pushing out to an early lead of 16 points by the end of the first half, the Breakers struggled to find their mojo after half time with the Hawks clawing back the deficit to single digits. But by the end of the third quarter, NBL officials decided that the stadium was not in a suitable condition to finish the game due to an unfixable leak in the roof of the WIN Entertainment Centre, resulting in the early ending of Sunday afternoon’s contest. New Zealand was later confirmed victors by officials, with the win moving them into fifth position on the ladder, while Illawarra conceded their eighth loss on the trot. Forgetting about the early ending, New Zealand still had four players reach double-digits in Sek Henry (17 points), Finn Delany (16 points), Scotty Hopson (12 points and nine assists) and Robert Loe (10 points) as the Breakers shot a remarkable 60 per cent from the field. On the other hand, it was once again Josh Boone that led the Hawks in points coming off the bench for the second time in the round.

DC Medal: 3 Sek Henry (NZ), 2 Scotty Hopson (NZ), 1 Josh Boone (IH)

Adelaide 36ers (100) defeated South-East Melbourne Phoenix (93)

As both sides in this contest were now out of finals contention, motivations fell to ladder positioning and after a harsh defeat to New Zealand on Friday, Joey Wright’s men were looking for redemption and that is what they found. A 32-point opening quarter for the 36ers set the tone early in the game, but a tough second and third quarter by the Phoenix bought back the deficit from 13 points to two. Nevertheless, it was the fourth quarter play of Randle and Johnson that proved to be the difference, as Adelaide took home the seven-point victory and their twelfth win on the season. Randle and Johnson’s play were instrumental, with both of the stars securing 35 and 22 points respectively as well as seven rebounds each. After a quiet performance last game, Eric Griffin plied his trade up and down the court for the 36ers with the forward hitting the scoreboard and posting up 13 points for the game.  For the Phoenix, their losing streak extended to five games and cemented their position in eighth for the remainder of the season. Captain, Mitch Creek put on a quality performance scoring 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a temporary return to form, while John Roberson maintained his regular form with 26 points of his own but it was not enough to upset the 36ers.

DC Medal: 3 Jerome Randle (AD), 2 Mitch Creek (SEM), 1 Daniel Johnson (AD)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

43 – Lamar Patterson (BB)
42 –
41 –
40 –
39 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
38 –
37 –
36 –
35 –
34 –
33 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK)
32 –
31 –
30 –
29 – Mitch Creek (SEM)
28 – Shawn Long (MU)
27 – Jerome Randle (AD)
26 –
25 – Scott Machado (CT),
24 – Casper Ware (SK), Melo Trimble (MU)
23 –
22 –
21 – Nick Kay (PW)
20 – LaMelo Ball (IH)
19 – Cameron Oliver (CT), John Roberson (SEM)
18 –
17 – Daniel Johnson (AD),
16 – DJ. Newbill (CT)
15 – Scotty Hopson (NZ)
14 –
13 – Andrew Bogut (SK),
12 – Eric Griffin (AD)
11 –  Corey Webster (NZ)
10 – Chris Goulding (MU),
9 – Terrico White (PW), Finn Delany (NZ),
8 – Nathan Sobey (BB),
7 – Tom Abercrombie (NZ),
6 –  Kouat Noi (CT), Dane Pineau (SEM), Brad Newley (SK), Sek Henry (NZ)
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), AJ Ogilvy (IL), Anthony Drmic (AD), Todd Blanchfield (IH), Matt Hodgson (BB),
4 –  Dario Hunt (PW), Brandon Ashley (NZ), Ben Madgen (SEM),  Robert Loe (NZ), Didi Louzada (SK), Will Magnay (BB), Josh Boone (IH)
3 – Glen Rice Jr (NZ), Miles Plumlee (PW)
2 – Jason Cadee (BB), Sunday Dech (IH), David Barlow (MU), Mitch McCarron (MU), Tim Coenraad (IH), Kendall Stephens (SEM), Reuben Te Rangi (BB), Darington Hobson (IH), Jo Lual-Acuil (MU)
1 – Majok Deng (CT), Craig Moller (SK), Jesse Wagstaff (PW), Keith Benson (SEM), Tohi Smith-Milner (MU), RJ Hampton (NZ), Angus Glover (IH), Emmett Naar (IH), Ej Singler (BB), Daniel Kickert (SK), Sam Froling (IH), Mitch Norton (PW)

2019/20 NBL preview: Round 18 – Kings and Wildcats face off for prime position

ROUND 18 of the National Basketball League (NBL) is set to tip off tonight in the inaugural Indigenous Round. It will be another round hinged on ladder positioning and finals contentions with the matchup between the Kings and Wildcats set to shake up the top two, while Melbourne United will be looking to sneak back into the top four.

MELBOURNE UNITED v. PERTH WILDCATS
Wednesday, January 29, 7:30pm
Melbourne Arena

Melbourne United have struggled for form in recent weeks dropping four of their last five games and will have to compete with a red hot Perth Wildcats to kick off the round. The Wildcats currently have second spot all sewn up but will be wanting to make a case for first and a win here could do just that. But United will be well aware of what is on the line and hoping to cause an upset to get their season back on track and make an appearance in the finals having dropped from fourth to fifth. Shawn Long will have to stand and deliver if his side is any chance to snag a win and coming off a sub-par performance last round with only 13 points and six rebounds will want to go big. Other key players such as Chris Goulding and the ever-developing Jo Lual Acil also made a splash last round and will be looking to replicate that form against Perth. It is hard to go past the combination of Terrico White and Nick Kay with the duo causing all sorts of trouble for opposition teams with their scoring prowess and speed across the court. But with a home crowd behind them and finals on the line anything is possible. But the Wildcats are a well-oiled machine able to run the court with ease and have had the wood over their grand final foes in Round 1 and 3 but Melbourne clenched victory last time they played in Round 12 and will be hoping to draw on that confidence.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS v. ADELAIDE 36ERS
Friday, January 31, 5:30pm
Spark Arena

The Breakers are flailing outside of the top four but are not out of finals contention with a win against the Adelaide 36ers exactly what the doctor would order. Both sides have been inconsistent throughout the season stringing together some strong performances and then dropping winnable matches. They sit sixth and seventh respectively on the ladder making for a tantalising clash with both teams expected to give their all and relatively evenly matched. In their past five games, both the Breakers and 36ers have won two games and lost three but with the run to the finals around the corner it is now or never. Adelaide have a couple of key bigs with Eric Griffin the main man able to do a wealth of damage. He came out with a point to prove last round knocking back 21 points and collecting five rebounds showing just how explosive he can be when given time and space. Meanwhile teammate, Anthony Drmic is another one to look out with the forward using his height and body positioning to dominate. The Breakers are not without their own couple of stars with Scotty Hopson and captain Tom Abercrombie able to combine and ply their trade up and down the court making for an enthralling contest especially with fourth spot still up for contention.

CAIRNS TAIPANS v. ILLAWARRA HAWKS
Friday, January 31, 8:00PM
Cairns Convention Centre

The Taipans have been on a rollercoaster journey throughout season 2019/20 but have shown that they can do the unthinkable and match it with the best. With finals just around the corner, expect Cairns to iron out any issues against the lowly Illawarra Hawks who have struggled to get going especially in the absence of young gun LaMelo Ball who has headed home to the US for rehabilitation. But Cairns’ record against the Hawks is worrying having lost all three encounters this season and nine consecutively meaning this is a huge game in the context of the Taipans future. The Taipans have gone from strength to strength with DJ Newbill guiding the ship in the right direction with his power around the rim and ability to post hefty totals pair that with the likes of impressive ball-handler and scoring machine Scott Machado and Cairns are hard to stop. Cameron Oliver is another key player for the Taipans with the center able to find the net with ease and cause headaches for opposition teams with his aggressive style of play. The Hawks will be hoping to add some respectability to their ladder positioning and register another win for the year but will have their work cut out for them. Emmett Naar has enjoyed more court time and will be hoping to build on his repertoire while the likes of Josh Boone and Sunday Dech have been consistent for the struggling side.

BRISBANE BULLETS v. MELBOURNE UNITED
Saturday, February 1, 5:30pm
Nissan Arena

In their second game of the round, United will have to go big or go home. The Bullets have kicked it up a gear in recent weeks going on a five-game winning streak such is their hot form. They have quietly snuck their way up their ladder picking off challengers and standing up in the battles. Having snatched fourth place from United last round, expect Melbourne to come out with a real fire in the belly and keep their finals dreams alive. It is hard to go past Lamar Patterson who has been in career best form with the Brisbane Bullets star taking his game to a whole other level. Patterson is averaging a whopping 21.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists making him a key contributor for the Bullets while the likes of EJ Singler and Nathan Sobey have played a strong support role throughout the season. The synergy across the court for the Bullets is the main focal point that Melbourne United will have to stop with each player able to come on and have an influence. The battle between Will Magnay and Long will bring plenty of excitement while Melo Trimble will have to get to work and hit the scoreboard for United to take the win.

PERTH WILDCATS v. SYDNEY KINGS
Saturday, February 1, 8:00pm
RAC Arena

In what could be the precursor to the grand final and arguably the match of the round the Perth Wildcats play host to a rampaging Sydney Kings. There is star power right across the court and with top spot on the line expect plenty of fireworks. Both sides are in hot form with Perth particularly strong at home, winning eight games and only losing two making RAC Arena a real fortress for the Wildcats. In their last two encounters, Perth have brought home the chocolates and will be hoping to repeat those efforts and knock their opponents off their perch. Bryce Cotton is in a league of his own against the Kings averaging 34 points per game this season when playing Sydney and in their last meeting he knocked back 39 points making him the danger man. Import, Miles Plumlee has made an immediate impact since coming into the side able to hit the scoreboard and gobble up any rebounds that come his way while Kay is set to play in his 150th NBL game. In their standalone game this round, the Kings will be looking to the likes of Andrew Bogut to nullify Plumlee and also hit the scoreboard. Meanwhile teammates Jae’Sean Tate and Casper Ware have taken the competition by storm with their scoring prowess and skill.

ILLAWARRA HAWKS v. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Sunday, February 2, 3:00pm
Win Entertainment Centre

Both teams will be facing off in their second game of the round with the Breakers set to make the trek over to New South Wales in hope to keep their finals chances alive. New Zealand have a good record over the Hawks winning their past three matches and will be looking to make it four in a row. Expect the Breakers to throw everything at their opponents in a bid to regain their hot form and prove that they are a real challenger for the post season. Sek Henry will be aiming to keep his dominance alive against the struggling Hawks scoring above 20 points in each of their encounters so far this year. Teammate, Finn Delaney is set to play his 100th NBL game and is in career best form averaging 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while Brandon Ashley is a real excitement machine for the Breakers. For the Hawks, Todd Blanchfield and Tim Coenraad are a dynamic duo with the two able to hit the scoreboard and do damage but will have to be on their a-game if they are any chance to topple New Zealand.

ADELAIDE 36ers v. SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Sunday, February 2, 5:00pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Unlike their opponents, the 36ers will be playing their second game of the round. A win against the out of form South East Melbourne Phoenix will keep Adelaide within striking distance of the top four. The Phoenix are coming off a disappointing month losing four of their past five games making their chance for finals very slim. On the other hand, if Adelaide win both their games this round they could leapfrog into fourth spot on the ladder. John Roberson is a real playmaker for the Phoenix able to stand up under pressure and deliver while Dane Pineau and Ben Madgen can also chip in on the scoreboard. But the real barometer of the side is superstar Mitch Creek with the talented forward able to tear a game wide open with his ability to go to post. Creek is coming off an impressive performance last round recording 32 points and 10 rebounds showcasing just how dominant he can be. But if the Phoenix are really to get going they must have an even contribution across the board and gain early ascendancy. Jerome Randle is the danger man able to score points from anywhere across the court for Adelaide while Daniel Johnson is also a formidable force thanks to his rebounding and points scoring ability. The clash between the two sides will provide plenty of interest with the result really able to go either way depending on the pressure.

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.