United to run gauntlet for top-four finish

FOLLOWING their loss to the 36ers on Saturday night, it marked Melbourne United’s third loss in four contests. As a result of the defeat, United now sit precariously in fourth position with Adelaide sitting only half a game back and the Bullets just one win behind in sixth.

With a quarter of the season to play and only seven games remaining, Dean Vickerman’s men need to find a strain of good form quick if they are to have the best chance of making the postseason.

“It’s been a sub-standard quarter [of the season] for us, but we’ve got another quarter of the season to go,” Vickerman said in his post-game presser last Saturday.

“We’ll need a positive score out of these [games], whether it be 5-2, whether it be 4-3, we need a positive outcome.”

One of Melbourne’s main detriments at this point of the season, particularly during their last four contests, has been the sub-par performance of their point guard, Melo Trimble.

The 25-year-old import has struggled from the field recently, failing to crack ten points in his last three games. In Saturday’s game against the 36ers, Trimble stumbled his way through 31 minutes of play and converted only two of his thirteen attempts on the night, finishing with five points.

During his encounters with Adelaide, Illawarra and Brisbane, Trimble had failed to achieve a shooting percentage of at least 30 per cent, as well as the following week, only shooting 31 per cent against the Taipans, who sit half a game ahead of United in third position.

Other members of United’s starting five have also been substantially absent from the floor. Namely, ex-Melbourne Tiger and Boomer, David Barlow. Despite Barlow only averaging 7.95 points and 4.16 rebounds per game, Barlow’s output has decreased over the last three weeks, which is severely counterproductive in a league that has been neck and neck from Round 1.

Barlow, who’s been an influential leader in the National Basketball League for eleven seasons, has scored a total of 23 points in his last four games and has shot an unremarkable 33.3 per cent from the floor. This has in turn caused a three-and-a-half-minute decrease in Barlow’s minutes at this end of the season.

Whether or not Casey Prather does make a last-minute return, despite being ruled out for the rest of the season, Vickerman and his staff have a lot to ponder as the season starts to reach its pointy end and every loss becomes even more significant.

While United struggles with their front-court woes, one of their roster’s oldest players has recently regained a level of form that has not been exhibited in his last couple of seasons.

Chris Goulding, who put up very impressive numbers in his performances against the 36ers and the Hawks averaging 23.5 points a game, has seen a substantial increase in his minutes as a result, going from around 30 minutes a game to almost 36.

Given Goulding’s newly refreshed form, perhaps a different style of offence might just be the thing that gets Melbourne over the line in the next five rounds, or perhaps less prominent players, such as the developing Shea Ili or Boomer Mitch McCarron can step up to the task.

Nevertheless, for Goulding, as he said following his side’s defeat against Adelaide, he needs more than just a good shooting performance, he needs wins to justify these efforts.

“[My stroke] feels fine,” he said, “I feel confident in my shot but when you don’t win there’s not much point in making six three-pointers.”

The Road to the Postseason

As stated earlier, Melbourne still awaits seven more challengers in their NBL 2019/20 campaign, with the bulk of their top tier competition coming within the next ten days facing both top teams and a team keen on redemption. Here is the snapshot for Melbourne United’s next three matchups as well as the team’s schedule wrapping up the season.

Sunday, January 19 vs New Zealand @ Spark Arena

The first step in the race for a semi-final spot is to cross the Tasman and defeat a team that is looking to regain lost footing in the standings. The Breakers, who once sat in fifth position only two rounds ago, lost two very important games to third placed Cairns and the sixth placed Bullets in Round 15. For Melbourne and most other teams, the number one priority should be neutralising both Scotty Hopson and Sek Henry early on in the contest. Therefore, this match provides the perfect setting for Melo Trimble to bounce back to good form with a strong performance against the Breakers’ backcourt.

Sunday, January 26 vs Sydney @ Qudos Bank Arena

When Round 17 swings around, Melbourne has a chance to really justify their case for a finals berth as they do battle away against the top side in the league. The bulk of the responsibility will fall onto United’s big men. Shawn Long, Melbourne’s marquee import signing of the season, is averaging almost a double-double with 19.4 points and 9.8 rebounds being tallied every game. If Long along with others in his front-court can keep second-chance points limited and out-rebound the Kings, then pushing the floor and shooting accuracy will ultimately decide the outcome.

Wednesday, January 29 vs Perth Wildcats @ Melbourne Arena

In order to give themselves the best possible run to the playoffs, United will need to attempt to slay the in-form Wildcats, who are coming off a strong victory against the Kings. With the Wildcats having threats at almost every position, it will take more than just good execution on United’s part. Obtaining Bryce Cotton’s penetration ability, Terrico White’s strength at the wing position and Nicholas Kay being proficient everywhere else, a top to bottom effort will be required by Melbourne.

Final sprint

Saturday, February 1 vs Brisbane Bullets @ Nissan Arena

Saturday, February 8 vs Illawarra Hawks @ Melbourne Arena

Thursday, February 13 vs Cairns Taipans @ Melbourne Arena

Sunday, February 16 vs South-East Melbourne Phoenix @ Melbourne Arena

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