THERE is not long to go now in the National Basketball League (NBL) home and away season, and some surprising results last week puts a lot of focus on Round 16. The Bullets and 36ers had losses last week that could have seen them break away from each other, and the top spot changed so many times throughout the six-day round. This week, there is a couple of double-headers with the Breakers and United, plus Sydney and Brisbane. Perth have a standalone game against the Hawks as they roll on towards their 33rd consecutive playoff series.
New Zealand Breakers v Melbourne United
Friday, 5:20pm at Spark Arena
The key matchup: Shawn Long v Josh Boone
Long has been smoking it lately, averaging 24.7 over the last seven games including 32 points at 66.7 per cent against Cairns last week. Definitely unheralded in the grand scheme of the league, he is averaging 8.9 rebounds a game and had three steals last week, as well as eight blocks in his last three games. Boone has recorded four double-doubles in his past four matches, and narrowly missed a fifth when he scored eight points against Brisbane in Round 11. It is all to do with his rebounds as his presence is one of the best in the league with his 204cm frame that he can out-muscle many of the best.
Last time they met: Melbourne United (108) v New Zealand Breakers (101)
It was back in Round 6 that these teams last met, and the lead changed 15 times throughout the game. Adelaide led by a game-high 10 twice throughout the second quarter, but it was Melbourne that had a 10-3 run within the last two minutes to ice the game. Chris Goulding provided five points in that run on his way to 14 points overall, but it was imports Josh Boone (26 points, seven rebounds) and Casper Ware (24 points, three rebounds, four assists) that were the main guys. For the Breakers, Corey Webster was the only one to score more than 15 points (31 points) as he had a whopping eight assists too.
Season so far: Melbourne had two wins last week against Illawarra and Adelaide and scored 113.5 points across those two games for a points against average of 90.0 points. These enabled United to take top spot. New Zealand also had two wins at home over the Taipans and Bullets, averaging 111.0 points for 101.0 points against. At the conclusion of the round, they are still in seventh, two games out of the top four.
The game: The Breakers will find themselves the underdog when Melbourne come across the water, and it’s hard to argue that Melbourne aren’t a form team at the moment with shooting and points at a very high rate. United have some serious players at the moment in Boone and Ware but are getting valuable contributions from the five in Mitch McCarron and David Barlow. New Zealand will want to end their season with some highs and knocking off United will be good for them as they look to next year.
Brisbane Bullets v Sydney Kings
Friday, 7:43pm at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
The key matchup: Lamar Patterson v Daniel Kickert
Patterson has been wonderful since joining Brisbane and is leading their scoring (17.4) and steals (1.5), and second on their rebounds (6.1) and assists (3.8). He’s always in a position to make a run at the basket, or at least shoot when he thinks he is capable, which will go a long way to deciding the fate of the Bullets for the rest of the season. Kickert has been shooting well for the Kings (50 per cent) but been low on scoring (12.7 in his last three). When Kickert comes off the bench, he’ll go to Patterson as the form forward for the Kings after David Wear and Brad Newley have also been down. He gets good minutes, but needs to make use of them to benefit the Kings season.
Last time they met: Sydney Kings (87) defeated Brisbane Bullets (81)
The Kings were in charge for most of this contest, and although the margin got out to 11 points in the fourth, Brisbane always managed to close in, despite having only three players in double figures. For Brisbane, Daniel Grida had a double-double when he scored 23 points along with 10 rebounds and two assists while Lamar Patterson had 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists. For the winning Kings, Andrew Bogut was massive with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Jerome Randle had 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Season so far: Brisbane still manage to hold onto fourth spot with percentage on their side after a terrible week where they lost to the Kings and Breakers. Sydney had the win over the Bullets, before a surprise 20-point loss to the Wildcats saw them slip into third.
The game: The Bullets really shot themselves in the foot last week and their road to the playoffs is in danger again with his matchup. The Kings are a great team, working together and finding a way to win despite their scoring being the lowest in the league (85.4), their shooting is among the best (47 per cent). Brisbane are just as good so for this game, it’s about who can place the most pressure on shooters to hopefully limit their field goal percentage. The Kings will definitely be put off by their loss last round, but they’ve won their last five against the Bullets who can’t afford any more stuff-ups this season.
Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks
Friday, 9:53pm at RAC Arena
The key matchup: David Anderson v Nicholas Kay
Kay has been a beast for Perth, sinking many shots that he takes – 59 per cent for the year and 71.1 per cent through the last three games to average 15.2 points. Definitely improving on his past three years, pulling down 8.5 rebounds and game and 3.3 assists which is perfect for a player of Kay’s calibre. Anderson’s season hasn’t stood out but in a Hawks team that has been underwhelming, he’s often been the one to take the rebounds (3.7) while getting into the paint. A starter, but he doesn’t play enough minutes to full show what he can do but hopefully with the Hawks season coming close to an end, he can some more time on court.
Last time they met: Illawarra Hawks (81) defeated Perth Wildcats (77)
A big upset, considering Perth were leading for majority of the first three quarters, getting out to as much as a 15-point lead after a 28-18 first quarter. Illawarra had a perfect second half in general (43-27) to round out winners. Big men David Anderson (21 points) and Todd Blanchfield (19 points) led the way for the Hawks, and for the Wildcats, Bryce Cotton had 21 points and three each of rebounds and assists.
Season so far: Perth got back on track last week, winning against Adelaide and then surprising the competition with a big win over then-ladder-leaders Sydney. These two wins puts them back into second. Illawarra lost to United, but won a close one to Cairns and sit sixth with an 11-12 record.
The game: Three straight wins for the Wildcats and suddenly there’s talk of them staying in the top four again, something that the players and coaching staff are adamant of. Unfortunately for Illawarra (who have not won in the west since 2016), Perth seem to be on a good run and at home, Perth have been very good at 9-2. The Hawks are a good defensive team (8.0 steals and 3.1 blocks) so will press continuously and make plenty of fast breaks, but the form of Cotton and Kay could likely overpower the Hawks side, that should be happy to blood some young stars like Daniel Grida and Emmett Naar.
Cairns Taipans v Adelaide 36ers
Saturday, 2:50pm at Cairns Convention Centre
The key matchup: Melo Trimble v Nathan Sobey
It’s always a mouthwatering matchup when these two come together. Two of the best shooters in the NBL, they take the game on without a care in the world, but remain selfless when needed. Much of the attention for opposition teams has been on Trimble (and for good reason), as he can very deadly. He is continuing his good run of points (31 and 24 last round) as well as nine of each rebounds and assists, and when at the line, rarely misses. Sobey is still strong with 16.2 points and more than five rebounds and assists this season. He is a complete player who has also recorded at least one steal in 14 of his last 15 games.
Last time they met: Adelaide 36ers (87) defeated Cairns Taipans (82)
Cairns started off really well but a middle period of consecutive 16-point quarters hurt their chances at staging a quicker comeback as it was two-point margin with 13 seconds left. Daniel Johnson had 22 points and five rebounds, and was supported off the bench from Majok Deng (17 points). Trimble had six assists for Cairns and scored 18 points, as did Nate Jawai who also had nine rebounds.
Season so far: Two tough losses for Cairns who came so close again throughout the season, losing to New Zealand and Illawarra by a combined eight points. Because of that, they still sit eighth, while Adelaide are still knocking on the door of finals, as they too lost two games against Perth and Melbourne.
The game: Both these teams can fluctuate on form, but the big issue will be for Adelaide who need to win after going down twice last week. They will be thanking their lucky stars that Brisbane could not get away, so there’s still plenty of chances to nab that last spot. Adelaide are great at shooting the ball (46 per cent), but better yet, are good at getting their own rebounds (14.1) for second chance points and are a clear leader with points scored (95.9). Cairns on the other hand are on the other end of spectrum across the competition but have upset a few teams this season so the 36ers should not take this game lightly.
Sydney Kings v Brisbane Bullets
Sunday, 2:50pm at Qudos Bank Arena
The key matchup: Jerome Randle v Cam Gliddon
Randle had 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists last time they met which was last week. He’s only scored below 10 on two occasions early on in the season on his way to 18.2 points per game. Randle is also capable of instigating plays with 3.9 assists and can get under his opponents for vital turnovers. Gliddon hasn’t had the best month, five scores under eight since December 8. Nevertheless, he is still averaging 14.4 this season and seen his steals be on par with his previous seasons at 1.4 a game (2.2 the past five games).
Last time they met: N/A
Season so far: At the end of round 15, Sydney ended up in third place as they ground a win against Brisbane before being completely outplayed by a Perth team hellbent on winning. Brisbane will be counting their lucky stars as their fourth spot wasn’t taken even though they lost two from two.
The game: A Sydney-Brisbane double header could put some things right for the team that lost on Friday. The Kings hold home court advantage in this Sunday matchup, holding a 6-5 record at the venue (and just one more loss in the past 12 months). On the Kings side too will be their record against Brisbane in their home state, the Bullets not recording a win in Sydney since 2016. The Kings might not be able to go anywhere, but with both teams having a game behind second-place Perth, now is the time to start climbing and cementing their spots on the ladder.
Melbourne United v New Zealand Breakers
Sunday, 5:20pm at Melbourne Arena
The key matchup: DJ Kennedy v Tai Wesley
Wesley was a monster when these teams met in Round 1 at Melbourne Arena, his old stomping ground. Wesley knows the court well obviously which is why he can scale his game to suit. Wesley was in foul trouble last week which resulted in his six points against Brisbane, but he had 16 and 20 in his last two, both against Cairns. Wesley has been known to get in the double figures for rebounds and assists too. Since coming back from injury, Kennedy has had a score of two against Perth, but returns of 17 and 16 against Illawarra and Adelaide has put him back where he belongs. He’s riding on confidence with knowing his role and had a combined 22 rebounds last weekend too including three steals against the 36ers.
Last time they met: N/A
Season so far: Melbourne were dominant last week and were rewarded by claiming top spot once again this season. New Zealand are still making things tough for them, and other teams as they’re seventh but a couple of games behind the pack.
The game: Another Round 16 double header, as the Breakers now travel to Melbourne where the Breakers won in a Round 1 clash 88-81. United should comfortably put them away at home this time, but a weary travel schedule could see some stars held back early in the game. Former United forward, Tai Wesley was on fire against his old team scoring 25 points while Boone and Ware were quiet for United, which is definitely not the case anymore. There’s not much separating these teams on the stats sheet, but United presence is a lot stronger.
Illawarra Hawks v Cairns Taipans
Monday, 7:50pm at WIN Entertainment Centre
The key matchup: Todd Blanchfield v Devon Hall
A lot rests on Blanchfield for the Hawks, their bonefide star, with 15.0 points in a team that averages 88.2 a game. He is also their best three point shooter (41 per cent), while sitting at 48 per cent overall. The big man can pull in some rebounds (4.7) but naturally, is having a great season compared to his previous campaigns. Hall can have plenty of looks at the basket, but it does not always result in a score. He is shooting at 37 per cent this season and is averaging under 10 points a game, with 4.4 rebounds his saving grace. The Taipans need to find a proper forward, but Hall is young so with some more years, he can come good.
Last time they met: Illawarra Hawks (82) defeated Cairns Taipans (81)
It was a tale of two halves last week as each team dominated in a particular half. The Hawks got out to a 18-point lead in the second, but Cairns came back big to lead throughout the third quarter break, until the Hawks used all their strength to come away with the win. The scoring was shared around for the Hawks but Brian Conklin was good with 15 points and eight rebounds. Cairns were led by Melo Trimble who finished with 24 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Season so far: Illawarra are close to a spot in the final four (sixth), but will need to win some tough games in the coming weeks, after going one and one last week. Cairns are last, wand will end up there come the end of the season, but their ability to push teams and win as they won one and lost one last round.
The game: These two have combined some for classic matches in recent times, and it was only highlighted by a nail-biter last week on Australia Day. Both are good at keeping pressure on their opponents and putting up massive blocks. Cairns shot 29.6 per cent from three point range last week while the Hawks were 6/15 but both can be much better, especially the Taipans. If Cairns get on a roll and can put down a few more baskets, they could win this one away.