WITH the top three teams locked in, the penultimate round starts tonight with a double-header, in New Zealand where Adelaide travel to face the Breakers, before two teams – Illawarra and Brisbane – are hunting for the final top-four spot too. It is one of two games the Bullets are hoping to win; the other against Cairns. The 36ers will be hoping to keep their season alive too with crunch matches between the Breakers and United. Two potential playoff matches could be played in this round too, with the Kings hosting Melbourne, and then travelling to Perth two days later.
New Zealand Breakers v Adelaide 36ers
Thursday, 5:20pm at Spark Arena
The key matchup: Tai Wesley v Daniel Johnson
These two had a good contest last time and it should not be any different this time around. It really depends on how Wesley saddles up for this game, as he has averaged 13.0 points since their Round 12 encounter, fluctuating a lot. Johnson on the other hand since that above game has averaged 15.4 points, but is not helped by a low five scored against Perth two weeks ago. Johnson has pulled in massive rebounds this season (6.8), so too has Wesley (5.4) so it’s all about who can help their team out the most in all areas of the court.
Last time they met: New Zealand Breakers (104) defeated Adelaide 36ers (96)
The Breakers staged a massive fightback, coming back from 11 points down in the second quarter, helped by a 29-18 third term. The Breakers shot the ball at over 51 per cent, and were an even 50 per . cent from outside the arc as Patrick Richard had 18 points which were all three pointers. The Breakers were also assisted greatly by Shawn Long (28 points and 18 rebounds) and Tai Wesley (19 points, 13 rebounds and four rebounds). For the 36ers, Nathan Sobey had 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Season so far: The Breakers season is as good as done after two losses to United last weekend; a 20-point drubbing, and then another 2018/19 overtime loss. They sit seventh, three games from fourth spot but with a 0.99 percentage. Adelaide overtook the Bullets to claim fourth spot at the end of Round 16; their nine-point win over Cairns enough to put them in the finals position, with other teams breathing down their necks now.
The game: The 36ers will want to win to keep their finals dream alive with the final spot, but the Breakers can still influence the makeup of the top four. The Breakers do lead the season series against the 36ers 2-1, so an Adelaide win will make the ledger even. Adelaide will come out hard to improve their percentage, which at the moment is 0.1 per cent less than fifth-placed Brisbane. The 36ers are still the best scorers in the league (96.0) with 52 per cent from two point range. The Breakers are 53 per cent league-leaders in the same stat at 93.3 average, so not a terrible difference as each team has been in-and-out of form.
Brisbane Bullets v Illawarra Hawks
Thursday, 7:50pm at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
The key matchup: Lamar Patterson v Todd Blanchfield
Patterson is coming off a hot 27 points against Sydney, and has been averaging 17.6 since his debut 19 matches ago. Other than his debut game in early November when he scored 2 points in eight minutes, he hasn’t dropped single figures. Patterson is equal-seventh in rebounds (6.3) too, highlighting his prominence in the NBL Blanchfield has 4.5 rebounds this season and his scoring is prominent at 14.6 points. He has averaged 11.0 in his last three but before then, his previous two were 22 and 27 points.
Last time they met: Brisbane Bullets (100) defeated Illawarra Hawks (74)
In Round 11, Brisbane completely smashed the Hawks by 26 points, but that was not the worst margin for Illawarra as they were behind by 30 deep into the third quarter. Illawarra did outscore Brisbane in the final quarter 29-25, but the Bullets were assisted greatly by Lamar Patterson (18 points, six rebounds and four assists) as Mika Vukona collected a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds and three assists) The Hawks had seven people in single digits, David Andersen the only starter to score double digits (15 points) with seven rebound and three assists too.
Season so far: Brisbane lost their fourth spot to Adelaide after two losses to the Kings, but are a minimal percentage away from reclaiming the spot. Illawarra are trailing Brisbane in sixth spot after their win over Cairns.
The game: With four consecutive losses for the Bullets now, their season is soon to be on the line if they don’t start winning, and a loss against Illawarra will be disastrous. On the opposite end, Illawarra are on equal percentage with Brisbane and a win would allow the Hawks to leapfrog the Bullets. The Bullets will have home crowd behind them where they average 92.9 points so the Hawks have to silence the fans early. Illawarrra do need to either keep on top of, or stay even with the Bullets because they have been known to fall behind in some quarters this season, and lately too.
Sydney Kings v Melbourne United
Friday, 7:50pm at Qudos Bank Arena
The key matchup: Jerome Randle v Casper Ware
In a battle of MVP frontrunners, both will be at the forefront to lead their team to victory. Randle has been averaging 18.4 points and is coming off a season-high 26 points last round against Brisbane. He’s averaged over 50 per cent from the field in four of his last six games also. Ware attempts a lot of shots (380) but is going at 42 per cent, with one of his last five over 43 per cent. He has shot 19.3 points a game with 4.9 assists, and can change the course of a game, or at least challenge the opposition immensely.
Last time they met: Melbourne United (75) defeated Sydney Kings (70)
It was a low-scoring affair in Sydney with the Kings never falling away from the contest, gaining back their lead with less than two minutes to go until Chris Goulding (16 points) and David Barlow (12 points and 11 rebounds) converted clutch trips to the line. Jerome Randle was again good for Sydney with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists but Andrew Bogut proved his dominance with 11 points and 15 rebounds.
Season so far: Melbourne have retained top spot with two wins over New Zealand with a 16-8 record, while having a game behind their other top-four contenders. Sydney are third despite their two wins over Brisbane last round.
The game: Two heavyweights of this year’s NBL season come face to face in a game that could also be the championship match. Two defensive units collide (separated by 0.4 defensive rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.4 blocks) with high-scorers abundant throughout more than just the starting five. This will no doubt be a close contest, the last three between them have been decided by seven points or under.
Cairns Taipans v Brisbane Bullets
Saturday, 2:50pm at Cairns Convention Centre
The key matchup: Melo Trimble v Cameron Gliddon
These two guards have had good seasons. Trimble more so, but Gliddon has had a career-best year with the Bullets, averaging 14.1 points with solid numbers in rebounds (3.2) and assists (2.4). Gliddon is a crafty mover and has the ability to stick to Trimble to inflict some damage to the Taipans in terms of turnovers, the Cairns guard having five in each game last round. Trimble needs to confirm the league’s interest in his MVP candidacy, but with a 22.6, 3.7, 4.6 stat line, he seems fine but it can always be an improved performance.
Last time they met: Brisbane Bullets (99) defeated Cairns Taipans (68)
The Taipans got the first bucket of the game thanks to Lucas Walker but after Matt Hodgson provided the response, it was all Brisbane. They didn’t give up the lead again, and going at 52% from the field, outrebounding Cairns by nine, having eight more steals and plus 32 points in the paint. Lamar Patterson had 15 points, 12 rebounds and five assists whereas Jason Cadee top-scored with 18 points. Melo Trimble scored almost a third of the Taipans total points (23) and Robert Loe (19 points, seven rebounds) contributed as no other players scored over eight.
Season so far: Brisbane didn’t do themselves any favors last round, losing to Sydney on both occasions, although the first was by two points at the hands of a Jerome Randle layup. They lost their placing in the top four because of this, but Cairns are all but out of the race for finals. They lost to the 36ers and Hawks last week.
The game: Both of these teams have been underperforming lately and before this round are both riding a four-loss losing streak. It might seem an easy game for the Bullets but Brisbane’s last trip to Cairns resulted in a 29-point defeat. On statistics, there’s not much that separates the two, but a big factor is the three point conversion rate. The Bullets manage 40 per cent, whereas the Taipans average 35 per cent from behind the arc.
Illawarra Hawks v New Zealand Breakers
Saturday, 7:50pm at WIN Entertainment Centre
The key matchup: AJ Ogivly v Shawn Long
Really, there’s no one to really match Long on the Illawarra roster, but Ogilvy has been up with the best for the entire season. Long was been in red hot form over the last month, averaging 24.0 points and dropping nine or more rebounds in five of his past nine games including an 18 in Round 11 and a 15 last week. His shooting percentage has dropped below 40 per cent on only three occasions this season. Ogilvy is still pulling down good rebounding numbers (7.0) himself and will go high around the rim. But with 1.6 turnovers, Ogivly will be chasing Long all game but he came off the bench last week, so it’ll be interesting to see what Rob Beveridge does with him.
Last time they met: N/A
Season so far: The Breakers will need some miracles to make the playoffs, as they lost both games to Melbourne last round and sit seventh with a 10-14 record. The Hawks are not too far off, but a loss to Perth before a good result against Cairns has put them well placed in sixth.
The game: This game favours the Hawks given the Breakers have one days rest and have the travel to Woollongong. With a finals spot on the line, the Hawks will be limiting the Breakers scoring, and by leading the league in steals (7.9) are more than capable.
Adelaide 36ers v Melbourne United
Sunday, 2:50pm at Titanium Security Arena
The key matchup: Daniel Johnson v David Barlow
While the emphasis will be on other players from both teams, here lies two players that will aim to out-do each other. Barlow is not a huge scorer (12.5 points per game), but he can be when he needs to be. He also shot the ball at over 71 per cent in each of his hitouts last round with solid figures in steals and blocks too. Johnson has shown he too can be efficient from the field within the last few weeks, scoring 16.7 a game. His rebounds are what makes him known though with 6.8 – seventh in the league. Johnson has recorded a steal in each of his last four games, keeping him on his toes as he reads the play.
Last time they met: Melbourne United (114) defeated Adelaide 36ers (91)
There was a small glimmer of hope for the 36ers when they came back from an 11-point quarter time deficit, leading by three at the start of the third quarter. Melbourne had a mammoth 32-16 fourth quarter though as Josh Boone (19 points and 10 rebounds), Casper Ware (16 points and nine assists) and Chris Goulding (16 points) came up big when needed. Nathan Sobey scored 24 points for Adelaide as 22-year-old Jack McVeigh had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Season so far: Melbourne proved their superiority on the competition, averaging 109.0 points beating the Breakers twice last week, finishing the round in top spot. Adelaide’s one win over Cairns was good enough for them to slip into the top four.
The game: Melbourne will probably continue their run of 100 plus scores when they take on Adelaide, but not because they will be dominating. Adelaide will definitely come out hard, as they have a mission to get into the finals. But this Championship matchup from last year will have the same feel to it, with both eager to win. Despite being top now, United will want to get ahead and claim a home final and will do so by being a rock in defence. They average more defensive rebounds and blocks than Adelaide, but Adelaide really punish teams on the fast break so if the 36ers can thwart Melbourne’s defence and get around them, they’ll find plenty of points.
Perth Wildcats v Sydney Kings
Sunday, 5:20pm at RAC Arena
The key matchup: Jerome Randle v Bryce Cotton
Again two men who are in the running for the MVP award, this will be a big moment to tests their own strengths against a side they might come up against in the finals. These two should play with more aggressiveness than ever, and with Cotton running hot (22.6 points) coming off a 27-point game, Randle did the same with his 24 against Brisbane. Both Perth and Sydney still have lots to play for and these two will be leading the charge on every play whether that be themselves or via the assist.
Last time they met: Perth Wildcats (88) defeated Sydney Kings (68)
A surprising result given where each team was at at that time of the season, but it was part of Perth’s revival. Sydney’s hopes were dashed after a 22-48 second and third quarters. It was a 31-point Perth lead deep, Bryce Cotton (16 points) doing well, but Nicholas Kay (16 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) was the best. Sydney didn’t have a player score over 11 points, and those were Andrew Bogut (along with eight rebounds and four assists) and Jerome Randle (along with four rebounds and two assists)
Season so far: The Kings had two successive games last week against finals contenders Brisbane to end the round in third. Perth are second after a 14-point win over Illawarra.
The game: Two plays three in this important match that can still influence placings inside the top two, when home finals are on the line. This is the Kings second-last game of the season and it’s a game that will prove their title credentials against a Perth side that’s come back up at the right time.
Last week, for Perth were pouncing on every loose ball that the Hawks gave them, and it resulted in a lot of points, but Sydney only average 11.3 a game, whereas Perth are better with 10.7 turnovers.