SOME high quality basketball was on display last week, keeping fans glued to their seats as the National Basketball League (NBL) had upsets galore, among the longest NBL game in history going to quadruple overtime. This week includes a salivating Grand Final rematch and a few ex-players coming up against their old teams for the first time.
Adelaide 36ers v Sydney Kings
Friday, 7:50pm at Titanium Security Arena
The key match-up: Andrew Bogut v Nathan Sobey
If Bogut can match his record rebounds from last week (14), Sydney could just win this time around. While getting an eye for the NBL standard, and coming up against Adelaide again, it could work in Bogut’s favor. Last week, Sobey had the second-highest field goal attempts for the game (17) and made nine from 13 in two-point range. Bogut and Sobey both had four assists last week, proving their dedication to get the most out of their teams, allowing for maximum chances for scoring.
Last time they met: Adelaide 36ers (94) defeated Sydney Kings (83)
Despite Jerome Randle top-scoring for the Sydney Kings with 28 points, a collective effort from from 36ers captain, Daniel Johnson (22 points, 10 rebounds) and Sobey (21 points, four assists) was the difference for the away side. Star import, Bogut was shut down well by Johnson in the former NBA player’s NBL debut, however he still managed four assists and 14 rebounds. A 29-15 last quarter saw the 36ers take the win against the Andrew Gaze-led team, as they aim to go one better than year’s runners-up result.
Season so far: Adelaide’s two matches last round saw a one and one result, losing 91-99 to the Wildcats and winning its second game against the Kings 94-83. The Kings just played the one match last weekend, losing to Adelaide. It should not deject them too much, being even with minutes to play until the Kings gave away 14 of the last 16 points of the game. At the completion of Round 1, Adelaide is third, while Sydney is seventh.
The game: It would be unexpected of the Kings to fade away as much as they did in the last quarter again. The Kings need to prove themselves to the league due to the star power they have at their disposal. Leading from the front, Randle and Daniel Kickert have to flourish early and get a strong lead, one that can’t be broken late in the final quarter. Adelaide has Adris DeLeon to count on, going up against Randle to see who can become one of the best scoring point guards for this season, so expect a fierce battle between the two.
Perth Wildcats v Brisbane Bullets
Saturday, 3pm at RAC Arena
The key match-up:
Mika Vukona v Tom Jervis
Not so much a positioning match-up as much as a match-up involving two players from either team who played for the opposing team last season. Vukona moved to Brisbane during the off-season from Perth and will know RAC Arena and his former teammates, well. For Jervis, after spending the past two years in Brisbane colours, he has returned to Perth after making his debut for the Wildcats in 2013. Jervis will become the 30th Wildcats player to reach 100 games, and if they win, he will become the eleventh straight Perth player to win in the milestone game.
Last time they met: Perth Wildcats (81) defeated Brisbane Bullets (80)
Although having a 28-16 lead at the first break, the Bullets slowed down in the second half (33-49) and agonisingly fell short by a point. The match went down to the last 10 seconds in one of the most frantic finishes in NBL history, as with six seconds to go, Travis Trice (18 points, five assists) hit a jump shot, leaving Perth four seconds to get a basket of its own. Bryce Cotton was there to spoil the party for the home side, with a brilliant bit of play before the game clock expired.
Season so far: The Wildcats are two from two to start their 2018/19 NBL campaign, beating fellow finalists Adelaide by eight points (99-91) and three days later, downing Illawarra by 40 points (101-61) to sit on top of the ladder. For the Bullets, they too played two matches last round for one win and one loss. The opening game of the season against New Zealand was a 86-73 win, but fell to Cairns on Saturday 70-88. Brisbane lies outside the top four, 26 per cent off of fourth-placed Melbourne.
The game: This is a venue that the Bullets have excelled in, winning two games at RAC Arena in the past two seasons. However, should Perth play as they did in either game last week, it will be more than enough to beat Brisbane. The sides look completely different, with Perth being balanced in all areas and gelling as a team. The Bullets have looked to improve this season, but will probably be grinding away a bit more early on in the season especially.
New Zealand Breakers v Sydney Kings
Sunday, 12:20pm at Spark Arena
The key match-up: Jarrad Weeks v Kevin Lisch
While New Zealand have proven shooters in Tom Abercrombie and Tai Wesley, its second-string needs to contribute more. Weeks hasn’t fired in the opening round after a breakout year for Cairns last year. He hasn’t had as much court time this year but a player of his calibre should be doing great things when he gets the chance. In two games, he has scored 11 points and gathered six rebounds in over 26 minutes of game time. Likewise for Lisch in his eighth NBL year, in more than 28 minutes against Melbourne, he was only able to net five points, two points and gave away three personal fouls. Both these players need to step up in the heights of their careers to provide a good game.
Last time they met: Sydney Kings (101) defeated New Zealand Breakers (86)
It was a commanding game from the Kings with the top three-point scorers all hailing from Sydney. Jason Cadee (30 points) was the best shooter, including six from 10 outside three point range. Todd Blanchfield (19 points, six rebounds) and Randle (18 points, five assists, seven rebounds) also made sure the result was put well out of reach of the Breakers. New Zealand led the rebounds (43-38) with Rakeem Christmas and Vukona (nine rebounds each) pulling them down. But the Breakers turned the ball over six times in the fourth quarter, when the game was still there for the taking.
Season so far: The Kings have a second game this round to back up their loss last weekend and would hopefully make the head-to-head against Adelaide one-all early in Round 2. The Breakers are one and one also, but a percentage of 96.41 sees them at the bottom of the one and one club (sixth). New Zealand lost to Brisbane 86-73 before defeating reigning champions, Melbourne 88-81.
The game: Sydney hasn’t beaten the Breakers in New Zealand since 2016, and coming off a Friday night game plus travel across the Pacific, it might continue for one game longer. The Breakers played great basketball against Melbourne last week and employing that hunger and hurting Sydney on turnovers will prove a big difference. Bogut will have his hands full taking on Cadee, who likes to shoot from outside the arc.
Melbourne United v Adelaide 36ers
Sunday, 2:50pm at Melbourne Arena
The key match-up: Josh Boone v Daniel Johnson
These two players hold top spots for the most career rebounds from all players throughout the league. Boone (450) and Johnson (359) will hold the keys to the battle inside the paint. United have averaged 55 rebounds across their opening two games of the season, and Adelaide average 47 at the end of Round 1. Boone played in both United games last week and had 12 rebounds against Illawarra and seven against New Zealand (averaging 9.5). Johnson sits third for league rebounds, averaging 10.5 a game. He had 11 against Perth and 10 against Sydney. Both of the big men will be setting their sights on starting an unimpeded run down their respective ends of the court after catching the rebounding ball.
Last time they met: Melbourne United (100) defeated Adelaide 36ers (82)
In Game 5 of the finals series, Melbourne claimed its first championship as United. Whenever United were pressed, they maintained their dominance that they had throughout the entire post-season and went on a 15-point rampage to start the fourth term. Melbourne was led by Casper Ware and Chris Goulding (23 points each) on the buckets, while Casey Prather (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Josh Boone (10 points, 10 rebounds) were solid in defence. As always for Adelaide, Mitch Creek provided spark (15 points, 10 rebounds), whereas Shannon Shorter had the best field goal percentage (64 per cent) as he chipped in with 20 points.
Season so far: Melbourne kicked off its title defence in stunning fashion, grinding it out for a 123-122 quadruple overtime win against Illawarra. The two-day break meant a few tired players on Sunday, ultimately going down to New Zealand 81-88, but United remain in the top four. The 36ers will have played three games before this match-up, and would fancy themselves to be competitive against Sydney, before coming to Melbourne for vengeance.
The game: The Adelaide 36ers will no doubt showcase their quick pace from the tip-off, so Melbourne must be ready. Melbourne is a team that can hurt opposition teams quickly, getting early buckets through good ball movement and not being afraid of shooting the long ball. What hurt Melbourne last week was offensive rebounds – with 30 for Illawarra and 22 for New Zealand. DJ Kennedy should be in good health to start, meaning coach, Dean Vickerman will have a full list at his disposal, and the seven-day turnaround could work in United’s favour.
Cairns Taipans v Illawarra Hawks
Sunday, 5:20pm at Cairns Convention Centre
The key match-up: Melo Trimble v Andrew Ogilvy
Cairns guard, Melo Trimble certainly started his NBL career in commanding fashion, recording a massive 32 points against Brisbane, and could inflict even greater damage to Illawarra’s defence. Out to stop him though is Hawks centre, AJ Ogilvy, who had a blinder against Melbourne, gathering 21 rebounds to almost snatch a victory. Ogilvy only played 10 minutes against Perth after suffering an ankle injury. The Hawks will be hoping he has recovered in time and there is no major damage, but this isn’t the first time he’s had this sort of injury.
Last time they met: Illawarra Hawks (88) defeated Cairns Taipans (78)
The Taipans did well to ensure the margin did not climb above 20. Limiting the amount of shots Illawarra was able to take, the Hawks relied on three pointers to limit their own deficit. Cairns was able to cut the lead into single digits, but a couple of intentional fouls, netted by the Hawks (who went at 66 per cent from the line for the night) let the result drift to a 10-point margin. Rotnei Clarke (20 points, four rebounds) was best for Illawarra, while Cameron Gliddon (13 points, eight assists, four rebounds) was the pick of the Taipans.
Season so far: Illawarra sits on the bottom of the ladder after falling short against Melbourne and Perth. The Taipans are second after overcoming Brisbane 88-70, and would consider themselves a good chance to gather a winning streak.
The game: Illawarra has not been all bad in their two games this season, taking it up to the reigning champions before a belting from the NBL’s most successful team, Perth. The Hawks should take comfort in their contest against Melbourne and believe they can match it with a team of a similar nature in Cairns. Cairns though, through Trimble and DJ Newbill will most likely have the better of Illawarra who “leads” in turnovers and is seventh for blocks per game.