BASKETBALL returns outside of Auckland as the Breakers start and end this next round of National Basketball League (NBL) action, which is a little less full-on than other weeks, with just five games. Newly-announced 36ers import, Demitrius Conger will make his debut against the team he played with last season, while Brisbane won’t want a repeat of last week’s efforts, losing to buzzer-beaters in both matches.
New Zealand Breakers v Melbourne United
Friday, 4:50pm at ILT Stadium Southland
The key matchup: Patrick Richard v Mitch McCarron
After back-to-back 21-point games, Richard is starting to come into the spotlight, and with a season average of 51 per cent on the floor, he’s being talked about in a high regard. McCarron too is undervalued, but United fans love him. McCarron has averaged 12.1 points a game this season and 16.0 in his last three. He’s also pulled 6.6 rebounds a game as he continues to provide Melbourne with important plays.
Last time they met: New Zealand Breakers (88) defeated Melbourne United (81)
United started strongly but allowed the Breakers to get back into the game in the second quarter. Tai Wesley put on a show in his return to Melbourne after crossing the Tasman, scoring 25 points. Melbourne’s reply was Chris Goulding, who took some time to get going but eventually started nailing those three-pointers we know he’s capable of, scoring 22 overall.
Season so far: The Breakers took care of Cairns quite easily and their final-play win against Brisbane was great for them as they entered the top four. United have been admirable in each of their games, but lost to Illawarra and won against Cairns last week.
The game: In the Round 1 game, the Breakers were able to prevail and a lot of that had to do with their offensive rebounds. The rebounds count was 48-45 in favour of the Breakers, and they led offensively 23-16. Melbourne will definitely need to put up a better defence, and even this year have faltered on occasions.
Adelaide 36ers v Illawarra Hawks
Saturday, 1:50pm at Titanium Security Arena
The key matchup: Daniel Johnson v Todd Blanchfield
Johnson has been big for the 36ers, leading their scoring with 18.2. A big rim protector, he’s fifth across the league for rebounds (8.1).Blanchfield has averaged 15.1 points a game this season, dipping below 12 just twice (a six and three). He’s also been handy around the rim, picking up 5.0 rebounds a game including a season-high nine against Perth last week. These two players are so similar so it’ll be a great matchup.
Season so far: Adelaide has now lost four in a row after finishing the final two seasons well. They’ve got a three and six record, sitting seventh. Illawarra has won the same amount of games as the 36ers after beating United and losing to Perth last weekend.
The game: The 36ers won’t want to let another game go, and boast a healthy 111.6 points against the Hawks in their last three hit-outs. If Adelaide can bring intensity to the game with the likes of Sobey, Johnson and Conger, they’ll do quite nicely. The Hawks have a great defensive setup, ranking first in steals (8.5), but unfortunately they’re leading in turnovers too (13.8) so it’ll be interesting to see how they adapt to Adelaide’s game mentality-wise.
Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats
Saturday, 6:50pm at Cairns Convention Centre
The key matchup: Mitch Norton v Melo Trimble
With Damian Martin possibly ruled out, all responsibility for limiting Trimble will be placed on 25-year-old Norton. The Taipans guard has been impressing lately, putting up an average of 11.3 points in the past three games as well as 3.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the same time. He’ll have to guard the NBL leading-scorer with his life though, who is a force with 25.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Norton too has won just one game at the Cairns Convention Centre in 12 attempts.
Season so far: Cairns is on a six-game losing streak and it doesn’t come any easier this week, after being beaten by New Zealand to the tune of 23 points and Melbourne by seven later in the round. Perth got out of jail against Brisbane thanks to Cotton’s three pointer, and remained calm against Illawarra for a win too.
The game: It’s one versus eight in this game, and while it doesn’t seem like changing anything, Cairns should remain competitive. The Hawks are likely to be without Martin, Terrico White and Angus Brandt once again, and it will be difficult, but they have the coverage for those key players. The clash doesn’t appear to have the makings of a good game, as Cairns (85.7) are the lowest scoring team whereas Perth are the best (94.6). Perth will punish the Taipans on the defensive end, and ultimately, when hitting the scoreboard.
Melbourne United v Brisbane Bullets
Sunday, 1:50pm at Melbourne Arena
The key matchup: Casper Ware v Cameron Gliddon
Both these players have put up many shot attempts (Ware 148 v Gliddon 113) and it’s based on these two having breakout games that United and the Bullets have been performing well. Gliddon has the edge over Ware in terms of shooting percentage (Ware 40% v Gliddon 43%) but as we’ve seen multiple times, each has the opportunity to swing a game. Ware provides more assists to teammates (3.9) whereas Gliddon is great at collecting the loose ball (4.0 rebounds).
Season so far: Melbourne will seek to capitalise on its double-header, hoping for two wins this week as ladder leaders, Perth have just the one game this round. Brisbane will be out for revenge after losing two tight matches last week within seconds, now sitting fifth with a four and five record.
The game: Brisbane’s disappointment of being on the receiving end of buzzer-beaters in Round 4 will be playing on the minds. The Bullets should get out of this mentality, as they are certainly on the same level as Melbourne in the past few weeks. Both sides know how to shoot the long ball well if needing to itch closer or break further away and as Melbourne is welcoming back Goulding a bit more, much attention will be on him.
Sydney Kings v New Zealand Breakers
Sunday, 4:20pm Qudos Bank Arena
The key matchup: Brad Newley v Corey Webster
Newley enjoyed a career-best game last week against the 36ers, helped by his 34 minutes on the court. He put up 26 points at 61% as well as six rebounds, four assists and two steals. When he gets time, like he may continue to, it’ll certainly help the Kings scoring. Webster is able to play big when he can, but last week he only managed seven points in 21 minutes against Brisbane. After poor games, he does fire up though, so expect him to improve his 14.7 points average immediately.
Season so far: The Breakers will look to continue their rise up to the ladder, as per pre-season expectations. The Kings have come out of their spot of bother to sit third. Last week, they grinded out a 12-point win in Adelaide.
The game: These two sides have the same win/loss ratio, only .04 of a percent separating them. Sydney holds the edge in points per game (90.8 v 88.6), and the Kings have the best shooting percentage in the league (47 per cent). The Breakers too aren’t a great defending team but know how to make the best of missed shooting opportunities of their own. Sydney should be able to win comfortably, but Adelaide could provide some bite to limit the result to single digits.