FRESH from international duty where the Boomers, which featured many National Basketball League (NBL) stars, progressed to the World Cup, we look ahead to Round 8. The weekend kicks off in Sydney with the Kings hosting the Wildcats. On Friday night, it’s seventh versus eighth with Cairns needing a win before coming up against the leaders, Perth on Sunday afternoon. It is a double-feature for Brisbane and Melbourne as well, as Monday night basketball returns to the fixture.
Sydney Kings v Perth Wildcats
Thursday, 7:50pm at Qudos Bank Arena
The key match-up: Andrew Bogut v Angus Brandt
The big man Bogut will be wishing to quell the Wildcats’ influence offensively. The Kings centre averages 12.0 rebounds in nine games this season and 3.3 blocks, meaning if there’s one slip-up or opportunity to pounce on a Perth ball, Bogut will thrive. But one person who is capable of getting into his mind is Brandt. The Perth centre is smart, and reads positions well which is why he’ll stick with Bogut and limit his offensive rebounds. The only thing with Brandt is his limited minutes, so he will probably require some assistance.
Last time they met: Sydney Kings (84) defeated Perth Wildcats (56)
In Round 15 last season, the Kings broke a three-game winning streak the Wildcats held, as uncertainty remained around who would be in the last two finals spots. A low-scoring game by Perth’s standards was highlighted by to-be Most Valuable Player (MVP), Bryce Cotton only managing five points and five assists. The Kings had great input from Perry Ellis with 20 points and three rebounds).
Season so far: Perth has still been generally uninterrupted this season, taking care of the Breakers on two occasions last round. The Kings went down to United ever so slightly last round, but remain a spot behind in third.
The game: The Kings have improved substantially over the past month, and it will be interesting to see these two sides go head to head for the first time this season. The Kings’ defensive game will be integral in stopping the league’s best-scoring side to take advantage early on. Perth will most likely field a complete-strength team for the first time since Round 3, as many have missed parts of the season due to injury, but the Kings have good bench players who can take the game on.
Cairns Taipans v Illawarra Hawks
Friday, 7:50pm at Cairns Convention Centre
The key match-up: Nathan Jawai v Andrew Ogivly
Jawai is probably an underrated player in the competition, outshone by many of his teammates, but he performs well each week. He’s averaging 10.6 points a game at an excellent 60 per cent, and is helping defend the rim with 5.7 rebounds. Ogilvy is really starting to find form also, especially after last round, shooting 16 and 19 points in the two games against the Breakers. He had a season-high 13 rebounds on Sunday, and to become an even better player, he just needs to adjust his shooting, particularly from the line.
Last time they met: Illawarra Hawks (104) defeated Cairns Taipans (93)
The Hawks broke away in the second half to record this win, with a large thanks to Todd Blanchfield’s 32 points. He also collected six rebounds as Jordair Jett chimed in with 22 points and six assists. The Taipans held themselves up well through Melo Trimble (28 points, five assists) and DJ Newbill (22 points, seven assists and five rebounds).
Season so far: The Hawks had a surprising win over the Breakers last round to break a three-game losing streak, but they still remain in seventh position on the ladder. Cairns mostly held it together against Adelaide, but gave up a bit too many points in the middle half and continue to be the dwellers at the bottom.
The game: The two bottom teams go head to head, but they’re very similar. They both are shooting at 44 per cent, there’s only 0.4 separating the teams rebounds, and 0.1 of a difference in blocks. Where this game will come down to though is being able to control the ball. The Hawks and Taipans are the two worst sides for turnovers, but Illawarra is better at stealing, leading the league with 8.2 a game. The Hawks won’t be rushing too much, ranking first in assists (13.7), but Cairns will want to start well early to avoid previous mistakes throughout this season.
Brisbane Bullets v Melbourne United
Saturday, 2:50pm at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
The key match-up: Lamar Patterson v DJ Kennedy
Since joining the NBL, Patterson has been lighting up the Brisbane court. He found his mojo in Round 7, fetching 24 points, five rebounds and six assists. Besides his two-point first game, Patterson has had a good run all-around with rebounds and setting up baskets. Kennedy has only dipped below 10 points once this season (Round 2 versus Perth) and is shooting 13.7 points a game at 46 per cent. For a forward, he certainly helps in the defensive end of the court with 6.5 rebounds after a season-high 12 against the Kings and many blocks and steals. Kennedy does not attempt the long ball (six from 16), but is deadly from the line (93 per cent), but the same can be said for his opponent (six from 20 threes and 85 per cent for the free throws).
Last time they met: Melbourne United (102) defeated Brisbane Bullets (94)
After a see-sawing game for the first three quarters, United blitzed away in the last. Brisbane did get even early on, but Melbourne was too good on the run, putting the result further away from the Bullets. Casper Ware (23 points, six assists) was the pick of the bunch for United, and for the away side in this contest, Reuben Te Rangi had a stellar game, landing 14 points, four assists and six rebounds.
Season so far: The Bullets comfortably took care of Illawarra as expected and are sharing five wins with two other teams, but for now, have their foot in the top four. Melbourne survived a Kings fightback to grind out two-point winners and remain in second position on the ladder.
The game: Melbourne has won its past four against the Bullets but this is still an improved Brisbane side. The Bullets’ record suggests they’re okay, but United will know from their previous meeting this year that they mean business. Both these teams have great starting line-ups and Brisbane has found some handy contributors in Cameron Bairstow and Cameron Gliddon. The might of Melbourne’s championship-winning team might still be a lot to handle, but many of United’s players were playing internationally so perhaps Brisbane could sense this and seize any costly mistakes. Matt Hodgson notches up 100 games for the Bullets in this contest.
New Zealand Breakers v Sydney Kings
Sunday, 12:20pm at Spark Arena
The key match-up: Corey Webster v Jerome Randle
Randle leaves nothing out on the court, averaging 21.6 points a game this season. His field goal percentage has climbed within the last four games. He had 35 points against United last weekend which saw him attempt, and make more in-game three pointers than he had in any other game, so he’s riding waves of confidence and momentum as he continues to score big. Webster had a very bad two games throughout Round 6 and 7, but before that dip, he scored 31 against Melbourne. He’s good at noticing and setting up players for drives to the basket, but in a match-up against Randle, he’ll need to be focused on his own game as well as his opponent.
Last time they met: Sydney Kings (100) defeated New Zealand Breakers (87)
A plus-ten point second quarter for the Kings was enough of a gap to ensure a result that saw them enter top four calculations a bit more. The Breakers never led after midway through the first term, getting even only twice as the biggest lead got out to 21 in the final quarter. Jerome Randle (24 points, five assists, five rebounds) and Andrew Bogut (17 points, 10 rebounds) helped the Kings but Shawn Long put up a good fight, netting 25 points and eight rebounds.
Season so far: Besides their 11-point loss in Round 1, the Kings have remained within reach of all its losses this season, and came close again against Melbourne last round, but it has allowed them to radically climb the ranks. The Breakers lost on both occasions to the Wildcats in Round 7 which sees them sit sixth with four wins from 11 games, equal with Illawarra.
The game: Following some close losses, New Zealand will be hoping Spark Arena returns to the fortress it once was. The Breakers have lost eight of their past 13 from the venue and the Kings haven’t been bothered about playing away, although they’ve won two from five. The Breakers have the worst home loss count of this season, but if they can bypass Sydney’s star-studded team, their smaller players can get in an under for some easy lay-ups and points in the paint. Easier said than done but the Breakers won’t want to lose this, as they could fall to seventh.
Adelaide 36ers v Ilawarra Hawks
Sunday, 2:50pm at Titanium Security Arena
The key matchup: Daniel Johnson v Brian Conklin
Johnson and Conkin are both big bodies and its why they’re so good at gathering the loose balls around the rim. Johnson is averaging 7.8 rebounds whereas his opponent is sitting at 5.6 a game, with two in Round 1 not helping that stat. Both are known shooters too, with Conklin averaging 15.6 and only shooting below that once (a five versus Perth in Round 5), with a percentage of 48%. Johnson averages 17.3 points, never slipping into single figures and even with 19 minutes (his lowest game time of the year) last round, he still contributed with 14 point and six rebounds.
Last time they met: Illawarra Hawks (120) defeated Adelaide 36ers (109)
A high-scoring game between these two in the last round ended in the Hawks breaking their two-game losing streak. Despite going neck-and-neck in the last quarter (35 v 34 points to the Hawks), Adelaide never looked like troubling, even with Dimitrius Conger’s 22 points, six assists and six rebounds and Ramone Moore’s 15 points and seven assists. For the victors, Blanchfield was instrumental with 24 points, with half of them coming from outside the arc.
Season so far: Illawarra fell hard against the Bullets by 19 points, but rebounded in superb fashion a few days later at home against Adelaide, winning by 11 points. The Hawks sit seventh still, but only slightly, while Adelaide is in striking distance of fourth spot. However, a 24-point win over Cairns would’ve evened up the loss to the Hawks.
The game: Fatigue could be an issue for the Hawks as this is their second game of the round, with both requiring travel outside of their home base. The Haws could be on the back foot early too, as Adelaide is always ready to push the pace and run faster than any other team in the competition, which will force Illawarra to play catch-up for most of the afternoon. These teams are similar and have both been slightly disappointing this season, but in Adelaide, the 36ers will feel at ease knowing the court, and having their fans behind them.
Perth Wildcats v Cairns Taipans
Sunday, 5:50pm at RAC Arena
The key match-up: Nicholas Kay v Robert Lowe
The Perth forward is having a career-best year in the NBL, averaging 15.5 points at 58 per cent. His rebounds (9.2) and assists (3.5) are the highest they have been and he plays most of the game, showing what he can do when given the start. He’s gone into double figures in rebounds five times this season, crashing the offensive glass just as much as the defensive end. While Cairns don’t have anyone that matches the prowess of Kay in the rebounding department, Lowe can run with him and challenge him at least. Lowe isn’t pulling down big numbers but averages 4.8 rebounds a game (take out a one and zero and he averages 6.0) and creates a lot of chances, which the Taipans will need to take care of if they’re to contest well.
Last time they met: Perth Wildcats (88) defeated Cairns Taipans (83) in OT
A classic overtime match was played when these sides met in Round 6, scores left at 75 a piece at the end of regulation time. Tom Jervis scored the first four points of the extra period whereas Nicholas Kay scored six in the five minutes, and 18 overall with his eight rebounds. It was all about Bryce Cotton though (26 points). For the unlucky Taipans outfit, Trimble performed as expected (18 points, seven assists and 12 rebounds).
Season so far: Perth continues to take the game on, but has endured a few close ones. Since the Wildcats’ only loss this season in Round 3, they have won four games by a margin of five points. The Taipans haven’t been horrible despite their one win to show for a lot of hard work, even if they went down by a hefty margin last week.
The game: The Wildcats have not lost at home in six attempts this season, and it doesn’t look like taking a hit against the Taipans. While the Taipans pushed them to overtime two rounds ago, they couldn’t keep up in that period, meaning they rely on getting the lead, or remaining competitive early, but catching up is hard to do. Both Perth and Cairns shoot at 44 per cent, with Perth shooting a lot longer. It will be an intriguing battle nonetheless, but the Taipans will want to limit giving up the ball any more than they already do, as that’s where it can go terribly wrong for them. This will be Lucas Walker’s 200th NBL game.
Melbourne United v Brisbane Bullets
Monday, 7:50pm at Melbourne Arena
The key match-up: Casper Ware v Cameron Gliddon
Ware is by far United’s most valuable player and in the absence of players like Chris Goulding, he’s made the court his own. In the last four matches, he’s averaged 26.0 points, grinding out over 34 minutes most weeks. He’s calm under pressure and it the situation arises like last time, expect to see Ware going for the big shots. He also sits seventh overall for total assists (4.3). Gliddon is another who’s seemingly come out of nowhere on the back of a 30-point showing against Adelaide a month ago. He’s crushing it as a starter, playing 30 minutes every game and is in the form of his life. He too has the ability to swing the momentum, often knocking down threes or seeking contact for a trip to the line.
Season so far: United have given up three games this season, but have lost one since Round 4 after players found form. The Bullets are destined for a finals appearance and they have the ability to put teams away, like the Hawks, so are deserving of their fourth placing at the moment.
The game: Depending on the result of Saturday, it will be disastrous for either team to come out of this round with two losses. Melbourne can’t afford it being so close to Perth and the top spot and the Bullets still have their season in their hands. The Bullets can’t take any more chances or close, admirable losses, and instead should prove they belong in the post-season.