Wins and losses aren’t going to be the only thing deciding NBL finals spots this season.
Point differential will hold just as much importance, something we are seeing as the regular season hits the stretch run. Just this past week, we had winning margins of 32 and 18 twice, with the old cliché ‘every point counts’, beaming more than ever across NBL teams.
It’s why you’ll see coaches playing their starters a little longer than usual, if it means winning the season series against an opponent. It’s crazy, and almost unfair to think about it, but a three-pointer in the final minute of a 20-point blowout could save a season series for someone.
How does those large margins of victory impact this week’s power rankings?
These power rankings are the opinion of one man. To discuss the rankings, hit Luke up on Twitter at @lukesicari.
1. Adelaide 36ers (Last week: 3rd)
If the 36ers wanted to prove last week’s blowout loss to Melbourne was an anomaly, they did, twice.
The power rankings has rewarded history throughout the season, and Adelaide made some this weekend. Joey Wright’s men became the first team in the 40-minute NBL era to score 110 points or more in consecutive games. Furthermore, the 37 points they put up in the first period of Thursday’s win over Illawarra was the highest scoring quarter since 2009 for the Sixers.
While the historical nuggets are fun, Wright will be more pleased that Adelaide became the first team to defeat every other squad at least once this season. The 32-point win over the Hawks and 18-point triumph over New Zealand represented the best of the Sixers. The run-and-gun, green-light offensive system is basically unstoppable, especially when the role players are firing.
It’s becoming clear the 36ers are the team to beat, a sentence that was unimaginable earlier in the season.
2. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 5th)
That loud rumble you hear shaking through the NBL landscape is the Perth Wildcats.
After weeks of wondering if this was the year where Perth’s finals streak would finally end, the champions responded the only way champions could – with wins. After taking care of the Kings, a team that was once highly favoured to claim the ‘Cats’ crown, Trevor Gleeson’s men followed it up with another road win in Brisbane.
The power rankings judge loves history, and believe it or not, Perth made some this weekend. The Wildcats have now won three straight road games for the first time in three years, a fact that doesn’t match Perth’s dominance over the past few campaigns.
Also, what an NBL induction for Bryce Cotton. His 26-points against Sydney was the most ever by a Wildcat on debut, and while he had just 11 against Brisbane, his scoring potential is clear. Cotton, along with Damian Martin’s return, could be enough to keep Perth around the championship chase.
3. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 4th)
If you wanted a weekend representation of this season’s NBL, look no further than Illawarra’s performances.
After getting dismantled by Adelaide in all areas on Thursday night, the Hawks bounced back in impressive fashion, handing out a beating of their own against Melbourne on Saturday. The total margin in the Hawks’ two games this weekend was 50 points, a mind-boggling amount.
While Illawarra wasn’t happy with their effort against the 36ers, circumstances did play a role. Coach Rob Beveridge had a family member pass away, which made the match an emotional affair.
However, the Hawks will take more pride out of their response against United. The sign of a good team isn’t getting blown out, but it’s how they play the game after. Illawarra was able to get back to their ‘Bevo Ball’ ways, as Rotnei Clarke continues his MVP push.
4. Melbourne United (Last week: 1st)
The last thing United needs is another Chris Goulding injury.
The early diagnosis isn’t that serious, with Melbourne saying the Olympian suffered a slightly sprained ankle. However, considering Goulding has already missed a considerable amount of time this season with ankle issues, any small aliment is a worry.
It’s still unknown if Goulding will miss time, but if he does, Casper Ware will take more offensive responsibility, if that’s possible. Ware has made himself at home in Melbourne, attempting 17.0 shots per game, 4.6 more than the second-ranked United player. The California native’s aggressiveness is welcome, despite it sometimes leading to low efficiency shots, but if Goulding is out, Ware has no choice but to shoot more.
The loss to the Hawks could have further implications with Goulding’s ankle, but on the whole, this United team is still too talented to surrender like that each week.
5. Sydney Kings (Last week: 2nd)
Can we give them points for those sweet throwback uniforms?
Sydney rolled out the best looking jerseys seen in the NBL this season, but it didn’t do much to help them overcome Perth in an ugly Saturday night affair.
The Kings could only muster a 39 percent shooting rate, failing to get into an offensive rhythm throughout the contest. It’s unusual to see a squad with so many weapons stumble like this, with Kevin Lisch having another poor shooting night (4-of-17), and Brad Newley connecting on just 5-of-16 attempts.
You must wonder if Andrew Gaze’s shuffle offence is the way to go. Too many times, the Kings don’t execute correctly, leading to a contested, isolated shot being launched. It isn’t a recipe for success, as Sydney has fallen to 11-11.
A positive to come out of the loss was the debut of William McDowell-White, who had a solid first outing with eight points in just over 10 minutes.
6. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 8th)
That was the quintessential Taipans game.
A grind-it-out affair, built on poor shooting numbers, defence and pure ugliness. It might have been tough on the eyes, but coach Aaron Fearne wouldn’t have had it any other way.
This is what Cairns need to make a late run to the finals. They can’t outscore teams, as they don’t have the offensive firepower to do so. If the Taipans tried to beat the Sixers or Hawks in an offensive shootout, they would get destroyed.
The Taipans need to slow the game down to a pulp and bank on the minimal amount of offence to win. It worked against New Zealand, a team that has been equally as disappointing on offence at times this season. If it works against the better squads remains to be seen, but it’s something that has to be attempted.
Also, how good was it to see Mitch McCarron get going for 11 points in the final quarter. If Cairns can get some consistent shooting from him, it’ll help them improve that offensive efficiency.
7. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 6th)
The Bullets played three strong quarters against the Wildcats. However, one bad one sealed their fate.
For 30 minutes, Brisbane played stiff defence while just scoring enough points to get by. When they gave up 28 in the final term, though, it was all their opponent needed to take the game by the neck.
Andrej Lemanis just can’t get his squad to play a consistent brand of basketball. One week, they look like variable title contenders. The next, though, Brisbane looks disjointed and out of whack. Trying to get a read on this team is impossible.
It creates for an interesting conundrum regarding the Bullets. They have the ability to catch fire to end the season, making a late push towards top spot. On the flip side, Brisbane could completely fall off the cliff they’ve flirted with. Good luck trying to figure out which one it’s going to be.
8. New Zealand Breakers (Last week: 7th)
Things are starting to look very shaky for one of the league’s most stable franchises.
The Breakers cannot get out of their own way, with another frustrating loss this past weekend. While Rob Loe’s potential game-winner rimmed out, New Zealand will rue wasted chances prior to that point. Paul Henare’s men turned the ball over 18 times, gave Cairns 10 more shots and gave away seven more free throws, with all those easy points adding to the Taipans’ win.
It’s becoming a theme for the Breakers. They’ll play hard and compete. However, the polish and execution is lacking, with careless and lackadaisical play costing New Zealand countless victories that’ll come back to haunt them at seasons end.