Upsets galore and thrilling finishes headlined round 9 in the NBL and saw a shakeup of the ladder as we head into another important weekend. The league bunched up even further last week as the bottom two sides won and three of the top four went down. Round 10 provides us with some rematches from last weekend in what is sure to be another hard fought round of action.
New Zealand Breakers vs. Perth Wildcats
Friday, 13th December – 7.30pm (local time)
These two teams put on a stellar showing last week in Perth and will be ready and raring to go again this week across the Tasman. The Breakers have looked a much better side since the arrival of Gary Wilkinson, and the mid-season signing proved his worth last week with two big performances in two very tough losses.
Perth managed to sneak home in thrilling circumstances but will know they can’t be giving up double digit leads to the Breakers again this week, particularly in the hostile environment of Vector Arena. James Ennis and Jermaine Beal were unstoppable last week, with Ennis in particular impossible to guard down the stretch.
To win, New Zealand must… defend the perimeter. Both Ennis and Beal got off the leash last week, with Beal nailing seven three-pointers and Ennis multiple jumpers from the outside. While Ennis is a tough guard given his ability to get to the rim with ease, Beal is a straight-out shooter and needs to have a hand in his face all night. Perth boasts a huge number of shooting weapons but the two imports need to be top of the list and have some serious work put into them if the Breakers want to return the favour in the third instalment of last year’s grand final series rematch.
To win, Perth must… get a lead and keep the foot on the throat. Giving up two big leads last week nearly cost the Wildcats dearly, with some Ennis magic and a touch of luck late in the game able to grind out a win that was made much tougher than it needed to be. Of course, Vector Arena is a long way from Perth Arena and a big crowd will be behind their opponents this week. Getting in front and keeping the pedal down is key for Perth as they will likely be made to pay much more dearly this week if they drop away.
Verdict: Last week’s match felt like a grand final and signalled that the Breakers are well and truly back. In an even competition, a few weeks have made all the difference and the defending champions are ready to make a serious push for a top four spot. Perth is sitting well clear on top but has had a number of tight wins this season already and shouldn’t get too comfortable. The Wildcats will definitely take some beating, but with Wilkinson back and firing and Mika Vukona in red-hot form, the Breakers should be able to make the small adjustments from last week’s thriller and get one back at home in an upset. New Zealand by 2
Cairns Taipans vs. Townsville Crocodiles
Friday, 13th December – 7.30pm (local time)
Cairns Convention Centre
The second instalment of the Reptile Rumble for 2013/14 is sure to be a firecracker given what is on the line for both sides. With another game to come for the weekend for both clubs, getting this first one against their Queensland neighbours is crucial.
The Crocs sit fifth at 4-5 right now, while the Snakes are at 3-7 in seventh after stopping their skid last week. Victories either way can propel the respective ball club up towards the top four while a loss can put a serious dent in their finals aspirations for the time being.
Steven Markovic and Jamar Wilson were sublime for their respective sides last weekend and provide a tantalising matchup of two of the craftiest and smartest points in league, while Alex Loughton is in rare form for the Snakes. A hamstring injury to Russell Hinder will certainly hurt the Crocs.
To win, Cairns must… win the battle of the small men. The Crocs have an undersized frontcourt, and while the Snakes do too somewhat; the likes of Loughton and Cam Tragardh are in much better form than Jacob Holmes and Brian Conklin right now. This leaves the guards, and the battles between Wilson and Markovic, as well as Gliddon and Pace, will be crucial. If Cairns can win these matchups, or perhaps breakeven at the least with their opponents, then their advantage in the 4- and 5-spots should carry them through to a second straight victory.
To win, Townsville must… keep Loughton in check. Perhaps the toughest matchup for the Crocs will be the star shooting big man from Cairns. Loughton is in stellar form and already a tough guard given his size and ability to shoot outside as well, let alone for a Crocs side who will be missing Hinder. Greg Vanderjagt, Holmes and Conklin will all have their work cut in getting a hand to Loughton’s face on the outside, but can’t over commit to him given Tragardh’s footwork around the rim is just as dangerous.
Verdict: This match should provide plenty of highlights and plenty of points. The Crocs have played up to three less games than the rest of the league yet still sit 6th for points scored, while the Snakes sit 5th in that department after a lean few weeks and look to have rediscovered their early season offensive form. Both sides knocked off the high-flying Sixers last weekend in two big upsets, however the manner in which Cairns ran all over the top of them last week was slightly more impressive. The home court advantage will also give the Snakes a boost here and should see them snag their second successive victory. Cairns by 3
Sydney Kings vs. Wollongong Hawks
Saturday, 14th December – 7.30pm (local time)
Sydney Entertainment Centre
The Hawks and Kings will also do battle for the second straight week, with Wollongong getting the win in a tight and low-scoring tussle in round nine. Travelling to the Kingdome will provide a much tougher challenge for the improving Hawks, however, and Rotnei Clarke will need to continue his good form if they are to cause another upset against the much more fancied Sydney side.
Sydney have been struggling somewhat since Sam Young’s arrival and the subsequent departure of point guard Jesse Sanders, with the team balance looking shaky and points being much harder to come by of late. Young has had two poor games and one stellar performance; however his home debut in Sydney in front of a bumper crowd may provide a spark for him and his teammates.
To win, Sydney must… get more from their stars. Sydney arguably have a ‘Big Three’ in Young, AJ Ogilvy and Ben Madgen, however all three have had a form slump of late and the Kings have dropped games as a result. Ogilvy started on fire this season but his numbers have dropped since Young’s inclusion, while Madgen put together two blistering shooting performances a few weeks ago but has struggled since. If all three big guns start firing it will be lights out for the Hawks and if it were to continue then the Kings would be able to compete with the best in the league.
To win, Wollongong must… keep the match close and contested. Last week’s matchup was a low scoring scrap which suited the Hawks, and they may need to emulate that performance if they want to repeat the dose this week, particularly in Sydney’s home building. A big crowd and the hype surrounding Young will provide big challenges for the Hawks, and the Kings have the potential to post a big score on their home court. The Hawks will need to play tight and keep the Sydney stars on a tight leash, making sure big runs are kept to a minimum and the crowd is taken out of the equation as much as possible
Verdict: Wollongong sprung a big upset last week by knocking off the Kings in a reminder of how even the competition is. A return trip to the Kingdome awaits them, and given they got it done last week it is most certainly not out of the question that they can beat Sydney again. However, a big crowd will be watching and the gym will be pumping for the home debut of former NBA star Young, making the Hawks’ task all the more difficult. Again, it would be foolish to write off the visitors but the Kings should have too much for them at home. Sydney by 6
Townsville Crocodiles vs. Melbourne Tigers
Saturday, 14th December – 7.30pm (local time)
Townsville Entertainment Centre
Townsville will back up from their trip to Cairns by hosting the Melbourne Tigers just 24 hours later. The Crocs will be back at home after what is sure to be a stern and physical test against their arch-rivals and will run into a Tigers side who managed to get back into the winner’s circle with a hard-fought win over New Zealand last start.
Mustapha Farrakhan finally had his coming out party with a stellar 20-point performance which saw him shoot at a ridiculous 90% from the field, with Mark Worthington also broke the shackles and put his recent poor shooting behind him. Chris Goulding was down on his usual numbers but, given the heavy reliance on him of late, it may be a good sign for Melbourne.
To win, Townsville must… hold the fort inside. Scott Morrison has been in good form in his last three matches and poses a huge threat for the undersized Crocs, particularly given that Russell Hinder will be missing through injury. Townsville will need their frontcourt players to work together and quell the impact of Morrison while trying to emulate his output. Keeping the big Canadian off the boards, particularly his offensive end, will be critical if the Crocs want to win, especially given they will have played a match the night before and the Tigers will be fresher late in the game.
To win, Melbourne must… go with Markovic. If Townsville have at least one advantage in their side it is at the point guard position, where the red-hot and well-travelled Markovic has all the experience to blow second-year player Nate Tomlinson off the court. Enter Farrakhan, whose minutes are growing by the week and could well provide the Tigers with the firepower to match the in-form Crocs guard. Particularly with the home side coming off a match the night before, Tomlinson and Farrakhan must at least match Markovic’s influence on the game; and that’s not necessarily in terms of stats.
Verdict: Melbourne and Townsville were both impressive in wins against good sides last week; however the Crocs’ upset of an Adelaide side riding a month-long winning streak takes the cake out of the two. A tough match the night before will put them on the back foot though, and the Tigers will be fresher as the game wears on, wearing down the undersized Crocs frontcourt. The likes of Goulding and Worthington know how to behave late in games, and if the match is close against a tiring Townsville then the smart money says the Tigers will be better positioned to close it out. Melbourne by 3
Adelaide 36ers vs. Cairns Taipans
Sunday, 15th December – 1.30pm (local time)
Another rematch from round 9 will finish off the weekend, with the Sixers and the Snakes doing battle again just a week after Cairns broke their seven-game skid and handed Adelaide their first multiple game losing streak of the season.
The Sixers will be looking to rebound after a disappointing last term in that match, with Gary Ervin struggling to his worst performance of the season. He had plenty of mates however, and Joey Wright will expect a much better performance from his team this weekend.
To win, Adelaide must… get more from Ervin at both ends. The star point guard went missing completely last week, shooting 2-11 while also committing 5 turnovers. However, his defence also went missing with his counterpart Jamar Wilson taking the Sixers apart by dropping a game-high 30 points. Just a night earlier fellow point guard Steve Markovic also broke the 30-point mark against Ervin and the Sixers, leaving plenty of room for improvement from the Adelaide import this weekend at both ends of the floor.
To win, Cairns must… play the same game. The Taipans finally hit their straps last week, playing the way they started the season off and getting the same success. They will look to play the same way, and while it will be more difficult on the road, there is still plenty of room for improvement in their line-up. Cam Gliddon and Stephen Weigh showed signs of improvement but can still be much better, while the likes of Clint Steindl and Demetri McCamey have the talent to light up at any moment. Solid shooting from any of those players in an up-tempo game style, as well as the leadership of Wilson and Alex Loughton, will give the Snakes every chance of another upset win.
Verdict: The Taipans finally delivered on all their promise last week and the Sixers felt the full brunt of it. The road trip to Adelaide provides a much tougher test; however they now have a formula for success over the much-fancied 36ers. Adelaide, meanwhile, were well down last week and will look to rebound in front of a typically large and loud crowd inside their home gym. Cairns will be right in it if they can play the same way as last week, however a fired up Sixers should prove too strong at home. Adelaide by 7