2016/17 NBL Round 18 Power Rankings: One More
Just one more set of games to decide who makes up the 2017 NBL Finals. And we, still, have no idea what to make of the ladder. Our own Warren Yiu did a great job breaking it all down, though, which serves as an ultimate guide for the final round.
We know Adelaide is locked in and Brisbane are cooked. The other six? Well, it’s time to go on one hell of a ride.
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: 1st)
It sounds silly, but should we be getting a little worried about the 36ers? Embed from Getty Images
Since they’ve secured the minor premiership, Adelaide has taken the foot off the gas a little. Of course, this could simply by a result of not having anything to play for in the regular season. Either way, it’s given teams a blueprint to defeat Adelaide, and that’s to get physical with them.
Illawarra did it last week and New Zealand followed suit. Not only does it rattle the 36ers physically, but mentally, it seems the Sixers can easily lose focus when things don’t go their way.
This could all be an overreaction. After all, Adelaide did lose by a singular point. However, the dominating play we saw hasn’t been on display lately, giving us something to monitor about Joey Wright’s squad.
2. Melbourne United (Last week: 7th)
Sometimes, sports are about getting hot at the right time. For Melbourne, they’ve seemed to time their run perfectly. Embed from Getty Images
Two victories, an impressive one over Sydney and an ugly one over Illawarra, have placed United’s playoff hopes back in their hands. In a season filled with injuries and inconsistency, to have one of the NBL’s most talented rosters playing well together at this time of the season is a dangerous thing for the rest of the competition.
Josh Boone’s effort against the Hawks must be highlighted. Coming into the squad mid-season is always a challenge, but Boone’s transition has been seamless. He brings rebounding and defensive intensity, but if he produces 20 points and 12 rebounds like he did on Monday, it opens up another dimension to United’s offence. Additionally, David Andersen’s return to form has paid immediate dividends.
For all the good going on in Melbourne’s world right now, they’ll have to earn their finals spot. With a daunting trip across the pond to New Zealand, then a return fixture against Perth a couple days later, nothings guaranteed for Dean Demopoulos’ men.
3. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 2nd)
While it’s disappointing that they couldn’t secure their finals ticket this weekend, the Hawks are still better placed than anyone below them. With an extra win over the rest of the pack, Illawarra are less reliant on other results, and with their season finale coming against the lowly Bullets, you’d think Rob Beveridge’s squad will be playing beyond next week.
What we saw against the Taipans is what makes the Hawks so deadly. When their offence gets going, it’s almost impossible to stop. In the first half, Illawarra connected on 68 percent of their shot attempts, a sensational strike rate. Couple that with Beveridge’s pressure defence, and it’s a winning formula.
Of course, we also saw how ugly they can be when the offence is stumbling, like it did against United. Based on what we have seen the last couple of weeks, though, it’s safe to say Illawarra’s win over Cairns is a more accurate representation of this team.
4. New Zealand Breakers (Last week: 6th)
That was impressive. Embed from Getty Images
With the 36ers rolling in the second half, the Breakers looked out of it. However, for one of the first times this season, we saw legitimate championship fight from Paul Henare’s men, resulting in what could be a season-saving victory. It was still ugly, with New Zealand shooting just 40 percent, but that’s the way they like it. Playing physical worked in their favour, getting the Sixers frustrated.
Despite the low shooting percentage, the Breakers were able to score when they need to. The addition of Kevin Dillard can’t be spoken about enough, while Kirk Penny continues to terrorise NBL’s defences. When you get an extra contribution from a Rob Loe off the bench, it’s a bonus.
With their poor percentage, and just one game remaining, though, the Breakers have the toughest path into the finals. However, that match is at home against Melbourne, a fixture they’ve dominated in recent memory, so they won’t be short of confidence.
5. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 3rd)
Stuck in the jumble of teams fighting for the playoffs, the Taipans have the roughest fixture of them all. They need to face, and defeat, the minor premier 36ers not once – but twice.
In reality, it had to be this way for Cairns. Aaron Fearne’s men have lost so many winnable games, and have been robbed of numerous wins as well, as they’ve constantly taken the hardest road possible. Now, if they wish to challenge for the title, they’ll have to survive one more major roadblock.
We know they can do it. At their best, the Taipans are the league’s most underrated squad. However, everyone is amazing at their best. Things get ugly when Cairns is playing below average, so they can’t afford any slip-ups this weekend.
6. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 4th)
It’s D-Day for the Wildcats’ finals streak.
That killer instinct that’s allowed them to make 30 straight postseasons was back against poor old Brisbane on Friday night. A 31-point victory, with Bryce Cotton staring again, might have been an omen for their 31st consecutive playoff berth. However, a disappointing effort against Cairns a couple days later means the Wildcats are going to have to earn this one.
The Cats’ final two games are absolutely huge, as they face two teams in the same position. Sydney will make the long trip to Perth firstly, with the Wildcats protecting home court a must. They’ve made the Perth Arena a fortress, and it’ll need to live up to that billing. Then, travelling to Hisense Arena to face United could be the biggest regular season finale in NBL history.
All streaks are made to be broken. The bigger question is, will Perth’s come to an end this weekend?
7. Sydney Kings (Last week: 5th)
Could you think of a more daunting task to make the finals?
Sydney has to travel to Perth, where a surging Wildcats team looking to make their 31st playoff appearance, will be waiting. Simply put, if the Kings come out with the intent and mindset they did against Melbourne on Saturday night, it’ll be a long trip back.
Playing in front of 11,005 fans, the highest home crowd in 12 years and third highest in club history, you’d think the Kings would be more amped for the contest. However, it seemed to have the opposite affect, as they could never recover from a poor first quarter. Yes, they made it tight down the wire, but they never deserved the victory.
A positive to take from the loss, though, was Brad Newley’s return. The 31-year-old showed no ill effects of a bum hamstring, putting up 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting. If Newley, whose excellent season was derailed by the injury setback, can play like that again in Perth, it’ll do Sydney’s playoff hopes wonders.
8. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 8th)
Not long now, Bullets fans.
Taking home the wooden spoon wasn’t in Andrej Lemanis’ plans when he was chosen to lead Brisbane’s return to the NBL. However, after the beginning of the season had some positive moments, the Bullets have dealt with injury, inconsistencies and import trouble, elements that are frustrating Lemanis.
You can see it in his media conferences. Long pauses, with body language screaming, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ It’s surprising to see such an accomplished coach like Lemanis struggle so badly, but it shows that even the best coaching sometimes can’t overcome a lack of talent.
Isn’t much to play for in their season finale against Illawarra. You just hope the Bullets show more fight than they did against Perth this past weekend.