Melbourne United takes steady approach to upcoming NBAxNBL games

It might be the NBA, but at the core, it's still a basketball game.

According to head coach Dean Vickerman, Melbourne United are treating their pre-season matches against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors, as they would if they were matches against any other opponent. United, along with the Adelaide 36ers, New Zealand Breakers, Perth Wildcats and the Sydney Kings, are touring the USA next month as a part of their preparations for the NBL season, which kicks off for United on October 12.

Last year was the first time NBL teams played NBA teams in the USA, and Melbourne did not waste an opportunity to show the club’s basketball prowess off. The Melbourne side gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a real scare, only falling a point short of pulling off the upset, with a final score of 86-85.

Despite the success of last year’s USA visit, Vickerman is keeping the hype around this year’s pre-season campaign under control. “[These] are games that are just a part of our pre-season, like it would be [if we were] here [in Australia]. We are treating it with the same level of respect that we would treat an NBL opponent, if we were still back in Australia playing pre-season tournaments.”

The team is fully aware of the challenges that they will face. The Raptors and 76ers both made the recent NBA Eastern Conference playoffs. The 76ers, Melbourne’s first opponent, had an impressive season, that saw the emergence of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as future superstars. The Raptors, who recently acquired superstar Kawhi Leonard, have been a top team in the Eastern Conference for the last five years.

Despite the plethora of elite talent that United will face, for Vickerman, the purpose of the games is to improve as a team, in readiness for the NBL season. “We’ve got the ten days over there. It’s a training camp for our season… The total focus for us will be trying to win our first game in the NBL against Illawarra.”

Melbourne forward, David Barlow, who was a part of the team that nearly beat Oklahoma City last year, is hopeful the team can replicate, or exceed, last year’s achievement. “I hope to repeat what we did last year and hopefully do a bit better. Just go out and play how we did, which was pretty much how we played the whole year.” For Barlow, being competitive is what matters. “Hopefully, we put ourselves in a position to really compete, you never know what can happen.”

It’s not long until we all get to see what does happen. Melbourne’s game against Philadelphia is September 29, shortly followed by the Toronto clash on October 6.