NBL 2013/14: Round 12 Preview

The home straight of season 2013/14 has begun as we head into 2014 with the ladder precariously placed and any number of teams in the hunt for a finals berth.

Sydney Kings vs. Cairns Taipans

Friday, 3rd January – 7:30pm (local time) Sydney Entertainment Centre

Sydney again struggled at home last week against a resurgent Breakers side, giving up a three-quarter time advantage to go down by double digits. Since Sam Young has a arrived, the Kings have won just once (against the Tigers in Melbourne) and lost four times (to Perth, Wollongong twice and New Zealand). Fourth spot is slipping from their grasp and time is becoming of the essence for the sliding Kings.

The Taipans came from nowhere to beat the all-conquering Perth last week in the upset of the season and may well have gotten their season back on track. Alex Loughton was again superb, while Demetri McCamey delivered a huge performance for the full 40 minutes to come good on his undoubtable talent. Cam Tragardh will miss both games for the weekend with an ankle injury in what will be a big blow to an already undersized front court.

To win, Sydney must… go inside to AJ Ogilvy at every chance. Cairns, for all their talent, remain one of the most undersized teams in the league, and with Tragardh out it will only hurt more. This week, they are coming up against the best centre in the competition and the Kings need to exploit that advantage at every opportunity. That means finding a balance on offense, which may mean the likes of Young will need to sacrifice his game at some stage to benefit the team, particularly if his shots aren’t falling. Ogilvy has the potential to go very big in this one if he gets the chances.

To win, Cairns must… find an answer for Young’s scoring. The biggest mismatch for the Snakes is at the small forward position, with Stephen Weigh and Clint Steindl going head-to-head with former NBA superstar Young. The Sydney star has the scoring potential to drop 30, and whatever he scores will need to be matched by Weigh and Steindl at the other end. Both players can shoot the ball and need to be on from the tip-off to give their side the best chance at victory.

Verdict: This game could either be a low-scoring slog or a free-flowing shootout, and that largely depends on which Cairns side shows up. The Taipans have the talent to hit 100 on offense almost every week; however the Kings have just as many weapons and can match them all the way but a lot depends on how they play around Young and whether they can find enough shots for the other stars in Ogilvy and Ben Madgen. Both sides had been struggling before Cairns knocked off the Wildcats last week, but the Kings need to fire soon and will be looking to turn it around. Sydney by 1

Townsville Crocodiles vs. Melbourne Tigers

Friday, 3rd January – 7:30pm (local time) Townsville Entertainment Centre

The Crocs went down in a thriller to Adelaide last week by the smallest of margins, putting a huge dent in their top four ambitions. Despite leading for much of the first half, they again switched off for a period of the game and it cost them. Brian Conklin continued to be hot in the absence of fellow American Josh Pace.

The Tigers won both games against Wollongong in round 11, with a double OT thriller on New Year’s Eve capping a successful 2013 which sees them sit third at 8-6. Chris Goulding has re-discovered his best form after a mini-slump, while Mustapha Farrakhan’s injection of scoring has been big off the bench.

To win, Townsville must… slow down Goulding. The star guard returned to form last week for the Tigers and must be the first port of call for the Townsville defenders this week. He exploded for 20 points in a half last week, including 14 in a final quarter that saw the Tigers steal an unlikely win, in a timely reminder of how dangerous Goulding can be in the blink of an eye. Coming off some leaner performances prior to the break, the young shooter looks to be back to his best and keeping him under 20 is a must for the Crocs to win.

To win, Melbourne must… play defence and strangle the Crocs. The Tigers have struggled on offense at times this year, relying heavily on Goulding or Mustapha Farrakhan to create their own shot late in a possession. Given how points can sometimes be hard to find, holding Townsville to a low score is key to victory, particularly given they are playing away from home. The Crocs score much better in their own gym, and the Tigers will need to be wary of letting them get on a run, so playing typically strong Melbourne defence will take the pressure off their own sputtering offense.

Verdict: So far this season the away side has won each match between these two teams, with Steven Markovic stealing the show in Melbourne before the Tigers exacted revenge just three weeks ago in north Queensland. Melbourne are playing good basketball at the moment but are still struggling on offense and relying heavily on bailouts from their star shooters to get through. The Crocs, on the other hand, have fallen in another hole after a promising run just a month ago that saw them challenging the top four. They will be desperate to re-gain some momentum in their flailing season and could cause an upset in a close one. Townsville by 1

Wollongong Hawks vs. Perth Wildcats

Saturday, 4th January – 7:30pm (local time) Wollongong Entertainment Centre

The Hawks sit at the foot of the table after duel losses to the Tigers to end 2013. Despite huge performances from Rotnei Clarke, the rest of the Hawks struggled to get going across both games for the most part and they will start 2014 in desperate need of a win to get their season going again.

Perth suffered a shock loss to the Taipans to finish 2013 in the upset of the season. They still, however, sit two wins clear of Adelaide and a further two ahead of Melbourne and seem to be cruising for the time being. James Ennis continues to dominant week in, week out and is clearly the best player in the league right now.

To win, Wollongong must… play lockdown, dogged defence and make the game a scrap. Wollongong has made a habit of turning games into low-scoring scraps of late, and it has worked to great effect. Despite a mediocre record, they are in every single game when they have played this way and have lifted themselves to within striking distance of a playoffs spot. While Perth pose a completely new threat, the Hawks recovered from a 40-point hiding in their first meeting to go with them for long periods last time they met in Wollongong. Playing lockdown defence and slowing the pace is the most obvious way to an unlikely W for the plucky Hawks.

To win, Perth must… break the shackles. Perth’s talent far outweighs that of any other side in the league, and to win games they need to ensure that talent goes to good use. Getting into a scrap with the Hawks is not going to let that talent blossom, so breaking the shackles is how the ‘Cats will walk out of the building with a win. Running the floor, moving the ball and shooting the open jump shot are ways to quicken the pace of the game, which will suit the likes of Ennis, Jermaine Beal and Shawn Redhage to perfection.

Verdict: While this match will be top versus bottom, there will be no 40-point difference in this one. Wollongong has shown they are no pushovers of late, with Larry Davidson’s inclusion coinciding with some improved performances from the Hawks. In the meantime Perth, since dropping their only game to Adelaide, are cruising and don’t look ready to lose again. The Hawks will fight hard and do everything they can to stay in this one, however the sheer talent of the Wildcats will likely win out in the end. Perth by 5

Adelaide 36ers vs. New Zealand Breakers

Saturday, 4th January – 7:30pm (local time) Adelaide Arena

Despite missing import Gary Ervin through injury, the Sixers managed to steal the game away from Townsville at the death last week to stay clear in second spot. Jason Cadee came up big in what was perhaps his best game of his young career in the absence of Ervin, who is only a 50/50 chance to play this week.

New Zealand came up with their best win of the season against a star-studded Kings side in Sydney, coming from behind at three-quarter time with a 36-point final quarter. Gary Wilkinson has revitalised the Breakers and last week’s 31-point performance was the best of his NBL career which has spanned 75 games.

To win, Adelaide must… step up as a team for Ervin. Adelaide’s superstar will be touch and go to play after surgery during the break and missing last week’s clash, meaning Adam Gibson and Jason Cadee will need to step it up to cover for his potential absence. Even if he suits up, expecting the explosive Ervin we have come to expect is unlikely, so the Sixers will need to create offense outside of the shots that he normally creates. Cadee and Gibson are both great point guards and are more than capable, but their success will have a magnified influence on their team’s fate this week.

To win, New Zealand must… slow down the Sixers’ offense. New Zealand is scoring much more freely of late and it is resulting in better results for the defending champs. However, playing an up-tempo game against the masters of the run-and-gun in Adelaide is not the way to beat them, which means the attention needs to turn to defence. With an injury cloud of Alex Pledger, the undersized Wilkinson and Mika Vukona will have their hands full against Johnson inside, however slowing down the fast-paced guards in Adam Gibson and Jason Cadee is more important. If the Sixers dictate the pace, leaving with a W will be extremely difficult for the visitors.

Verdict: Adelaide has been unstoppable at home this year, controlling the tempo in every match and running teams off their feet when they have the ball. While New Zealand is an improved unit, the Sixers are on another level when they are firing. Johnson has become a consistent scorer and Gibson is in top form right now. While the Breakers will no doubt make a game of it, and should be in it right until the final buzzer, it is impossible to go past the dominant 36ers at a loud and intimidating Adelaide Arena. Adelaide by 4

Melbourne Tigers vs. Cairns Taipans

Sunday, 5th January – 2:00pm (local time) State Netball & Hockey Centre

The Tigers will play their fourth game in just over a week when they meet the Taipans at the Cage, where they will look to consolidate third spot on the ladder with another victory. Mark Worthington has been getting through games without being spectacular of late and will be looking to have a big one to get his own season back on track.

Cairns will be looking to spring another upset against the Tigers after knocking off Perth last week. Alex Loughton’s perimeter game will be key against Scott Morrison, and playing a quality side on the road with provide a stern test to their playoff credentials.

To win, Melbourne must… go inside to Morrison. The big Canadian doesn’t always get the most opportunities inside, but making a point of giving it to him this week may well be a way to generate some much needed consistency on offense for the Tigers. Relying on their shooters against a similarly gifted Taipans side is dangerous, and Morrison is the biggest advantage the Tigers have given he will be up against Alex Loughton and Matt Burston in the low post with no Cam Tragardh. If the big man gets going early, he may well hold the key to leading his side to another victory at home.

To win, Cairns must… match the output of Melbourne’s shooters with their own. Cairns are stacked with shooting talent, with the likes of Loughton, Clint Steindl, Cam Gliddon and Stephen Weigh all capable of knocking down plenty of shots from the outside. If they are able to match it with the likes of Goulding, Mark Worthington and Mustapha Farrakhan then the Snakes will be in with a shot, particularly as the home side will tire as they come to the end of a long streak of matches in a short amount of time. Given their lack of height, their shooters must perform if they are any chance of springing another upset.

Verdict: The Tigers would have played plenty of games in short succession after the Christmas break, and the Snakes will get them at a perfect time. Four games in nine days will take its toll on a basketball team, opening the door for the Cairns players to run and post a big score against a tired defence. However, the Tigers are a good side and playing at home they will be even tougher to topple. Despite dropping some games this season at the Cage, the Tigers are in better form and should get the win on the back of more Goulding brilliance. Melbourne by 5