NBL 2013/14: Round 13 Preview

Perth lost their second straight game in round 12 to bottom side Wollongong, with the ladder in between tightening up in the process as we reach the final 10 weeks of season 2013/14, beginning with another cracking weekend of basketball in round 13.

Melbourne Tigers vs. New Zealand Breakers

Friday, 10th January – 7:30pm (local time) State Netball & Hockey Centre

The Tigers are flying right now, riding a six-game winning streak through the busiest patch of their schedule either side of the Christmas break. While they haven’t played either of the top two sides in that stretch, winning six straight in a league as tight as the NBL is astounding. Chris Goulding has returned to his stunning early season form of late, while Mustapha Farrakhan is bringing plenty of energy and punch off the bench.

New Zealand faltered last week after a run of strong form which saw them on the verge of the top four, leaving Adelaide with a 20-point hiding to show for their efforts. The inclusion of Gary Wilkinson has lit the spark and revived their finals hopes after a torrid start, while Tom Abercrombie is finally delivering on his enormous potential with a blistering last month.

To win, Melbourne must… keep on doing everything the way they’re doing it. It sounds simple and cliché, but the Tigers are doing everything right at the moment and shouldn’t need to make any adjustments. Their once-sputtering offense has found new life with the likes of Farrakhan and Lucas Walker providing plenty of help for Goulding and Mark Worthington, while they are leaking just 74ppg through the streak, and that includes two extra periods of game time against Wollongong. Chris Anstey has the Tigers playing with tenacity and balance at both ends right now and if that continues they will be very tough to beat.

To win, New Zealand must… match the Tigers’ energy. Last week the Breakers were blown off the court by an energetic Adelaide side in their home gym, and this week will be no different when they roll into the hostile environments of the Cage. The Taipans couldn’t match Melbourne’s energy last week in patches and ultimately paid the price, with Farrakhan, Goulding, Worthington and finally Adam Ballinger delivering short bursts of brilliance to shake the Snakes. The likes of Mika Vukona and Kerron Johnson will need to lead by example at both ends to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Verdict: These sides met just before the break at the same venue and the Tigers escaped with a two point win in a tight but entertaining contest. This week should provide more of the same, with both sides evenly matched on paper. The Breakers haven’t been far away from hitting their best form in the past few weeks but have failed to capitalise fully on some good performances. Melbourne, on the other hand, has and will be looking to make it seven in a row and move within striking distance of the top two. Melbourne by 5

Perth Wildcats vs. Townsville Crocodiles

Friday, 10th January – 7:00pm (local time) Perth Arena

Perth have suffered two straight losses to be flirting with losing top spot, opening the door for Adelaide and Melbourne to gain some ground over the last few rounds. They return home in need of a big performance to quieten down the doubters and regain outright supremacy over the league.

Townsville will be looking to bounce back from a lean few weeks when they come into Perth Arena for the first game of a home-home series between the two sides over the weekend. Josh Pace is likely to return for a welcome and much-needed boost.

To win, Perth must… come out firing after two straight losses. Perth has struggled on the road much more than at home this season, with all three of their losses coming in foreign arenas. At home, however, the ‘Cats have been scintillating and near impossible to topple. Coming out with a vengeance is crucial in this one given the form they are in, which means getting on top early and not taking their foot off the gas all night should be the plan.

To win, Townsville must… find a way to stop Knight. The Perth big man is almost the forgotten superstar of the league after missing most of the first half of the season through injury. He was the best centre in the league last season and is just starting to hit top form again which will ring alarm bells for the Crocs. After missing last week with a concussion, Knight will be well-rested and ready to go against the undersized Russell Hinder and Brian Conklin. If the visitors are any chance, they need to find a way to restrict him and limit his influence on the glass.

Verdict: People are beginning to question the Wildcats’ credentials after two straight losses, which is laughable given they still sit on top of the ladder with a 12-3 record. Heading back home will be just the tonic for the struggling ‘Cats, with the 10,000+ home fans sure to provide a timely boost. The Crocs are not in great form right now, and while they haven’t been terrible they also haven’t been winning. Heading to Perth to take on a fired-up Wildcats means they probably won’t start winning now, either. Perth by 10

Cairns Taipans vs. Wollongong Hawks

Saturday, 11th January – 7:30pm (local time) Cairns Convention Centre

The Snakes will host the Hawks on Saturday night after coming back down to earth in Melbourne last week at the hands of the rampant Tigers. Cairns had been resurgent prior, with wins against Perth and Sydney in the lead up putting them into the top four. Jamar Wilson continues to amaze off the bench, while Demetri McCamey looks to have finally found his feet.

Wollongong rebounded from two tough losses to Melbourne to end 2013 with a stunning overtime victory over ladder-leaders Perth. The Hawks are vastly improved from their early season form and are making a run to the finals, with Rotnei Clarke in blistering form and leading the way.

To win, Cairns must… get more from Alex Loughton. Cairns’ star centre struggled last week in both games, scoring just 12 points on 5-18 shooting combined. With his fellow big Cam Tragardh missing for the remainder of January, he will need to step it up over the next few weeks to compensate. With Matt Burston doing his part, Loughton’s rebounding and work around the rim will need to improve significantly if the Snakes want to continue winning games en route to a finals berth.

To win, Wollongong must… play with energy and match Snakes’ outside shooters. Clarke has been unstoppable of late for the Hawks but has also struggled at times on the road this season. He has the biggest points differential between his home and away performances of any player and will need plenty of help if the Hawks are to match the outside threats of the Taipans. The likes of Loughton, McCamey, Stephen Weigh and Clint Steindl are all dangerous from the perimeter and can carry Cairns to a big win when they are on, particularly at home, meaning Wollongong will need to be on full alert and ready to go with them.

Verdict: The Taipans will be hurting after last week’s loss given they would’ve thought they were a strong chance of toppling the Tigers going into the clash. They have a roster jam-packed with talent and the rest of the competition will need to keep an eye on them during the run home. The Hawks have also found their feet of late; however have made it a habit to struggle away from home. Wollongong have made it their mantra to make teams earn every win against them, but the Snakes will likely rebound with a hard-fought win at home. Cairns by 6

Adelaide 36ers vs. Sydney Kings

Sunday, 12th January – 1:30pm (local time) Adelaide Arena

The Sixers have closed the gap to just one win at the top of the ladder and have done it without star point guard Gary Ervin. The American gun is likely to return in the coming weeks which will only bolster the already rolling Adelaide side. Daniel Johnson had a night out last week against the undersized Breakers, registering 26 points for the game with a huge second-half performance.

Sydney have struggled massively since the arrival of former NBA player Sam Young, with the Kings dropping out of the top four and going 1-5 in that stretch. They are seriously missing Jesse Sanders at the point guard and have struggled for creativity in every one of their matches since. They limp into Adelaide desperately in need of a win.

To win, Adelaide must… exploit Sydney’s lack of a true point guard. Sydney’s offense has been stagnant and unimaginative since the departure of Sanders, relying on the brilliance of Young, Ben Madgen or AJ Ogilvy to bail them out at the end of the shot clock. The Sixers are stacked with talent at the point guard position, with Ervin (if fit), Adam Gibson and Jason Cadee all capable of running rings around Charles Carmouche, who is a natural shooter and looks uncomfortable carrying the ball.

To win, Sydney must… find some consistency on offense for longer than ten minutes. The Kings have struggled to string a solid, 40-minute performance together in any of their last six games, letting teams back into matches after blowing big leads or giving up head starts and not being able to reel them back in. Last week against Cairns Young and Ogilvy were blistering early and the Kings led by double digits very early; however both fell away alarmingly, as did their team, in the second half of yet another disappointing loss. With the talent they have on their roster, they can be extremely dangerous once they put together a full performance and that’s exactly what will be needed to topple the Sixers.

Verdict: There is no doubt Sydney will click at some stage, and when they do they will blitz the unlucky opponent that happens to stand in their way. However, without a point guard they will struggle to do that often and relying on individual brilliance won’t cut it in a league like the NBL. Adelaide is solid at every position and will be extremely difficult to stop, even if the Kings catch fire. Ogilvy, Young and Madgen will all need to fire and get plenty of help from their teammates if there is any chance of an upset, and based on recent form it doesn’t seem likely. Adelaide by 7

Townsville Crocodiles vs. Perth Wildcats

Sunday, 12th January – 2:00pm (local time) Townsville Entertainment Centre

Both sides will go from Perth to Townsville for game two of the home-home series in far-north Queensland on Sunday.

To win, Townsville must… defend the perimeter. Perth are one of the best perimeter shooting sides in the league, and at home Townsville can’t allow them to do as they please from deep. Last week the Tigers went 18-29 from beyond the arc against the Crocs, which is unacceptable in your home gym. Townsville need to play with energy and make the ‘Cats work hard for every basket, especially given their recent poor form away from Western Australia. If the likes of Ennis, Jermaine Beal and Jesse Wagstaff heat up from outside it will spell plenty of trouble for the Crocs.

To win, Perth must… weather any early storms and get over poor away form. Perth’s struggles away from home have all stemmed from letting the home side get on top and dictate the style of game. In Perth, the Wildcats are masters of making teams play their game, and they need to translate that to their travels if they want to be the dominant side they are expected to be around playoffs time. They can’t afford to give up starts or big leads in the second half as they have in recent weeks, and the Crocs are more than capable of catching fire and making teams pay if given the opportunity.

Verdict: The Crocs are a much better side at home and have managed some solid wins against good sides in their own gym this season. They have the matchups to go with the ‘Cats at every position bar centre, and it will a case of whether or not they can get on top of Perth in front of their home fans. Look for the Crocs to bounce back from their match on Friday night, particularly if Perth goes on a tear. Wollongong and Cairns have proved the Wildcats are not invincible when they’re on the road and Townsville will take heart from those results, however the ‘Cats won’t want to drop a third straight on the road. Perth by 2