NBL 2013/14: Round 14 Preview

Three of the top four sides dropped games in round 13, leaving the race for the playoffs wide open as we enter the final 10 weeks of the season. Let’s take a look at what’s coming up in round 14.

Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings

Friday, 17th January – 7:30pm (local time) Cairns Convention Centre

Cairns will come into this match on the back of two straight losses, with their last win coming against the Kings two weeks ago in Sydney. Since then, they have given up halftime leads in both their losses and will be looking to rebound with a strong, 40-minute performance at home against their biggest rivals for the final playoffs spot.

Sydney finally clicked last week, resulting in a huge win against the high-flying 36ers in Adelaide. The Kings got plenty from AJ Ogilvy and Ben Madgen, as well as the ever-present Sam Young. While Young’s form has been steady, the help had been missing prior to last weekend and may spark the sleeping giant of the competition into action.

To win, Cairns must… exploit Sydney’s lack of a playmaker. Demetri McCamey has been in top form of late, while Jamar Wilson is one of the premier point guards in the league and possibly the best player on the Taipans roster. With Sydney continuing to run with Charles Carmouche at the 1-spot, and given the way he has struggled for form since Jesse Sanders was cut from the roster, the Taipans should look to give the ball to their imports and let them create on every possession. The Kings have the tendency to fade in and out of matches and a lack of creativity on offense plays a big part in that, which will keep the door open for the Taipans throughout the full 40 minutes.

To win, Sydney must… get Ogilvy going inside early. The star centre returned to his best last week with a big hand in their win over the 36ers in Adelaide, and will be looking to get on a run as the playoffs approach. Keeping his form alive is a big key to the Kings’ fate; particularly given they have struggled on the road in recent times. Last time these two met was just two weeks ago in Sydney, and the Kings got rolling early on the back of a big first half from Ogilvy and import Young, before both struggled as the Snakes overran them. Couple that with Alex Loughton’s form woes in recent times and pounding the ball inside early and letting their big man run riot may be the best plan of attack for the Kings if they want to cause an upset in Cairns.

Verdict: The Kings look like they may have finally clicked, which spells trouble for the rest of the teams in the league. However, just two weeks ago they fell to the Snakes at home after coming out of the gates on fire. The decision to keep Carmouche over Sanders has hurt them and left them without a true point guard, and coming up against the McCamey-Wilson combination will prove a difficult challenge for the visitors. Despite that, Ogilvy looks to be over his form slump and his combination with Young may prove to be the difference in many a match from here until the season’s end, beginning in Cairns. Sydney by 2

Perth Wildcats vs. New Zealand Breakers

Friday, 17th January – 6:30pm (local time) Perth Arena

Perth, on the back of huge performances from superstar James Ennis, rolled to a 2-0 weekend in round 13 against Townsville. Ennis was unstoppable, while the likes of Jermaine Beal and Jesse Wagstaff provided plenty of help from the outside to propel the Wildcats two wins clear on top of the ladder.

The Breakers came out of the Cage with a hard-earned and much-needed victory over the hot-streaking Tigers, with Mika Vukona and Tom Abercrombie pouring in plenty to guide their team to a memorable win and keep in touch with the top four.

To win, Perth must… get Shawn Redhage going. Redhage has struggled of late, with a combination of foul trouble and poor-shooting nights overseeing a significant drop in his output. While his teammates have picked up the slack in most of their matches, his poor form has also coincided with two straight losses before last weekend’s double against Townsville, which is no coincidence given his ability to hit tough shots when his team is in need. While Perth is already the strongest team in the competition, the importance of Redhage to their title hopes is enormous. The Breakers are certainly no pushovers and the ‘Cats will need all hands on deck to get past their recent rivals, beginning with the star veteran in Redhage.

To win, New Zealand must… find a way to slow down Ennis and his hot shooting teammates. The American has simply been the difference between winning and losing for the Wildcats on so many occasions this season, and the Breakers will have their work cut-out in containing the NBA-bound superstar. Ennis is a clear favourite for MVP, and his incredible weekend in round 13 against the Crocs only solidified that sentiment. While he has been exceptionally hot from the outside of late, his teammates have helped him out along the way too. Last week, the Wildcats shot lights out across the board in their two wins against the Crocs, and at home they will be tough to stop if they go on another three-point barrage.

Verdict: After two tough road losses, the Wildcats bounced back with a vengeance last week and quietened the doubters that had begun rearing their heads. While they played the struggling Crocs twice, they were emphatic and sent a message, with Ennis in particular focused and on a mission for the full duration of both games. The Breakers were very good in Melbourne and could pose problems for Perth as they have done already so far this season. However, the Wildcats are as close to unstoppable as is possible when they are on their home court, and it will take the Breakers’ absolute best and a little bit of luck if they are to knock them off at home. Perth by 7

Adelaide 36ers vs. Townsville Crocodiles

Saturday, 18th January – 7:30pm (local time) Adelaide Arena

The Sixers suffered a shock loss last week, with the talented Kings finding a way to leave their gym with a victory. That doesn’t happen too often, and Adelaide will most certainly be looking to put an end to that streak before it has time to develop. Gary Ervin returned from injury but struggled to get going, while Adam Gibson and Daniel Johnson continued their strong recent form in the loss.

Credit: Gordon Greaves of Gordon G Photography - official photographer for the Skytrans Cairns Taipans and Cairns Basketball Inc

Townsville had the toughest assignment in the league (twice) in round 13, playing the Wildcats in a home-home series. Despite going 0-2 for the weekend, the Crocs were much better at home and may have had a chance to cause an upset had things gone their way late in the game. Brian Conklin and Jacob Holmes led the way all weekend, while Josh Pace put in a good showing in his second game back from injury at home.

To win, Adelaide must… play their natural game. Running on offense and stifling teams on defence has proved a stroke of genius from Joey Wright this season, playing to the strengths of the Sixers. Last week the Kings found a way to score heavily and make them try to keep up, rather than the other way around. While nobody at Adelaide will be pushing the panic button after one loss where nothing went to plan, it is important for their performance this week to reflect that. Composure will be a key, with Ervin and Gibson needing to lead the way and make sure they play to their strengths and Wright’s strategy.

To win, Townsville must… break the Sixers’ shackles and light up from outside. The Kings managed to get hot in the decisive third term last week, cutting the 36ers open and escaping the Adelaide Arena with a rare victory. If the Crocs are to do the same, they will need to live and die by their shot. While Conklin is a beast inside and manages to put plenty of points on the board, the Sixers are far too good down their own end to rely on scoring steadily and slowly working it around. Fast possessions will disrupt the home side’s game plan, but relying on most of those shots to drop is the key to victory against a team that can explode for a big score.

Verdict: Adelaide will be raring to go after dropping a game at home last week, with the Sixers sure to bounce back in front of their home fans. The Crocs would have had a tough draw coming into this match, playing the top two sides in their last three matches after this game. While they were valiant in defeat last week in both games, they aren’t at the same level as the top sides right now and the Sixers should get back on the winner’s list at home. Adelaide by 12

Sydney Kings vs. Melbourne Tigers

Sunday, 19th January – 2:00pm (local time) Sydney Entertainment Centre

Sydney will host the Tigers in the third game of their mini-series this season, with Melbourne coming off their first loss in over a month last week and the Kings finding their spark at last after some very lean weeks.

Chris Goulding struggled last week and will be looking to bounce back, but it was Mark Worthington and Mustapha Farrakhan who stole the show in defeat in front of their home fans last week, lighting it up from the field in performances that are sure to please Chris Anstey.

To win, Sydney must… play with energy for the entire match. Last week’s performance had been brewing for weeks, however drifting in and out of matches has been the biggest issue for the Kings and they will need to be up for the fight against the tenacious Tigers. Melbourne prides itself on its energy, both when at home and when away, with plenty of defensive pressure coming at their opponents all game. The Kings, who have toppled the Tigers twice this season, will need to match that energy if they want to hold onto their spot in the top four. Relying on the heroics of Sam Young hasn’t worked so far and probably won’t again against a quality Melbourne outfit.

To win, Melbourne must… slow down the Kings’ offense. When Sydney clicks they have one of the most potent offenses in the league behind Young, AJ Ogilvy and Ben Madgen. While they have struggled for much of the season since the arrival of Young, the Tigers will not want to take any chances. Melbourne is perhaps the best defensive team in the league and held opponents to just 74ppg during their streak before conceding 93 against the Breakers last week in a loss. Keeping the Kings to a low score in front of a big home crowd is sure to help their cause in leaving Sydney with a win.

Verdict: The Kings are full of talent, but that alone doesn’t win you games in the NBL. Sydney will need to be at their best against the Tigers, who, despite dropping a game last week, are in very good form and have consolidated themselves inside the top four for the time being. This game may prove to be a classic between to ancient rivals, with the Madgen-Goulding, Young-Worthington and Ogilvy-Morrison matchups enough to make any basketball fan salivate. This one will be close all afternoon, with overtime constantly looming. Toss a coin for the winner, but Sydney will perhaps hold a slight advantage at home. Sydney by 1

Wollongong Hawks vs. Cairns Taipans

Sunday, 19th January – 2:00pm (local time) Wollongong Entertainment Centre

The Hawks and the Taipans played out a thriller last week in Cairns, with the Hawks grabbing a dramatic win after clawing back from a double digit deficit in the second quarter.

Kevin Tiggs fired for the Hawks and got plenty of help in the win, despite teammate Rotnei Clarke having a less-than-spectacular night. Demetri McCamey continued his rare patch of form with another big night for the home side, while Matt Burston stepped it up again in the absence of Cam Tragardh.

To win, Wollongong must… squeeze the life out of the Snakes early and get on top. Last week in Cairns, the Taipans rocketed to a big lead before capitulating. At home, the Hawks will want to get on top early and avoid trying to come from behind. Wollongong plays a dogged brand of basketball that ensures they are never far away from grabbing a win. That means a strong start will make it very tough for the visiting Snakes, who are jam-packed with talent and very dangerous when they get on a roll. The Hawks don’t want to be fighting back from a big deficit for the second straight game, and will know how tough it is to get back on top against their opponents.

To win, Cairns must… find a way to get Alex Loughton going. Once again Loughton struggled last week against the Hawks, and going into the game his position at centre was one of the areas which Cairns would’ve looked to exploit with Oscar Forman filling the role and Larry Davidson coming off the bench. Despite missing Tragardh the Snakes still have Loughton and Matt Burston to fill the void, however the former hasn’t stepped it up as yet and will need to if the Taipans want to get one back on the Hawks on the road. Early touches are the key, given he has attempted just 15 shots in his last three games whilst landing in plenty of foul trouble along the way.

Verdict: These two played out a classic last week and both look to be finding form at the right end of the year. In saying that, the Taipans have lost two straight and are once again falling behind the top four. They have been in good form at home but have often struggled on the road, and the Hawks will take heart from their come-from-behind win against the odds last week. Wollongong will hang tough all night and won’t go away, and at home will just have a little too much fire for the Snakes in another close one. Wollongong by 4