NBL 2013/14: Round 15 Preview

Round 14 saw the resurgence of Sydney continue with two wins as they closed in on third-placed Melbourne, while Cairns grabbed a vital win in Wollongong to keep their hopes of a finals finish alive. Round 15 will only see that race intensify.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Wollongong Hawks

Thursday, 23rd January – 7:30pm (local time) North Shore Events Centre

The Breakers return home after being destroyed by the Perth juggernaut last week and will be looking to rebound with a strong showing in front of their local fans. Tom Abercrombie had an off night after a very consistent run leading into the match and will be looking to bounce back quickly.

Wollongong lost the unlosable game last week against Cairns, going down to a Demetri McCamey buzzer-beater. The Hawks dominated the first half at both ends to lead by 16 before capitulating in the second half. Kevin Tiggs was outstanding for the Hawks but received little help when it mattered late in the game.

To win, New Zealand must… put time into containing Tiggs. Wollongong’s second import has come off the bench in every game since he arrived a few rounds into the season and has struggled in patches. However, his first few matches were impressive and he has seemingly returned to that form of late. While Rotnei Clarke grabs all the headlines at the Hawks, Tiggs has flown under the radar in limited minutes, and while Clarke has struggled in the past two weeks it has been his fellow American who has stepped it up. While his form hasn’t necessarily led to wins for the Hawks, the Breakers won’t want to leave that to chance and will look to stifle his output.

To win, Wollongong must… match the Breakers’ energy. There is no doubt that the likes of Abercrombie and Mika Vukona will come out will plenty of energy to lead their team after a disappointing loss last week. The challenge for the Hawks is to match that energy and stay in touch throughout the early stages of the game. New Zealand’s stars play with energy at both ends and can be extremely hard to stop then they get going, meaning Wollongong will need to be on top of their defensive game if they want to be in with a shot of toppling the Breakers on their home soil.

Verdict: The Breakers will have a sting in their tail after failing to fire a shot against the Wildcats last week in Perth. They will be looking to rebound with a strong performance against the Hawks in their home gym, particularly given how close the race for the final playoffs spot is right now. The Hawks have the tools to worry the Breakers and will no doubt be right in the match until the final buzzer, as they have been in almost every outing this season. They will also be hurting after a tough loss last week, but the Breakers at home should grab the win in a close one. New Zealand by 4

Townsville Crocodiles vs. Cairns Taipans

Friday, 24th January – 7:30pm (local time) Townsville Entertainment Centre

The Crocs are in desperate need of a win after another loss, this time in Adelaide against the surging Sixers. They have fallen out of playoff contention after a promising mid-season revival and will now do very well to make the top four by season’s end. Brian Conklin has been a constant threat on offense, while Josh Pace is beginning to return to his best following his injury.

Cairns split a weekend double in round 14, dropping a home clash to Sydney after leading for most of the first three quarters before stealing a vital win from Wollongong at the death thanks to some Demetri McCamey magic. Alex Loughton returned to form with two much better performances after a lean few weeks.

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

To win, Townsville must… contain McCamey and Jamar Wilson late in the game. Both of Cairns’ Americans have made plenty of big plays late in games all season long, with the match against the Hawks no exception. While Wilson in particular can take a while to get going in a game, his second halves have been better than any other player in the league and both players are critical for the Snakes as the clock winds down. If the Crocs are in front, or even behind, going into the final quarter they will need to make sure they allow both star guards no space to work with if they want to end the match in front.

To win, Cairns must… shoot the ball well early and take the crowd out of it. Heading to Townsville always adds a little spice for their north Queensland neighbours, while the Crocs are always just as fired up to welcome their rivals. The hostile inhabitants of the Swamp will be in full voice on Friday night, making it a must for Cairns to shoot well early and keep the crowd quiet. If the Snakes can get on top then the out-of-sorts Crocs will find it difficult to work their way back into the match. Given their opponents poor form of late, the last thing Cairns will want to do is give the Crocs a sniff in their own gym.

Verdict: The latest instalment of the Reptile Rumble promises to be another close one despite the fortunes of the teams involved at the moment. While the Crocs have struggled recently, they will almost certainly get themselves up to welcome Cairns, while the Snakes are well and truly in the race for the top four and are probably best-placed to challenge the Kings right now. With Cairns undefeated so far in the Rumble mini-series it is hard to go past them, however don’t count out the wounded Crocs to challenge for the W. Cairns by 2

Perth Wildcats vs. Melbourne Tigers

Friday, 24th January – 6:30pm (local time) Perth Arena

The Wildcats sent another statement to the league last week with a stunning victory over New Zealand, pouring it on the Breakers and blowing them away in a devastating first half. With James Ennis unusually quiet, Shawn Redhage broke out of a form slump to contribute plenty while Jermaine Beal continued to shoot the lights out.

Melbourne suffered a second straight loss at the hands of the rampaging Kings last week, slumping to a 10-8 record and allowing Sydney back into the race for third spot in the process. The Tigers faded late and got very little from Chris Goulding, with Scott Morrison handling most of the offense for the visitors.

To win, Perth must… contain Morrison inside. While it remains unknown when Matt Knight will return, the ‘Cats will be undersized at the centre spot with rookie Tom Jervis stepping up to the plate. Even if Knight returns, he won’t be playing his usual minutes straight off the bat, and with Melbourne import Morrison hitting top form last week that spells danger for the home side. The big Canadian can get on a huge roll once he gets going, so Jervis and Redhage will need to slow him down and keep him out of the game. Given Perth’s ability to shoot the ball from outside, guarding the paint will give them full advantage over the Tigers.

To win, Melbourne must… limit Perth’s run from the backcourt. The Wildcats are the best side in the league once they get into the open court, with Ennis the most athletic player to come into the league for a very long time. Keeping their turnovers to a minimum, making shots and working hard on the offensive glass are all areas which Melbourne will need to be on top of to slow down that run. The array of dunks and dazzling fast break plays that the ‘Cats pull off get the 12,000-strong crowd going and make it very hard for teams to win in Perth, making it critical for the Tigers to slow them down in transition.

Verdict: While it may be first versus third on the table, the Tigers have slumped in the past two weeks after winning six straight. Melbourne will face Perth or Adelaide in half of their remaining games, making it unlikely they will hold onto third spot unless they can find a way past the two best sides in the league. Travelling to Perth and escaping with a win has proved almost impossible in recent seasons, and the Wildcats won’t be looking to change that any time soon. While the Tigers will be desperate to end their skid, the assignment will likely prove to be too much for them to handle right now. Perth by 7

Sydney Kings vs. Adelaide 36ers

Sunday, 26th January – 2:00pm (local time) Sydney Entertainment Centre

The Kings are red-hot after three wins against top four aspirants in Adelaide, Cairns and Melbourne, with the former two even more impressive given they were on the road. Sam Young has finally settled into the team and the likes of AJ Ogilvy and Ben Madgen are regaining their best form. James Harvey wound back the clock against Melbourne in an utterly brilliant shooting display to propel his team to victory.

Adelaide recovered from their loss to the Kings by cruising past Townsville last week at home. Despite the Crocs struggling of late, the Sixers were impressive and back to their best after the shock loss in round 13. Daniel Johnson was again solid and Adam Gibson was electric with a sizzling 28-point effort.

To win, Sydney must… slow down Adelaide’s run-and-gun offense. While the Kings have seemingly hit their straps after a mid-season slump, they still have the tendency to go cold on offense at times. The likes of Madgen, Harvey and Charles Carmouche are streaky shooters who rely heavily on that shot dropping, while Young has been inconsistent all season since his arrival. The Sixers have scored heavily all season, meaning that unless the Kings can slow down their opponent’s offense and keep them to a low score, they may struggle to keep up at their own end. Two weeks ago Sydney shot extremely well in a high-scoring win in Adelaide, but relying on hot shooting to repeat the dose is dangerous and defence will no doubt be the focus of Shane Heal’s men.

To win, Adelaide must… put time into curbing Ogilvy’s influence. The Sydney big man has re-discovered his best after a mini-slump that coincided with Young’s arrival. Ogilvy is averaging a double-double and remains the best big in the league, and despite the addition of Young is still Sydney’s best offensive weapon thanks to his offensive rebounding and efficiency around the rim. While Young has been grabbing headlines Ogilvy has been continuing to grab the important boards and give his team plenty of second chances to score, making him priority number one for Adelaide. Johnson and Luke Schenscher will have the important task of keeping the Kings star quiet in a matchup that will go a long way in determining the outcome of the match.

Verdict: There is little doubt that the Kings are flying right now, however there is still a cloud hanging over them after the way they struggled for the first month of Young’s NBL career. They still lack a point guard, whereas Adelaide has three genuine 1-men that can be damaging. The big battle between Johnson and Ogilvy will be a delight to watch, but the pressure will be on Adelaide’s frontcourt given Ogilvy and Young tore them apart a fortnight ago. In saying that, the Kings shot the lights out in that game and the Sixers will be eager to get one back on them on their own turf. It will close, but the visitors may just sneak home in the game of the round. Adelaide by 1

Wollongong Hawks vs. Melbourne Tigers

Sunday, 26th January – 5:30pm (local time) Wollongong Entertainment Centre

The Hawks and Tigers will meet for the third time in a month when they face eachother on Sunday, with both sides playing away earlier in the weekend. This match will mark the end of Melbourne’s busy part of the schedule, with their remaining eight games coming over the last eight weeks of the season.

To win, Wollongong must… find help for Rotnei Clarke and Kevin Tiggs. The Hawks work at the defensive end of the floor has been superb all season, however it hasn’t translated into as many wins as they would like given the lack of consistent offense. Last week they were blistering in the first half against Cairns before becoming stagnant and disjointed in their second half capitulation. Clarke and Tiggs have scored most of the Hawks’ points and have been the most consistent performers, but even they have been patchy at times. The star duo will need plenty more help from their teammates if Wollongong wants to finally beat the Tigers this season.

To win, Melbourne must… pound the ball inside against Wollongong’s undersized bigs. While Wollongong is already undersized in the frontcourt, Larry Davidson’s form has dropped off alarmingly of late and has made the problem even bigger for the Hawks. With Scott Morrison putting in a huge game last week, the Hawks frontcourt will need to be on their toes. Melbourne will look to go inside at every opportunity, particularly if Chris Goulding continues to struggle from the outside and the Tigers fail to generate consistent offense. With the Hawks being stacked with high quality shooters, the biggest advantage for Melbourne is undoubtedly in the paint.

Verdict: These two sides went to overtime when they met on New Year’s Eve at the same venue, however the Tigers are now struggling and the Hawks are finding some form aside from their implosion in the second half last week. Gordie McLeod has brought his side into playoff contention, but it will be tough if Melbourne and Sydney continue to win. The Tigers need to win to stay ahead of the Kings and the closing pack behind them, and will not want to let this one slip given their horror run home is looming. This is the perfect chance for the visitors to get a valuable and much-needed win before that stretch, and despite the Hawks playing at home and being in relatively good form of late the Tigers should get home in a tight one. Melbourne by 2