NBL 2013/14: Round 16 Preview

Perth finally fell at home to some Mark Worthington heroics as the gap between the top four and the rest continues to look like it may be too much to bridge for the chasing pack. With only seven weeks left of NBL season 2013/14, every team should be desperate for a win as we head into round 16.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Sydney Kings

Thursday, 30th January – 7:30pm (local time) Vector Arena The Breakers got across the line against Wollongong in a high-scoring and free-flowing affair last week at home. Despite the win coming at a time of desperate need for their top four ambitions, giving up 101 points against the 6-12 Hawks on your home court is less than convincing. Kerron Johnson looks to have returned to his best while Tom Abercrombie continues to light it up. Sydney continued to roll by toppling the 36ers for the second time in a month in impressive fashion. Shane Heal’s men now sit at 8-8 and 1.5 games clear in fourth spot with games in hand on the fifth-placed Taipans and look extremely dangerous. Ben Madgen had a blinder while AJ Ogilvy continues to impress after a mid-season form slump barely a month ago. To win, New Zealand must… find a way to go with Ogilvy. With Alex Pledger still on the sidelines, the Breakers are extremely small right now and limited for options. Casey Frank has helped plug the hole but coming up against the premier centre in the league will pose a very tough assignment for Frank and his frontcourt teammates. Ogilvy is hitting his stride once more after a lean patch, with his work at the defensive end just as impressive as his work on the glass and his scoring around the rim. The home side will need to keep him in check if they are to be any chance. To win, Sydney must… continue to run and play fast on offense. The Kings are flying on the offensive end right now, with the likes of Madgen and James Harvey leading the way from the outside. To complement their hot-shooting from deep is the work of Ogilvy inside and Sam Young in the open court, making the Kings a very tough all-round unit. Breaking the 100-point barrier against the quality of Adelaide last week shows how much the Kings offensive has improved over the last month after a rocky start to Young’s career down under, and continuing to run teams off their feet is the way to go for Sydney against the leaky Breakers. Verdict: The Breakers have very little room for error if they want to make the top four, and a win against the fourth-placed Kings is exactly where they need to start. A loss here would leave them four games out of the finals with just seven rounds remaining, spelling the end of their quest for a fourth-straight championship. While they will pose a threat at home in front of a big Vector Arena crowd, the Kings are in top form at the minute and will take some stopping. With so many weapons on offense and plenty at the defensive end as well, it is hard to go past the visitors in this one. Sydney by 6

Perth Wildcats vs. Cairns Taipans

Thursday, 30th January – 7:00pm (local time) Perth Arena Perth hit a stumbling block last week when they went down to the Tigers, losing on their home court for the first time this season in the process. They struggled from the field as Melbourne turned up the defensive intensity, with only Tom Jervis enjoying a standout night. James Ennis and Jermaine Beal both failed to get going and reach anywhere near their ceilings as Mark Worthington’s three-pointer at the buzzer handed them a loss. Cairns got over the top of cross-town rivals Townsville in the latest instalment of the Reptile Rumble, with Stephen Weigh and Jamar Wilson leading the way in another win for the Snakes. While they are in good form at the moment, they are still behind the eight-ball if they want to catch Sydney in fourth and begin a tough weekend double with a trip to Perth.

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

Credit: Gordon Greaves of Gordon G Photography -

official photographer for the Skytrans Cairns Taipans and Cairns Basketball Inc To win, Perth must… find their rhythm from outside. The Tigers played it perfectly last week, making sure that the hot-shooting Wildcats couldn’t get going at all. The end result was Perth shooting 22% from behind the arc and a rare win for the visiting team to Perth Arena. Regaining that rhythm is important here given their opponents have the ability to play tight defence and shoot the lights out from deep at the same time. Matching the outside threat of the Snakes is the key for the Wildcats to get back on track and return to the winner’s circle. To win, Cairns must… contain James Ennis. The American superstar has been in hot form in all three previous clashes with Cairns this season, and despite the Snakes managing a win in their latest encounter it is a must that they slow him down in this one. Ennis at Perth Arena can ignite his team and the crowd, and his scoring and highlight reel plays are something that the Taipans can’t afford to see too much of if they want to leave with a win. The Snakes are thinner than most of their opponents at the 3-spot, meaning it will be a team effort if Ennis stays under 20 for the night. Verdict: Perth will be breathing fire after going down to Wortho’s buzzer-beater last week, which doesn’t bode well for the visitors. Expect the Wildcats to come out firing on all cylinders as they look to eradicate the memory of their poor shooting from the outside last week against the Snakes in front of a big crowd. While it’s not out of the question that Cairns can beat them – they have, after all, already done so this season and lost another contest in overtime – it will be a very tough ask after last week’s loss and in the hostile surroundings of the ‘Cats own gym. Perth by 9

Townsville Crocodiles vs. Wollongong Hawks

Friday, 31st January – 7:30pm (local time) Townsville Entertainment Centre The Crocs sit at the foot of the table with a 4-13 after a very tough month and can begin planning for next season at this stage. While they sit five wins behind the Kings and are still mathematically capable, they are not playing anywhere near the level needed to make a run. Brian Conklin was again huge in defeat while Steven Markovic had one of his better games. Wollongong went 0-2 last weekend but was unlucky not to nab at least one of those games, going down to the Breakers by five before giving up a lead to the Tigers on Sunday. The Hawks got plenty out of Kevin Tiggs across both games, while Larry Davidson and Oscar Forman were good in patches throughout the weekend. To win, Townsville must… find consistent points outside of Conklin. The big American is in stellar form right now but is in need of help if the Crocs are to snap their skid. The likes of Josh Pace and Todd Blanchfield are nowhere near consistent enough at the moment, while Markovic and Peter Crawford are veterans who should be putting in more than the occasional big night. If the Crocs want to take their chance against the second-bottom Hawks they will need to spread the load across the entire 40 minutes. To win, Wollongong must… get back to their best at the defensive end. The Hawks defence has wavered over the past few weeks as their offense has flourished behind the work of Tiggs. While they need points to win games, their struggles at the defensive end look to be costing them vital wins in the race for the playoffs and have them well behind the pack. Giving up 202 points in two games last week is far too many for a team coached by Gordie McLeod and who were so good at keeping teams to a low score for the first half of the season. Verdict: This looms as a match which may decide the fate of the wooden spoon for 2013/14, with only the Breakers ahead of these two as a team that is a realistic chance of finishing last. While both sides have shown glimpses this season, neither has been consistent enough to be a threat to the big guns of the league come playoffs time. Townsville haven’t won for over a month, which should see them play with plenty of energy at home. This one could be very entertaining given both teams are struggling to contain their opposition at the moment, with the home side sneaking home in a close one for a much-needed win.. Townsville by 1

Adelaide 36ers vs. Cairns Taipans

Saturday, 1st February – 7:30pm (local time) Adelaide Arena The Sixers suffered another defeat at the hands of the Kings last week, with Sydney getting over the line thanks largely to Ben Madgen. Adelaide has now lost twice to the Kings in the past month and will want to avoid them come playoffs time. Gary Ervin looks over his injury and put in a very good performance, while Daniel Johnson was as solid as ever. Cairns will roll into Adelaide after a tough match against the Wildcats in Perth two nights earlier and will likely need a victory to keep their playoff chances afloat. Demetri McCamey has been superb of late and will look to continue his purple patch, while Alex Loughton has been up and down and will want to put in a good showing. To win, Adelaide must… stop Jamar Wilson. The wily point guard has been fantastic off the bench all season, and his last two weeks has seen him in arguably better form than he has been in either of his two seasons with the Taipans to date. Adelaide’s point guard brigade of Ervin, Adam Gibson and Jason Cadee will need to be on full alert, particularly given his teammate McCamey is in just as strong form as a starter. Wilson’s ability to get to the rim, his uncanny knack for drawing fouls and getting to the line and his ability to create open shots for his teammates makes him the Snakes’ biggest weapon and enemy number one for the Sixers. To win, Cairns must… break free from Adelaide’s defensive shackles. The Taipans are more than capable of posting a big score but have been vulnerable to fade outs throughout the season so far. To beat the 36ers they will need to negotiate the strangling defensive shackles applied by Adelaide and match their blistering offense in the process. The Taipans need to take every opportunity and make shots, which will limit the Sixers’ run in transition at the same time. Stephen Weigh has been red-hot over the last month and his teammates will be looking to him for more of the same in this one. Verdict: Cairns have been handed a very tough draw over the weekend given they will be facing the current top two sides that are both coming off losses. Like Perth, Adelaide will want to come out firing at home and put in a big performance to bounce back. Last time these two sides met it was a massacre, with the Snakes no match for the red-hot Sixers led by Gibson. Unfortunately for the Snakes, they will face the 36ers at a bad time and will likely run into another storm. While Cairns are capable of going with them in patches, sticking with Adelaide for a full 40 minutes will likely prove too hard for the visitors in this one. Adelaide by 10

Melbourne Tigers vs. Perth Wildcats

Sunday, 2nd February – 2:00pm (local time) Hisense Arena Melbourne and Perth will face off to finish round 16 in front of a big crowd at Hisense Arena. The Wildcats will come in after hosting Cairns on Thursday night and will have plenty of time to recover. The build up to this game will be huge given it will be the Tigers’ first of five at the 10,000-seat stadium for the season, while Mark Worthington’s game-winner in Perth last week will set the stage for a big rematch. Chris Goulding was also superb in both Tiger wins last weekend, with his 31-point performance in Wollongong the highlight. To win, Melbourne must… defend the perimeter. The key to Melbourne toppling the ‘Cats last weekend was defending the perimeter, with the Tigers’ defence making it extremely difficult for any of Perth’s shooters to get going. The Wildcats went at just 22% from deep on 5-23 shooting; while their 29-71 from the floor at just 41% was also well below their season average. While it won’t be as simple as repeating the dose for a Tigers win, the formula to victory is now known and Chris Anstey and his charges will want to emulate every part of their performance to give themselves the best chance at another victory. To win, Perth must… start off strong. While the match was even throughout, the Tigers got the jump early in Perth last week and the Wildcats never recovered fully. This is something they can’t allow at a packed out Hisense Arena against a team who is on a high and will be riding the wave of energy from their home fans. Plenty of Wildcats players have been substantially worse away from home, including James Ennis, and they will all want to start off strong to avoid another poor performance on the road. Watch for Ennis and Jermaine Beal to come out shooting to disrupt Melbourne’s plans and get their team going early. Verdict: Both sides will fancy their chances in what will no doubt be the game of the round. The Worthington-Ennis matchup was fantastic last week and promises to be just as good in the next instalment, with both players capable of making huge shots and winning matches. The Tigers are arguably the best equipped team to go with Perth, with their mix of size and athleticism enabling them to match the likes of Ennis, Shawn Redhage and Matt Knight when fit. There’s a good chance that this game will be decided by a single shot once again, but after their stunning win last week and playing back at home in front of a big crowd, it is hard to go past the Tigers. Melbourne by 2