NBL 2013/14: Round 17 Preview

Perth recovered from two straight home losses with a thumping of Melbourne on the road to headline round 16. The Tigers take the week off in round 17 with only four games to be played.

Townsville Crocodiles vs. Perth Wildcats

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

The Crocs will come into their clash with Perth after a drought-breaking victory over fellow cellar-dwellers Wollongong last week at the Swamp. Brian Conklin continued to be huge inside, while Steven Markovic put in a big last quarter to lead his side to a much-needed W.

Perth split their double last weekend but came to Melbourne and blew the Tigers off the court in a 35-9 second quarter to get one back on their rivals. An overtime loss at home to Cairns, however, still says the ‘Cats aren’t at their best right now. James Ennis was again the star, while Shawn Redhage and Jermaine Beal played one good game each to help out.

To win, Townsville must… get on top early and put the doubt in Perth’s minds. The Wildcats have looked extremely shaky of late and, despite destroying the Tigers in their most recent outing, have lost four of their last eight games. They have struggled both home and away and seem to be missing Matt Knight more than first thought. The Crocs needs to burst out of the blocks and let the doubt creep into their opponent’s game to be any chance of causing a massive upset.

To win, Perth must… get off to a strong start and keep the foot down on the Crocs. Perth also needs to start strong, but for a different reason. Despite giving up big leads and never fully recovering, the Crocs are a team who never gives up and are always coming back at their opponents until late in the fourth quarter. When they start well they have either won or suffered desperately close losses, and they can score points in a hurry with Conklin, Markovic, Todd Blanchfield, Josh Pace and Peter Crawford all more than capable of heating up quickly. It will be up to the visitors to get on top and keep their foot on the throat of the Crocs as we know Perth can.

Verdict: It is a tough ask for the Crocs to see off the Wildcats, even if the game is at home and the ‘Cats have been patchy in recent weeks. No doubt Townsville will consider themselves a good chance of causing an upset in their own gym after finally tasting victory last week. Both teams need a strong start to control the game and Townsville will be out to prove a point against the best side in the league. This game is a danger for Perth as dropping it would put them well and truly in the midst of a form slump and make them vulnerable to challengers to top spot, but as they did in Melbourne the Wildcats should respond to the pressure. Perth by 7

Sydney Kings vs. New Zealand Breakers

Saturday, 8th February – 7:30pm (local time) Sydney Entertainment Centre

These teams met last week in New Zealand in a high-scoring and free-flowing encounter that went the way of the Breakers. The Kings had won four in a row and will look to get back on the winners list by exacting revenge.

Ben Madgen has regained his best form in recent weeks, while for the Breakers Tom Abercrombie has been superb and seems to be finally living up to his explosive potential.

To win, Sydney must… contain the explosive Breaker offense. New Zealand has found form on the back of their offense in recent weeks, hitting the 100-point mark for two straight weeks at home. Abercrombie, Kerron Johnson and Gary Wilkinson are all rolling right now and have spurred the Breakers to within reach of challenging the top four and the Kings will need to keep them in check to make sure the visitors point-scoring ability doesn’t derail them for a second week in a row.

To win, New Zealand must… knuckle down at the defensive end. While they have been scoring freely, they have also been leaking plenty of points as well. They have conceded nearly 95 points a game in their last two wins and have relied solely on their offensive prowess to get them over the line. Playing on the road is a completely different ask, and allowing the Kings to run riot on their own court won’t result in a win for the visitors. The Kings hit the 100-point mark themselves against Adelaide a fortnight ago and can tear teams apart if given the time and space.

Verdict: This will likely be the game of the round and could potentially be a very high-scoring affair if both teams stay true to form. The Breakers know how to get over the top of the Kings after last week’s victory, but the Kings in their own gym are a different team. Sam Young, AJ Ogilvy and Madgen all play better at the Kingdome, while James Harvey has shot the lights out of the stadium of late. Seeing triple figures won’t be a surprise in this one, and the home side should exact some revenge on their opponents in a crucial win for their top four ambitions. Sydney by 1

Credit: Geoff Tripp for photography.

Cairns Taipans vs. Townsville Crocodiles

Saturday, 8th February – 7:30pm (local time) Cairns Convention Centre

Cairns come off the toughest road double in the season with a 1-1 record and being relatively satisfied. An overtime win at Perth was backed up with a crushing two-point loss to Adelaide on Gary Ervin’s buzzer-beater. Stephen Weigh has been red-hot in recent weeks, while Jamar Wilson has been at his creative best off the bench.

Townsville will roll into Cairns after a tough encounter with Perth the night before. Josh Pace has been average of late and will be looking to stamp his authority on this one with a big performance to get back on track.

To win, Cairns must… run and gun all night. The Snakes are at their best when they get on the run and play quick possessions. Shooting the three-ball is what they live and die by at times, but playing fast allows them to find the open man before the defence has time to fully prepare. With the Crocs coming off a game the night before, it makes sense of Cairns to go all out and run them off their feet. With Weigh in great form and the likes of Wilson, Demetri McCamey, Cam Gliddon, Clint Steindl and Alex Loughton all able to heat up, the Snakes are dangerous and can pose a lot of problems for the Crocs by playing this way.

To win, Townsville must… slow down the game. Alternatively, it will be up to Townsville to slow the game down and keep their opponents in check. Tight defence and using the whole shot clock to find the open man are keys to the Crocs staying in the game, particularly if they can knock down the open looks from the outside and frustrate the Taipans. Steven Markovic needs to dictate the pace against the high-calibre point guards of Cairns in McCamey and Wilson for his side, and while it will be tough the Crocs veteran has all the tools to do so.

Verdict: Coming into their second match in 24 hours will hurt Townsville against the fresh Taipans, who would’ve enjoyed a week-long break after a busy period. The fourth instalment of the Reptile Rumble will see the Crocs trying to avoid a whitewash for the season, while the Snakes will be looking to win the series 4-0 and stay within striking distance of the fourth-placed Sydney Kings in the process. Cairns have had the wood over Townsville all season and, given the circumstances of this one, it’s hard to see that changing any time soon. Cairns by 10

Wollongong Hawks vs. Adelaide 36ers

Sunday, 9th February – 2:00pm (local time) Wollongong Entertainment Centre

The Hawks dropped a game to the bottom-placed Crocs last week in disappointing fashion, putting themselves in danger of finishing last in the process. They will struggle to make the finals from this position and have had a disastrous season after finishing third in 2012/13. Kevin Tiggs struggled last week after a few big games, with Rotnei Clarke was also unusually quiet.

The Sixers somewhat stumbled over the line against a determined Cairns side in round 16 for an important win to give them some breathing space against third-placed Melbourne. Daniel Johnson was enormous with a career-high 33 points on 14-18 shooting, while Gary Ervin’s driving game-winner signalled he is well and truly back to his best.

To win, Wollongong must… dictate the pace at both ends. Clarke, while a natural shooter, needs to assume the role of a pass-first point guard this week and work together with Rhys Martin to dictate the pace of the game against the Sixers. Joey Wright has his charges playing the way he wants them to, with quick offense usually following stingy defensive possessions. Allowing Ervin, Johnson and the running Sixers to get on the break would be disastrous, which means using the whole shot clock and getting back to their gritty best is a key for the Hawks to snuff out an upset win.

To win, Adelaide must… use Johnson at every chance. It’s as simple as that given the Hawks are without doubt the most undersized team in the league, and that will have DJ salivating. The second shortest side in the competition in Cairns got torn apart in a 21-point first half from Adelaide’s star big man last week, which means the Hawks are in big trouble if the 36ers continually pound it inside to Johnson.

Verdict: While Adelaide can hurt teams in any number of ways, Johnson is the key to this match. He is red-hot right now and with the likes of Oscar Forman, Dave Gruber and Larry Davidson given the almighty task of stopping him it could get ugly for the Hawks. Wollongong should be looking to return to their ugly best that made them so successful earlier in the season if they want to be any chance of causing an upset. If they do, and Clarke and Tiggs can bring them consistent offense all night, then it will be a lot closer than many expect. Even still, the Sixers should escape Wollongong with another vital win. Adelaide by 4