NBL 2013/14: Round 18 Preview

The competition was blown wide open in round 17 with a number of shock results, and while the top four is becoming clearer and clearer with each week there are still no certainties with just six weeks remaining until the finals begin.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Cairns Taipans

Friday, 14th February – 7.30pm (local time) Vector Arena

The Breakers were desperately unlucky in Sydney last week and failed to take their chances late in the game in a two-point loss. Tom Abercrombie, Kerron Johnson and Gary Wilkinson all fired and nearly dragged their side over the line.

Cairns fell to a resurgent Townsville for the first time this season in a loss which may well end up costing them a chance at finishing inside the top four. Demetri McCamey was at his best but struggled to find enough help in his teammates in a disappointing result for the Snakes.

To win, New Zealand must… play lockdown defence on the Taipans shooters. The Breakers have played free-flowing basketball of late and have asserted themselves as a threat on the top four. However, Cairns have the potential to score just as freely when they are on and the Breakers will need to keep their perimeter game in check. Last week the Crocs restricted the Snakes to just 4-14 from long range in a tough win, and if New Zealand can play their opponents the same way then it will go a long way to ensuring they stay in touch with the fourth-placed Kings.

To win, Cairns must… slow down the Breakers’ run. New Zealand has improved over the last month by opening up in transition and playing fast on offense. While they haven’t been as strong at the defensive end during that time, putting up big scores has meant they have been in every game for the entire 40 minutes. New Zealand have managed over 200 points in their last two games at home across two big wins, making it important for Cairns to slow down the home side’s scoring rate if they are to leave the gym with a win.

Verdict: The Breakers suddenly look dangerous after a very slow start to the season. While it may prove to be too little, too late for the three-time reigning champs, there is no doubt they will still believe they are playing well enough to catch the Kings. Johnson and Abercrombie have recovered from their sizeable form slumps, while the injection of Wilkinson has been huge in the recovery of the Breakers. Cairns’ season is also in the balance after their shock loss to the Crocs last week and the visitors will be just as desperate to stay in touch with the top four. Expect plenty of points in this one, and Breakers should be able to get home for another vital win. New Zealand by 5

Wollongong Hawks vs. Townsville Crocodiles

Friday, 14th February – 7.30pm (local time) Wollongong Entertainment Centre

The Hawks shot the lights out in a big win last week against Adelaide to climb off the bottom of the ladder, scoring 60 points in a blistering first half. Larry Davidson was flawless and didn’t miss a shot while giving his team a little bit of everything, while Kevin Tiggs again provided the spark in limited minutes off the bench.

Townsville managed to finish a tough weekend with a 2-0 record, defeating Perth on Friday and Cairns on Saturday, with the latter being on the road. Steven Markovic was superb, while Josh Pace and Todd Blanchfield both returned to form after mini-slumps.

To win, Wollongong must… keep Markovic in check. The veteran point guard was a match winner in both games, providing plenty of big shots against Cairns and running the tempo and keeping the Wildcats at bay a night earlier. Wollongong, who plays without a real pass-first point guard, will need to put plenty of time into Markovic to avoid a similar fate. Rotnei Clarke and Rhys Martin will have their work cut out, with taking care of the ball and making the right plays, rather than simply shooting well, for their team a big priority against Markovic and the Crocs.

To win, Townsville must… protect the perimeter. The Hawks were unstoppable from the field last week against Adelaide, with their 60-point first half coming out of nowhere en route to a 102-80 win. The Crocs managed to stem the outside flow of Cairns last week and will need to do likewise if they are to extend their winning streak to four. The likes of Clarke and Oscar Forman are particularly dangerous from deep, meaning the visitors will need to be on top of their game to slow down the Hawks.

Verdict: Wollongong’s big win against the 36ers quite literally came out of nowhere last week and may give them some momentum going forward. However, they will come up against a Crocs side which is firing on all cylinders right now and riding a three-game winning streak. The Crocs managed to knock off the Hawks a fortnight ago to kick off their streak and will look to repeat the dose to climb off the bottom of the table again. This game will likely be close and come down to the wire, and while the Hawks are at home it is impossible to go past Townsville after their big double last weekend.. Townsville by 1

Perth Wildcats vs. Adelaide 36ers

Friday, 14th February – 7.00pm (local time) Perth Arena

Perth failed to fire against the Crocs last week in Townsville, with only Tom Jervis and Jesse Wagstaff having games to hang their hats on. The ‘Cats never got going and have now lost five of their last nine to fall right back to the pack.

The Sixers also fell in round 17 after a blistering shooting performance from Wollongong took them by surprise. While Daniel Johnson and Adam Gibson fired yet again, Gary Ervin had an afternoon he will want to quickly forget. Jarrid Frye has been released after a disappointing season, with Rhys Carter signed in his place.

Credit: © Milbank Photography

To win, Perth must… stop Johnson inside. Jervis will have the toughest assignment in the league this week when he tackles the in-form Johnson. ‘DJ’ is in career-best form and is making a late push for league MVP, gaining significant ground on Ennis and Chris Goulding over the last month. With Matt Knight still out of the line-up, Perth has struggled inside and are lacking in muscle. The Wildcats frontline will need to work together to keep Johnson in check or they may be in trouble as the game winds down, particularly given he has been very strong against Perth in both outings this season to date.

To win, Adelaide must… keep the ‘Cats off the perimeter. Perth has been struggling from deep of late, with the likes of Ennis, Shawn Redhage and Jermaine Beal all failing to fire consistently over the past month. The ‘Cats have been patchy but can catch fire if given the time and space on the three-point line, which means the Sixers will not want to allow them the chance to get back in rhythm. If the shots start falling from the outside for Perth, in front of a big home crowd and after six weeks of poor results, the floodgates may well open and the 36ers will be up against it.

Verdict: The Sixers handed the Wildcats their first loss after Perth opened the season with an 8-0 record earlier this season in round 7 behind Johnson and Ervin. A lot of basketball has been played since then, with both teams struggling to put in consistent big performances over the last month. Both sides have come back to the pack since their last encounter and both will now be desperate to consolidate their position in the top two. This match-up promises to be the game of the round and while the Sixers know how to get past the ‘Cats, Perth will be back at home and looking to make a statement. Perth by 2

Sydney Kings vs. Wollongong Hawks

Saturday, 15th February – 7.30pm (local time) Sydney Entertainment Centre

The Kings got past the Breakers in a thriller last week in a win that may be vital to their finishing position by the end of the season. Led by Ben Madgen and Sam Young, the home side rallied from a big deficit to ultimately pip the Breakers in a game that went right down to the wire.

Wollongong will come into Sydney after a match the night before against the Crocs in what is sure to be another tough test in a disappointing season.

To win, Sydney must… run the floor and feed the ball to their shooters. Young and Madgen got the Kings home last week and both love getting out in the open court, with the Kings scoring big in each of their past three matches at home. They can be very dangerous when they get on a roll, and given the Hawks are playing a second game in just 24 hours it makes more sense to run the tired Hawks off their legs.

To win, Wollongong must… play scrappy defence and force the Kings into mistakes. The two wins that the Hawks have come away with against Sydney this season have been as a result of low-scoring scraps. Despite hitting 100 points last week the Hawks’ best chance of victory is playing tight defence, slowing the game down and forcing the Kings into mistakes. AJ Ogilvy, Young and Madgen have all been better at home this season and it will be hard for the Hawks to stay with them if the game is free-flowing and high scoring.

Verdict: The Kings are closing in on a finals berth, and a win against Wollongong here will all but sew that finals spot up. The Hawks were impeccable last week in a big win over Adelaide, but coming into the Kingdome on the back of a game the night before poses an entirely different problem for them. The Kings’ stars are all gelling after a rocky start to Young’s time in Sydney and with the playoffs less than two months away, and third spot and beyond on offer if they continue winning, it is hard to see the home side dropping this one. Sydney by 7

Melbourne Tigers vs. Adelaide 36ers

Sunday, 16th February – 2.00pm (local time) Hisense Arena

Melbourne have had a week off to think about their capitulation against Perth a fortnight ago, with the Tigers ready to atone in front of another big home crowd at Hisense Arena. Lucas Walker is likely to retain from injury.

Adelaide will face the Tigers as part of a very tough road double after meeting with Perth on Friday night in another clash which will have huge ramifications on the top four.

To win, Melbourne must… pressure the Adelaide ball carriers and cut off the supply to the inside. The Tigers arguably have the biggest and most athletic frontcourt in the league, and coming up against Daniel Johnson and Anthony Petrie will make for a tantalising matchup. However, and despite Nate Tomlinson’s fantastic season to date, the likes of Gary Ervin and Adam Gibson will prove a handful in keeping the pace of the game in the control of Adelaide. Johnson is a great finisher but cutting off the supply from the ball carriers will be the focus of the Tigers.

To win, Adelaide must… weather the early storm. Two weeks ago the Tigers came out of the blocks firing and jumped Perth early before succumbing after quarter time and ultimately going down by over 20 points. They will want to atone for that loss against the Sixers in front of their home fans again, meaning that Adelaide will need to keep in touch early and wait for the fire to slowly burn out before making their move. If the 36ers are able to match it with the home side in the early stages then they will be every chance to leave with a vital win as the game wears on.

Verdict: This one will be another massive game to round out the weekend. Adelaide will need a win to keep in toe with Perth for top spot, while the Tigers will need a win keep alive their hopes of a home semi-final series. Chris Goulding made just two of his nine field goal attempts in Melbourne’s last game and will be looking to bounce back to his enigmatic best, while Scott Morrison and Mark Worthington will be looking to continue their recent good form. With plenty of tantalising matchups all over the court this game will likely go down to the wire, however the home side holds a slight advantage. Melbourne by 3