NBL 2013/14: Round 19 Preview

The last two spots in the top four remain wide open after both the Tigers and Kings dropped their games to keep the door open for the chasing pack. Round 19 is sure to provide plenty of fireworks with just over a month until the start of the playoffs.

Wollongong Hawks vs. New Zealand Breakers

Friday, 21st February – 7.30pm (local time) Wollongong Entertainment Centre

Wollongong completed a very successful weekend in round 18 with two wins against the Crocs and the Kings suddenly putting them back in the finals race. They sit two games behind the fourth-placed Kings and hold the split, with Rotnei Clarke in blistering form and Kevin Tiggs continuing to provide plenty off the bench.

The Breakers also managed to keep in touch with the Kings with a strong home win over Cairns last weekend. Led by Gary Wilkinson, Tom Abercrombie and Kerron Johnson the Breakers simply had too much firepower for the visitors.

To win, Wollongong must… keep the lights-out shooting going. The Hawks are well and truly firing right now, with their win streak sitting at three and their shooters scoring with ease. They are averaging over 90ppg over their streak, and with Clarke leading the way with two monster games in round 18 they are back in the race for the finals. To get past the Breakers, however, they will need to keep it going given the Breakers are able to put plenty of points on the board as well.

To win, New Zealand must… play defence on the road. The Breakers have been putting up big scores of late, but their problems have come at the other end of the floor. Going flat-out on offense has worked at home, with their last three wins all coming in high-scoring home games. However without playing strong defence on the road they have struggled to emulate the same form. Keeping the Taipans to 78 last week is a start, but repeating that on the road will be the test. Slowing down the high-flying Hawks on the road will be critical to their chances of moving within touching distance of the finals.

Verdict: The Hawks have been irresistible of late, with Gordie McLeod seemingly cutting his stars loose from their lockdown style of defensive play from early in the season. They have been on fire, with Clarke shooting the lights out to lead his team back into finals contention. The Breakers have come a long way since the arrival of Wilkinson and are looking to push for fourth spot and keep their title defence alive. Last time these two sides met they scored a combined 207 points as the Breakers got over the line by five, and while we can expect more of the same scoring punch in this one the Hawks will fancy their chances of exacting some revenge at home. Wollongong by 2

Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings

Friday, 21st February – 7.30pm (local time) Cairns Convention Centre

Cairns failed to get going in their loss to the Breakers last week and now look to be falling out of playoffs contention for the third straight season. Alex Loughton led his side with 15 and looks to have picked it up after a mid-season form slump, while Stephen Weigh continued his recent run of good form.

The Kings suffered their third straight loss to the Hawks last weekend when they got blown out at home. Ben Madgen was the best player for Sydney, who is now in danger of dropping out of the top four before season’s end with the chasers hot on their heels.

To win, Cairns must… slow down AJ Ogilvy inside. While the Snakes may be used to it by this stage of the season, they remain undersized, and coming up against the best centre in the league is a dangerous proposition for the likes of Loughton and Matt Burston. However, Ogilvy has been prone to some quiet games over the last two months and the Taipans will be out to make his life difficult around the rim in the hope that he has another poor game. If Ogilvy gets off the leash Cairns will struggle to stay in touch, making it a must to slow him down.

To win, Sydney must… get more from their stars. While Madgen fired last week, Ogilvy and Sam Young struggled to get going throughout and the Kings lost as a result. There is little doubt that the Kings’ big three hold the keys to winning, which means that Young and Ogilvy need to stamp their authority on the game early and torment the opposition throughout. Young’s junk time scoring last week is what Sydney needs from the opening tip, particularly given both Ogilvy and Madgen have struggled at times on the road this season.

Credit: Geoff Tripp for photography.

Verdict: This may be the Taipans’ last chance to keep in touch with the top four given a loss here would put them three wins behind the Kings. The likes of Jamar Wilson, Cam Gliddon and Demetri McCamey will all have a big role to play in this matchup given Charles Carmouche has struggled with the ball handling duties this season, but the key to the outcome of the match will likely rest with Sydney’s stars and how they perform. Given they will be on the road, and given the Snakes won’t want to let this opportunity to make up ground on the Kings slip without a big fight, the home side may just slip home. Cairns by 3

Perth Wildcats vs. Melbourne Tigers

Friday, 21st February – 7.00pm (local time) Perth Arena

Perth returned to their best in a physical encounter with Adelaide last week, blowing out the second-placed Sixers. James Ennis was back to his exceptional best with a very strong all-round game, while the home side is likely to get Matt Knight back for this weekend’s clash in a timely boost.

Melbourne suffered their second straight double-digit defeat at Hisense Arena when they went down to Adelaide on Sunday, with the Tigers having no answer to the 36ers’ shooting and work on the glass. Mustapha Farrakhan was the best for the home side as Chris Goulding and Mark Worthington both struggled. The Tigers may regain Lucas Walker after nearly a month on the sidelines.

To win, Perth must… use the energy at home and blow the Tigers away early. Last time these two met in Perth the Tigers hung around for most of the game before Worthington’s three at the buzzer gave them a W. However since then the Tigers have fallen to the top two sides by huge margins at home and look a shadow of their former self. The damage has been done in the second quarter and Melbourne has had to rely on second half comebacks which have eventually fizzled out. If Perth can get off to a flyer like they did against the Sixers last week, there will be no way back for the struggling Tigers.

To win, Melbourne must… get off to a good start and get more from their two big guns. Poor first half showings have cost the Tigers all season, however their past two games have seen this taken to a new level. A strong start without lapses is needed here for the visitors to be any chance, while their stars also need to fire. Goulding looks to have dropped out of MVP contention with some below-par showings of late, while Worthington’s shot seems to have disappeared once more. Travelling to Perth and leaving with a win hinges on their stars turning it around and keeping close to the home side all night.

Verdict: Perth was simply unstoppable last week against Adelaide, while Melbourne looked to be the opposite in their clash with the Sixers. The Tigers have fallen out of the race for a top two spot and are now in danger of slipping below the Kings or, perhaps, even further unless they can rediscover their mid-season form. A difficult part of the schedule leads them to Perth for the second time in a month, while more tough clashes with the top sides still await them. While they know the formula for toppling the Wildcats in their own gym, recent form suggests the home side will most likely get over the line in this one. Perth by 6

Townsville Crocodiles vs. Sydney Kings

Saturday, 22nd February – 7.30pm (local time) Townsville Entertainment Centre

Townsville fell to the Hawks last week after three straight wins and look to have the wooden spoon within their grasp unless they can go on another winning streak. Josh Pace is getting back to his best for the Crocs, while Steven Markovic continues to run the team superbly.

Sydney will come into Townsville a night after their clash in Cairns against the Taipans and will be looking to take full points away from 24-hour back-to-back.

To win, Townsville must… exploit Sydney’s lack of a quality point guard. With Markovic in form and keeping a cool head in running his side, the Crocs have a big opportunity to dictate the match against Charles Carmouche and the visiting Kings. Carmouche is a natural shooter and has struggled to pick up the point guard slack since the departure of Jesse Sanders, leaving the Kings vulnerable against sides with top quality point guards like Markovic.

To win, Sydney must… run the floor and put points on the board. While the Crocs have the ability to score heavily, they also have the tendency to play slack defence and give up big scores as well. The Kings boast perhaps the most scoring firepower in the league and will be almost impossible to stop if they get up and running, even in the Crocs’ home gym. If Ben Madgen and Sam Young get out in the open court on a regular basis then the Kings will be very hard to slow down.

Verdict: Expect an open match between these two sides with plenty of points on offer. Matchups in the way of Pace v Madgen and Brian Conklin v Young are choc-full of scoring potential, and while the Crocs have an advantage at the 1-guard spot they also have a significant disadvantage at the centre position given they will be up against AJ Ogilvy. Sydney’s big man may well be the difference between these two sides in a close game, with the Kings boasting a little more star power which should see them record an important win. Sydney by 2

Adelaide 36ers vs. New Zealand Breakers

Sunday, 23rd February – 2.00pm (local time) Adelaide Arena

Adelaide suffered a heavy defeat last week in Perth before turning full circle and destroying the Tigers in Melbourne to round out the weekend. There were very few shining lights in their matchup with the Wildcats, but Gary Ervin and Daniel Johnson shone the brightest against the Tigers in a big win.

The Breakers will travel from Wollongong to Adelaide for their second clash of the weekend in the hopes of another victory to keep their finals hopes alive.

To win, Adelaide must… slow down Gary Wilkinson and Tom Abercrombie. Both stars have been in rare form in recent weeks, with Abercrombie seemingly scoring at will right now while Wilkinson has relished his starting role in the absence of Alex Pledger. The Breakers have played free-flowing basketball since the American’s arrival and have fought back into contention as a result, meaning that Adelaide will need to slow down their opponent’s scoring by playing tight on the perimeter. Adelaide’s defence was a key in their blowout win against Melbourne and a repeat effort is necessary if they are to knock off the in-form Breakers.

To win, New Zealand must… work hard on the boards and deny the Sixers second opportunities. Adelaide’s access to the boards is a key determinant in whether they win or lose a game. Perth did a brilliant job in keeping Johnson, Luke Schenscher and Mitch Creek away from the glass as the Sixers struggled, while Melbourne failed to do so and subsequently allowed Johnson in particular to dominate the glass and provide plenty of second chance points for his side. The 36ers won the rebound count 43-30 against the big and athletic Tigers, meaning the undersized Breakers will need to work extremely hard to deny them the same opportunities if they are to keep in touch late in the game.

Verdict: Adelaide were up and down last week but managed to split a tough road trip and cement second spot for the time being in the process. The Breakers kept their finals dreams alive with a big win over the Taipans but will need to lift against the second-placed Sixers in their own gym. While Wilkinson has helped New Zealand return to the force they were expected to be, it may have been too late to salvage their season. A win against Adelaide will quieten the doubters and give them plenty of hope of returning to the finals, but toppling Johnson and the 36ers in Adelaide will be a very tough ask. Adelaide by 5