NBL 2013/14: Round 21 Preview

With just three weeks remaining until the finals begin the race for the final two spots in the top four is seemingly down to three, with the Tigers, Kings and Hawks battling it out to feature in the semi-finals.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Melbourne Tigers

Friday, 7th March – 7.30pm (local time) Vector Arena The Breakers split their double last week, with the loss to Cairns effectively ending their campaign for a fourth straight title. Tom Abercrombie’s late season surge in form has been explosive and impressive but looks to have come a few weeks too late for his team. Melbourne has lost four straight and are in worrying form as they look to clinch an overdue return to finals action. Last week’s overtime loss at home to Townsville may prove costly given the Kings and Hawks are breathing down their necks. To win, New Zealand must… guard the inside. With the possibility of being without Alex Pledger again the Breakers will remain undersized against the big and physical Tigers side. Even if Pledger plays, he will be coming off a long lay-off and will likely see a lot of the bench. Melbourne’s Scott Morrison can provide the Tigers with plenty of second chances and easy scores inside, which is particularly handy when his team’s stars are struggling for consistency from the outside as they have been in recent weeks. Containing the likes of Morrison and Lucas Walker and keeping them away from the rim is key to the home side’s chances. To win, Melbourne must… shut down Abercrombie. With the Tigers struggling to find the bottom of the net from distance in recent weeks it is important that they knuckle down at the other end to deny their opposition a chance to take advantage of it. Abercrombie is the type of player that can hurt the Tigers most with his athleticism and ability to score points in a hurry. While finding their rhythm should be the main focus for Melbourne, they can’t afford to be limp at the other end and give up another big score if they are unable to post one themselves. Verdict: This match holds little relevance for the Breakers in terms of finals aspirations, however they will still believe they can make it given they are still mathematically in the hunt. This is literally their last chance and a loss would spell the end to any distinct possibility of sneaking into the top four. The Tigers are also in desperate need of a win but have been spared in recent weeks as the Kings have dropped games. They hold a single win advantage over the fast-finishing Hawks and a loss here would put them in real danger of dropping out of the top four by the end of the round. The Breakers are simply in better form right now and, at home, should sneak home for a win. New Zealand by 1

Perth Wildcats vs. Townsville Crocodiles

Friday, 7th March – 6.30pm (local time) Perth Arena The Wildcats managed to hold off Sydney in a closely contested match last week, with the victory essentially sealing a top spot finish for the men from Perth. Jermaine Beal stole the show with a very good shooting display while Matt Knight looked to be over his injury concerns with a very good performance. Townsville split their double last weekend, with an overtime win in Melbourne helping to ease the pain of a loss to the Breakers in New Zealand. Josh Pace will return from suspension but fellow American Brian Conklin will not play after injuring his hamstring in Melbourne. To win, Perth must… use Knight inside. Perth’s star big man looks to be back and in good from as we move towards finals action. Given the loss of Conklin for the Crocs, Knight should be the target for his teammates on almost every possession and has the potential to go massive in this one if he gets on top early. The big man can be as devastating as Daniel Johnson and AJ Ogilvy and could pose as Perth’s most dangerous weapon against the Crocs. To win, Townsville must… continue getting the best out of Todd Blanchfield. Townsville’s young swingman has dominated in recent weeks, particularly since Pace has been absent. With Conklin’s scoring set to be missed this weekend it provides another big opportunity to step up to help his team to a win. Facing off against the best player in the league will only add to the pressure to perform given James Ennis will be doing everything he can to put points on the board for the Wildcats, but the challenge is something which Blanchfield will need to overcome. Verdict: While this matchup is first versus last there is a strong chance that it will be a lot closer than that suggests. The Wildcats have proven they are the best side in the league and are stacked with talent, while Townsville have been in good form over the past month with plenty of wins against quality sides. Despite regaining Pace from his suspension, the loss of Conklin will be huge and will leave a massive gap in the Crocs frontline. The visitors have a habit of sticking around and never laying down easily, but the Wildcats should get home comfortably enough. Perth by 8

Wollongong Hawks vs. Cairns Taipans

Saturday, 8th March – 7.30pm (local time) WIN Entertainment Centre The Hawks have won five straight games and beat second-placed Adelaide for the second time in a month last week to move within a single win of the top four. Rhys Martin was simply unstoppable while Rotnei Clarke continued his top form. Cairns also won in round 20 with a hard fought victory over New Zealand to break a skid which has seen them fall out of finals contention. The Snakes rode the brilliance of Jamar Wilson to victory as the star import put in an electric all-round performance. To win, Wollongong must… continue running the floor and hitting the open shooter. Wollongong has been unstoppable of late on the back of some hot shooting from their superstars. Even after losing Kevin Tiggs the Hawks have continued to put up plenty of points and charge home towards the finals, and getting high percentage looks and making them count has been the driving force behind their spike in form. Getting into the same rhythm early against the Snakes in front of their home fans will see them keep their streak alive.

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, Cairns must… hit from the outside and match the Hawks’ shooters. The Taipans have some of the best shooters in the league and, when on, can be as devastating from deep as any of the top sides. Their shooting touch has seemingly deserted them of late but re-discovering it against the Hawks is the best chance of an upset victory. Led by Wilson, the likes of Stephen Weigh, Alex Loughton and Clint Steindl have the potential to match Clarke, Martin and Oscar Forman. If their gun shooters can mix it with their opposition then the visitors will be right in it all night. Verdict: Wollongong is the form team of the NBL right now and will be looking to potentially jump into the top four with a win against the Snakes. Martin stepped up to fill the void left by Tiggs last week and looks set to play a crucial role in the run home for the Hawks. Cairns’ season is effectively over and they will be playing for pride, and with Clarke leading the charge the Hawks will be far too good at home. Wollongong by 9

Adelaide 36ers vs. Townsville Crocodiles

Saturday, 8th March – 7.30pm (local time) Adelaide Arena The Sixers went down to Wollongong in a thriller last week, consigning them to settling for second spot behind Perth. Adelaide’s best player was again Daniel Johnson, and despite the loss he got plenty of help from Gary Ervin and Adam Gibson. The Crocs roll into Adelaide to play for the second time in 24 hours to complete their doomsday double against the two best teams in the league. To win, Adelaide must… exploit the undersized Crocs with Johnson and Luke Schenscher. Townsville’s worst fears will be realised when they come up against the best big man duo in the league without Brian Conklin, and the Sixers will be out to exploit the mismatches inside. Johnson could go huge if given enough supply from the likes of Ervin and Adam Gibson, and Schenscher has been building after easing his way into the season after an injury-riddled off-season. Easy buckets around the rim and plenty of second chance will be on offer for the Sixers if they exploit the paint. To win, Townsville must… counter Adelaide’s inside scoring with points from the outside. The Crocs will get beaten in the paint without a doubt, which means they will need to counteract the easy two’s with some outside shooting. Townsville have the tools to light it up from deep, with Todd Blanchfield, Steven Markovic and Peter Crawford all capable and in reasonable form, with the former two lifting over the past few weeks. The return of Josh Pace will also help their cause, and quick ball movement to the open shooter is the best plan of attack for the visitors. Verdict: Townsville has been in decent form over the past month, and while it has come too late to extend their season past round 23 it is promising for them to finish off the season as they look towards improving for 2014/15. However Adelaide is in the box seat to notch another win and consolidate their spot in the top two even further, with everything pointing in their favour. With no Conklin and the Crocs coming off a game 24 hours earlier it will be the home side’s to lose, with Johnson to run riot inside. Adelaide by 8

Melbourne Tigers vs. Sydney Kings

Sunday, 9th March – 1.00pm (local time) Hisense Arena The Tigers will play their second match of the weekend against the fourth-placed Kings in a game which will shape the playoffs dramatically. Chris Goulding will be looking to lift his form and get his side back to their best form. Sydney will also be looking to bounce back after suffering defeat against Perth last Sunday in the return of Jesse Sanders. Sam Young again led the way and is laying claims to the ‘best player in the league’ tag, while Ben Madgen has recaptured his 2012/13 form when he led the league in scoring. To win, Melbourne must… slow down Young. Melbourne is a big and athletic side, with their front court boasting Scott Morrison, Lucas Walker and Mark Worthington. With Young being in devastating form over the past two months it will be critical that the home side finds a way to keep his influence to a minimum. The Tigers have the tools to slow the former NBA superstar, with his last outing against Melbourne returning just eight points. Keeping Young out of it will mean Sydney’s reliance on Madgen and AJ Ogilvy will grow, which suits the Tigers given they have both been patchy at times this season. To win, Sydney must… keep the foot on Goulding’s throat. Melbourne’s star man is struggling and the last thing Sydney wants to do is allow him to work his way into the match and shoot his way out of the funk he finds himself in. The Kings need to allow Goulding no space from the opening tip and try to frustrate him into another poor shooting performance, with his shooting percentage over the past five games currently sitting below 30. Taking Goulding out of the action will mean all of Melbourne’s outside scoring pressure lands on Worthing and Mustapha Farrakhan, who have both been up-and-down of late. Verdict: This match will determine top four positions and the loser may well find themselves sitting outside of the final playoffs spot if the Hawks win a night earlier. Sydney has the head-to-head on Melbourne and haven’t lost to the Tigers yet this season, but it is only a matter of time before the sputtering Tigers fire. This will be the game of the round and expect plenty of fireworks between two traditional rivals with their seasons on the line. The Tigers are 0-3 since moving to Hisense Arena which suggests the home court will be of no advantage, and given their current form it is impossible to tip them for a win. Sydney by 2