NBL 2013/14: Round 9 Preview

The logjam in the middle of the ladder has only tightened up as we head into round 9 action, with 5 teams separated by just 2 wins in their bid for the final playoff spot. Let’s see what this weekend has in store.

Townsville Crocodiles vs. Adelaide 36ers

Friday, 6th December – 7.30pm (local time) Townsville Entertainment Centre

Townsville have had plenty of time to prepare for Friday night’s clash with the Sixers after their bye in round 8, but face a stern test of their mettle against what is the form side of the competition right now. Josh Pace has been in great form of late and will need to continue that against the likes of Gary Ervin and his Adelaide teammates, while Steven Markovic is getting better and better each week.

The Sixers escaped with a win against a struggling Wollongong side last Friday night, with a run in the third and fourth quarters proving pivotal. Ervin had a slightly below par night but still managed to get numbers by game’s end, while big man Daniel Johnson again showed how valuable he is with another strong showing.

photo credit: MR FOOJI via photopin cc

To win, Townsville must… contain Johnson. Adelaide’s big man has been remarkably consistent of late and is looking to be past the inconsistencies that have plagued him in recent seasons. Townsville’s undersized frontcourt face an uphill battle to contain him and the improving Luke Schenscher, with Johnson in particular likely to be too fast and skilful for the likes of Russell Hinder and Greg Vanderjagt. If the Crocs can keep tabs on the Adelaide big men then they will be in with a shot of victory given the talent of their smaller guys.

To win, Adelaide must… stay on top of the well-rested Crocs. The 36ers have a habit of dying late in games this season, however they have managed to hold off opponents after building substantial leads in the first halves. The Crocs pose a threat late again to the Sixers given they are coming off a week’s break and will likely have the energy in front of their home fans as the game winds down. Adelaide will need to ensure they get in front and keep their northern opponents at bay all night if they want to escape with another victory.

Verdict: Townsville will be eager to come out of the blocks firing on Friday night after a week off. Their last start win against a strong Tigers outfit in Melbourne shows they are on the way up and will be in with a shot of toppling the high-flying Sixers. The visitors have escaped with a number of close wins on the road this season and are much better at home, giving Townsville some hope of causing a boil over. Adelaide, however, are simply on fire right now and will pose a very big challenge for the rising Crocs. Adelaide by 4

Perth Wildcats vs. New Zealand Breakers

Friday, 6th December – 6.30pm (local time) Perth Arena

Perth returned to their winning ways in round 9 after splitting a double the week before and going down for the first time all season. The Wildcats left Cairns with an overtime victory against a desperate Cairns behind some more James Ennis magic, and will come into this clash looking to keep it rolling. Shawn Redhage and Damian Martin have been outstanding for the ‘Cats so far and don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

The visiting Breakers have finally found some form and suddenly find themselves in the top four after beating the Tigers last weekend. They will be aiming to get on the board against Perth this season but will need to step it up again if they are to do so. Mika Vukona was red-hot last week against Melbourne, grabbing 17 rebounds and dishing 8 assists in a stellar performance that nearly saw the first triple-double of 2013/14.

To win, Perth must… keep Vukona off the glass. The energetic Breakers forward was everywhere last weekend and created a lot of extra possessions for his side by rebounding the ball and Shawn Redhage will have his hands full this weekend trying to contain Vukona. Keeping him off the glass means less opportunity for New Zealand, particularly on the offensive end where Vukona also went to the line over and over again. Attacking him and getting him in early foul trouble will be one of the major aims for Perth in this clash.

To win, New Zealand must… defend as a team and help out on Ennis. The Perth superstar came up with a lazy 33 points last week against the Snakes and the Breakers don’t seem to have a great match-up for him this week. If they are to win, they need to keep Ennis somewhere close to under 20 points at a minimum, and doing so means they will need to help each other out and close him down as a team. Tom Abercrombie has the athleticism to match him but shouldn’t be expected to go one-on-one with the Wildcats gun or it could turn ugly for the Breakers.

Verdict: Perth is the most talented team in the league on paper and cause match-up issues at every position for most of their opponents. If one player fails to fire, a host of others are always stepping up and picking up the slack, making it essential for the Breakers to work together and hold the fort for as long as possible. Despite their good form, this New Zealand side simply doesn’t have the talent to go with Perth’s big guns all night, particularly when it matters late in the game and in the hostile environment that is Perth Arena. Perth by 10

Wollongong Hawks vs. Sydney Kings

Saturday, 7th December – 7.30pm (local time) Wollongong Entertainment Centre

Wollongong matched it with Adelaide all the way last week before falling away late and eventually going down by just a single point. The Hawks fought hard and showed they won’t be pushovers, with their past few performances much improved following a 40-point hiding at the hands of a rampant Perth side. Rotnei Clarke is finding much more consistency with time and is beginning to show that he may be one of the premier shooting guards in the league.

Sydney bounced back from their own Wildcats-induced demolition by bouncing the Tigers in Melbourne last week behind a huge game from Sam Young. The Kings import is finding his feet, and while AJ Ogilvy’s numbers are suffering it means that Sydney has a very strong frontcourt with what may prove to perhaps be two of the best four players in the league.

To win, Wollongong must… find an answer for Young. The new Kings import looks to be finding his feet after two games, with a second-week performance that sends an ominous message to the rest of the competition. Young has the potential to be another James Ennis, and given his NBA background it will be a surprise to nobody if he begins dominating games like his countryman. Matching him up will be a nightmare for Gordie McLeod and the Hawks given they can’t afford to let him off the leash, particularly given the Kings’ already have a big advantage at centre with Ogilvy.

To win, Sydney must… use Ogilvy inside. With Young in the team and taking plenty of shots away from the rest of the Kings players, the star centre can easily begin to fade from the spotlight and put up average to solid numbers for the rest of the year. Against the undersized Hawks, however, it would be a massive advantage for the Kings to feed him the ball at every opportunity and let him go to work. Ogilvy is the premier centre in the league and has the potential to dominate any game if he gets the opportunity, particularly when the opposition is challenged for size inside.

Verdict: Wollongong has shown fight in recent weeks and won’t be going away this season without a fight for a finals berth. Martin is improving at an alarming rate after his return from injury and is beginning to play a huge role in the Hawks’ chances of success. Sydney, however, is a very tough opponent and have established themselves as the third best side in the competition at this stage. Don’t rule out the Hawks at home but the Kings boast too much firepower at both ends of the floor. Sydney by 6

Cairns Taipans vs. Adelaide 36ers

Saturday, 7th December – 7.30pm (local time) Cairns Convention Centre

Cairns were much better against the Wildcats last week but came up short for the seventh straight time in a heartbreaking overtime loss. The Taipans will need to regroup as they face another extremely tough matchup with the form side of the competition in Adelaide. Alex Loughton was huge once more in round 8 while Cam Tragardh is running into some very good form.

Adelaide will be playing for the second straight night in the toughest road trip of the fixture and, if they manage to get past the Crocs, will be searching for an eighth straight victory. Last time these two teams met it was quite literally a game of four quarters, with Cairns building massive leads in the first and third terms only to see the Sixers erase them in the second and fourth periods.

To win, Cairns must… move the ball quickly and knock down open looks. With the Sixers coming off a game the night before in Townsville, Cairns will need to adopt the run-and-gun style they went to in the pre-season and in the early rounds of the season to force Adelaide to run out the game. While there are no question marks over the fitness of the 36ers side, the fact that both sides are better when they are running the floor and scoring big points means that the Snakes aren’t risking anything by doing so. Breaking down the 36ers defence will be a tough ask, but moving the ball swiftly and getting to the open shot – both inside and out – will be the key to the Taipans’ chances.

To win, Adelaide must… start off strong and slow the game down late. The last thing the Sixers will want to do is chase a deficit late in the second game of a back-to-back road double, so it will be paramount to their hopes of extending their winning streak that they get off to a good start. They have made a habit of flying out of the gates this season and will look to do so again, while slowing the game down late in the match won’t hurt their chances either given the Snakes boast the firepower to come home hard.

Verdict: Cairns finally showed some glimpses of a return to form last week against the all-conquering Perth, with the heartbreak of an overtime loss to the title favourites sure to be still raw. Adelaide is in top form but two games in two nights is tough for any side. Last time these two met the match was decided by a single basket, showing that the Taipans can go with the 36ers. Stephen Weigh, Clint Steindl and Cameron Gliddon will need to be on from the get-go to support the in-form Loughton and Tragardh. After seven straight losses the under-performing Taipans are well and truly due, and this has all the ingredients for a big upset win for the home side. Cairns by 2

Melbourne Tigers vs. New Zealand Breakers

Sunday, 8th December – 2.00pm (local time) State Netball & Hockey Centre

The Tigers have lost three straight games and have slipped out of the top four following a disappointing weekend. They are struggling for offense that flows right now, with Chris Goulding the provider of most of their points, albeit on plenty of shots. Scott Morrison had a huge weekend as he cleaned up plenty of his teammates’ misses and will need to continue his good form if his team is to turn it around.

New Zealand will be coming off a match in Perth on Friday night in what is a very tough and long road trip. Travelling from Auckland to Perth and then to Melbourne for two games in three days will take some sort of toll on the best of teams, and the Breakers will need to find some spark at the Cage. After beating Melbourne last week at home, they will make the trip to Victoria with the knowledge of how to dismantle the Tigers.

To win, Melbourne must… step up offensively, move the ball and create good shots outside of Goulding. The Tigers need offense right now, and it seems as though their plan is to simply run everything through their star shooting guard. The issue is that Mark Worthington isn’t making the shots he was earlier in the season when the Tigers were getting W’s, while Adam Ballinger’s minutes have decreased and Mustapha Farrakhan has taken a little bit more time than expected to settle in. Giving the ball to Goulding and getting out of the way isn’t the answer and the Tigers will need to find other consistent avenues to the basket to get the win here.

To win, New Zealand must… work hard on the boards and get off to a strong start. Melbourne has struggled early in most of their games this season before roaring back late in the contest. With the Breakers coming off another game on Friday night they will need to get off to a strong start and force the Tigers to play from behind once more. The usually energetic Mika Vukona and Corey Webster will need to provide the spark and keep the Breakers going as the game wears on, particularly given the Tigers will have a full house of home fans behind them.

Verdict: The Tigers are in desperate need of a win after dropping to fifth place last weekend. A win here would put them back ahead of New Zealand, depending on how the Breakers go in Perth, and has the potential to breathe new life into their stuttering season. The news that captain Tom Greer is close to a return will boost Melbourne as they search for their offensive mojo once more. The Breakers will want to stay ahead of their fifth-placed rivals, but on the back end of a tough double and playing in foreign territory will make it hard for the visitors to snatch this one. Melbourne by 4