NBL 2014/15 Round 12 Preview: Snakes roll into Wollongong for crucial clash

Wollongong Hawks vs. Cairns Taipans

Saturday, 27th December – 7.30pm (local time)

WIN Entertainment Centre

Odds: Wollongong $2.25, Cairns $1.65

Tickets: Click here

Cairns will tackle the improving Wollongong Hawks in a crucial clash for the visitors as they try to keep pace with the top two sides on the NBL ladder.

The Hawks last week fell to Melbourne in a heartbreaking overtime loss, letting a six-point lead slip in the dying minutes before eventually going down in the extra period. Gary Ervin looked to be back to his exhilarating best, putting in a typically brilliant performance to almost lead his side to an impressive victory. After losing ten straight matches the Hawks have now won twice in the last month and are looking much more competitive against the NBL’s best sides.

Cairns opened the season 6-0 but currently sit at 11-5 after a mini form slump had threatened to undo all their good work. That looks to be behind them, however, as the Snakes have won two of their past three and put in a strong showing to topple league-leading New Zealand at home last Sunday. A big reason has been the form of Scottie Wilbekin, who is showing glimpses of the blistering form that made the NBL family instantly fall in love with him in the early rounds.

Key Player

Scottie Wilbekin View image | gettyimages.com There is no doubt that the first-year pro is the barometer of the Taipans’ fortunes, with his big games coinciding with wins and his poor form usually bringing losses for his team.

The Hawks have very much struggled to contain explosive and skilful guards all season, with last week’s performance from Melbourne’s Jordan McRae, which saw the American tally 30 points and 5 assists on 11-of-16 shooting from the floor, being exhibit A.

If Wilbekin is allowed the time and space he relishes to create and execute on the offensive end, the hometown Hawks will almost certainly fall to another defeat.

What To Watch For

Four of the NBL’s most explosive imports in one place

All four Americans featuring in this clash are best-known for their explosiveness, whether that be off the dribble or on the boards, and that can only mean entertainment for the fans.

Torrey Craig hit top form last week and, in full flight, has proven to be a human highlight reel, while Jahii Carson, despite his short stature, will do his best to match Craig’s athleticism and above-the-rim prowess.

Meanwhile, Ervin and Wilbekin will go toe-to-toe, with both stars tough to guard off the dribble and both able to light it up in a hurry in what should prove an epic duel.

Final Word

The Taipans bounced back from a tough loss in Adelaide by knocking over the Breakers, making them favourites heading into this clash. Their 11-5 record and second place makes them an imposing challenge for the lowly Hawks to overcome.

Wollongong, however, is playing much better basketball over the past month and are always up for a dog fight, and have enjoyed all three of their season wins in front of the home fans.

On the flip side, Cairns are just 4-4 away from home and look vulnerable at times, and their impact players, like Craig and Cam Tragardh, will miss the energy from the crowd that they lap up in their home gym.

The Hawks will give themselves every chance of causing an upset, and if Ervin carries last week’s form into round 12 then they will be in it up to their necks.

Wollongong by 2