NBL 2014/15 Round 15 Preview: Kings finals hopes hang in the balance in Cairns

Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings

Saturday 17th January, 2015- 7.30pm (local time)

Cairns Convention Centre

Tickets: click here

Odds: Cairns $1.20, Sydney $4.60

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The Cairns Taipans swept Round 14 with comprehensive victories over Perth and Townsville. A 33-16 fourth term blew the Wildcats away as Cairns hit 6-7 from beyond the arc before they held off a feisty Crocs side to win by 5 two days later. The win over Perth was very important for their ladder position, as they now sit three wins clear in second spot while the Breakers are just a win ahead in first position.

The Taipans are 1-1 against the Kings this season, with a win in Round 4 but a loss in their most recent clash in Round 7. Their victory came at home where they are 8-2 although it should be no surprise that Josh Childress was only available for the Round 7 match.

Coming into their clash against Townsville last night, Sydney had lost five straight games with two of those losses coming against the Crocs. They avoided a series sweep with a strong 89-81 victory though, leading by as much as 17 in the second half. They sit two wins behind Melbourne in sixth place but a knee injury to Angus Brandt has hampered their finals hopes with the centre undergoing surgery this week.

There is still a possibility that Brandt could return if the Kings were to factor in the playoffs but for now, Nick Horvath has been brought in as his replacement. The 33 year old journeyman averages 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in his 100 game NBL career and should be an adequate replacement.

Key Player

Stephen Weigh

This weekend will see Stephen Weigh play his 200th consecutive match, a feat only equalled amongst current players by Mika Vukona who could also reach the landmark this round. The forward has not missed a game throughout his NBL career and is enjoying his best shooting season to date. His field goal percentage has increased by 6.4%, his three point shooting is +5.2% and his free throw shooting is a league best 90.6%, up from his 79% career mark. Weigh has been almost a non-factor against Sydney in their two clashes, averaging 3.5 points and 3 rebounds with Childress his direct opponent. However, his milestone game this round could provide the spark needed to help Cairns over the line.

What to Watch For

Wilbeken’s Recent Woes

An early MVP candidate, Scottie Wilbeken’s recent form has been relatively lacklustre. He has averaged just 11.5 points in his past 12 games and has not surpassed 15 points since November 20 after scoring 23+ in three of his first five matches. His point guard battle will pit him against Jason Cadee, who has usurped Kendrick Perry to take the starting role. Cadee averages only 7.8 points on the season but when hot, can be almost impossible to slow down. He proved this in Round 7 against the Taipans, scoring 18 in just 24 minutes. If Cadee can find his stroke from the three point line, he will expose Wilbeken’s poor long range shooting while his impressive defence will also play a deciding factor. Although the Cairns point guard has recorded just one turnover in his past three games, his last meeting with the Kings saw Cadee help harass him into a season high 4 turnovers.

Final Word

The unknown quantity of Horvath could be an ace up the sleeve for Sydney as Cairns will have had little time to prepare for him. Cadee is a solid match for Wilbeken, possessing the speed to contain him defensively and burn him offensively. The Kings are desperately fighting to remain in the playoff conversation but this is also an important game for the Taipans as they are still playing for top spot. Their 8-2 home record makes them tough to tip against.

Cairns by 6