NBL 2014/15 Round 18 Preview: Hawks aim to nail United’s coffin shut
Melbourne United vs. Wollongong Hawks
Saturday 7th February, 2015- 7.00pm (local time)
Margaret Court Arena
Odds: Melbourne $1.28, Wollongong $3.70
After consecutive losses in the past two rounds to sides below them on the ladder, Melbourne United have fallen three wins behind fourth placed Adelaide on the ladder. In a playoff position just a fortnight ago, United are now in a desperate fight and will most likely require other results to fall their way in order to finish in the top four. Their 93-82 loss to Wollongong last weekend was arguably their worst performance of the season and they simply cannot afford another defeat on Saturday night. Playing their final game of the season at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne are 3-0 at the venue with an average winning margin of 8 points.
The Wollongong Hawks snapped a seven game losing streak against Melbourne last round but were unable to back up the win two days later against Cairns, falling 63-60. To get off the bottom of the ladder, they would need to finish the season unbeaten, Townsville would need to lose all of their matches as well as lose by at least 10 points in their Round 20 match against the Hawks. The unfortunate truth is that Wollongong are staring down the barrel of their second ever wooden spoon, joining the 1997 side that finished that year 7-23.
Although the 2014/15 season has not been Gary Ervin’s best, the shooting guard has enjoyed playing against Melbourne more than any other side. He missed their first encounter in Round 4 but has averaged 25.5 points at 50% shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 7 assists in their other two meetings. Those rebounding and assist numbers are more than double his season average while his 46% shooting from the three point line against United compares favourably to his season average of 32%.
Ervin’s hands will be full defensively as his opposite number is Jordan McRae, the league’s second best scorer. McRae has recorded 27+ points seven times this season, three of which came against Wollongong. You can expect a shootout between him and Ervin as the Melbourne guard averages 29.6 points at 61% shooting, 4.6 rebounds and 4 assists when playing the Hawks. One area in which Ervin has had the advantage is their turnover ratio, with just 2 total mistakes compared to McRae’s average of 3.6.
What to Watch For
Melbourne’s Injury Cloud
A heavy knock in Round 15 against Perth saw Lucas Walker sidelined with a shoulder injury. Initial fears were that the back-up power forward had suffered a broken collarbone but less than three weeks later it looks like Walker will return to the court. Melbourne’s big man stocks took a further blow last round with Daniel Kickert suffering back issues throughout the Hawks game. He played just 7 minutes and did not attempt a shot but the likelihood is that he will also be suiting up this weekend. United struggled without Kickert’s offensive presence and Walker is important in lightening the load on Mark Worthington but players at less than 100% are always a concern and will be a point of emphasis on Saturday night.
Once again Melbourne has all to play for and cannot afford to drop this match but that motivation has not seemed to help them in their past two games. Wollongong will be desperate to record their first road win of the season and need only repeat the dosage they handed out to United a week ago. Kickert and Walker could make the difference though, especially if they can even out the rebounding differential which is where Melbourne lose a majority of their games.
Melbourne by 4