NBL 2014/15 Round 8 Preview: Wildcats host Taipans in top four clash

Perth Wildcats vs. Cairns Taipans

Friday 28th November, 2014- 6.30pm (local time)

Perth Arena

Tickets: click here

Odds: Perth $1.25, Cairns $4.00

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Perth were too strong for Adelaide last Friday night, winning by 10 points. They were unable to move into top spot on the ladder on Sunday though, as Melbourne controlled their clash in a 15 point victory. The Wildcats’ premier defence has not quite clicked into gear and although they are doing enough to sit second, allowing 43% and 50% field goal shooting last round shows they are vulnerable. The Perth Arena still remains a fortress and after a loss to New Zealand on opening night, they have recorded four consecutive wins at an average of 14 points. Added to this, Cairns have dropped two straight on the road and face the longest trip within the Australian mainland when they tackle the 5 hour plane ride to Perth.

Cairns were lucky to escape Round 7 with a 1-1 record, fighting off a desperate Wollongong side in a 4 point win after falling to Sydney by 17 two nights previous. The Kings demolished the Taipans in a 52-29 second half, handing them a third straight loss after they begun the season 6-0. The victory over the Hawks ended that losing streak but not before the bottom side grabbed the lead in the final two minutes. Having shot just 39% from the field in their past four games, a match-up against the league’s best defensive team will put their floundering offence to the test. They have also hit only 28% from beyond the arc, with Stephen Weigh (1-10), Scottie Wilbeken (6-25) and Alex Loughton (4-15) all contributing to the recent slump.

Key Player

Alex Loughton

As stated above, Loughton has lost his radar recently and his lack of offence has been a significant factor in his side’s 1-3 record since Round 4. In their six game winning streak to open the season, he averaged 11.9 points at 46% shooting but that has dropped to 8.6 at 30% in his past three games. When he is making shots, he pulls the forwards away from the basket, opening up the lanes for the likes of Wilbeken and Cam Gliddon. However, when he isn’t producing offensively, Cairns’ offence can become one-dimensional as Wilbeken is left to do all the work. Coming up against Shawn Redhage this weekend, he will need to recover his stroke quickly as the 6’8” Wildcat doesn’t have too many off nights at the other end of the floor.

What to Watch For

Martin vs. Wilbeken

The game could be won and lost within this battle as the MVP frontrunner faces the league’s best defender. Wilbeken has failed to reach double figures in scoring just twice this season but one of those matches was last week against the Hawks, when he collected just 7 points. He is unlikely to have two poor games in a row, so Martin will have to be wary of a man who is looking for redemption. They both sit in the top five for assists, with Wilbeken (4.3 per game) just ahead of Martin (4.2) but with the Perth star also averaging a competition best 2.7 steals, his all round game is sure to cause headaches. Wilbeken is not a major threat from the three point line but his mid-range game will have to be on song as Martin will deny attempts to drive to the basket.

Final Word

In a similar vein to Wilbeken, Jermaine Beal had a day to forget against United last round, scoring 1 point on 0-10 shooting and finishing -10 in 30 minutes. He will also be looking to cast off the shackles of that game with an improved performance. Compared to past seasons, Perth’s defence has paled in comparison but do not let that fool you; this is still a seriously stingy defensive side. Cairns must find their shooting stroke and hurt the Wildcats from the three point line but with Wilbeken matched-up against Martin, the Taipans offensive anchor will be restricted and that, along with the home court advantage, should see Perth prevail.

Perth by 6