NBL: Randle injury makes everything interesting again
When Jerome Randle went down with a fairly serious-looking knee injury on Saturday night, fans everywhere, not just in Adelaide, held their breath.
While the Adelaide superstar is expected to be back in time for the playoffs after scans came back better than expected, the injury still means a major shake-up across the league on many fronts in the final two weeks of the season.
The MVP favourite suddenly isn’t the shoe-in he was pre-injury as his rivals have three or four games without him on the floor to make up some ground, while the Sixers, who had put some space between themselves and New Zealand in fifth, now have some work to do without their star man.
Should the Sixers make the post-season and Randle isn’t fit and ready to go, they will also then face a very big ask to win a series against the team who finished on top of the table – especially playing two games away from home.
Let’s start with the MVP race.
Randle was priced as short as $1.60 to take out the honour last week after some electrifying basketball over the past two months.
That is despite missing the opening rounds of the season and joining the Sixers late for outgoing import Kenyon McNeail.
The point guard made an instant impact on the competition and is a shorter-than-usual stint has taken the league by storm, assuming the mantle of arguably the league’s best player.
However, missing games early on and now having to sit out the final two rounds means that the door is open for the likes of Hawks duo Kevin Lisch and AJ Ogilvy and Melbourne sharp-shooter Chris Goulding to make a late run.
Lisch is likely the best-placed to challenge and a strong showing over the final three games may see the American steal the award at the finish line.
Of course, the MVP award is the least of Adelaide’s worries as they face four matches without their star scorer as the season draws to a close.
As it stands, the Sixers hold a two-game lead over the Breakers in the race for fourth spot, with both sides having four games to finish the campaign.
Adelaide’s run certainly isn’t easy, either, with a mammoth clash against the Breakers at home followed by three straight away clashes against Cairns, Illawarra and Perth.
Should they beat the Breakers, that should be enough to see them through to the playoffs, however a loss could blow the door wide open for New Zealand to sneak into the four ahead of Adelaide instead.
The Breakers have a much more favourable run home, facing Cairns at home following their date with the Sixers, before a home-home series with Melbourne, a side they have beaten this campaign, to end the regular season.
After Randle went down on the weekend, his teammates looked inspired and went on to open the final term on a 20-2 run and secure the contest against the Hawks.
Playing without their superstar for an entire 40 minutes is a different prospect, however, and given Randle is such an integral part of their offense, the Sixers will need to adjust at that end of the floor very quickly if they are to steady the ship, beat the Breakers and secure a playoffs berth.
Who knew that a man who wasn’t signed by any of the eight NBL club originally, and who stands just 175 centimetres tall in stature, could have such an impact on the league, and in such little time.
Everything that looked to be all but set in stone is suddenly far from it, and all because of one man.
The MVP award, of which Randle had one hand on the trophy before he went down, is suddenly up for grabs.
If he still takes out the award despite missing around 10 games across the season, it would be a remarkable effort but one that showcases just how brilliant the superstar has been for the league.
Should the Sixers manage to hold onto fourth spot, the fitness of Randle will again determine how his side fares and whether they or their opposition plays off for the championship.
Randle’s return to the court, or lack thereof, will be the difference between Adelaide potentially winning the title and being bundled out in the first round.
That is just how big the little man has been, and still can be, for the Sixers.