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NBL Winners and Losers: Round 14
After each round of the NBL season, I’ll be taking a look at three ‘winners’ and three ‘losers’ from the events of the preceding week. Anyone, or anything, is eligible…
The 36ers, who only need a half
When Melbourne crushed Adelaide by 31 points last week, the question had to be asked. Is it finally happening? Is this impossibly unsustainable 36ers juggernaut finally hitting the skids? Embed from Getty Images
By half time of Thursday night's clash with the Hawks, we had the most resounding of answers.
For the first few minutes, Illawarra's patented zone looked like it might slow the 36ers down, but triples to Randle, Sobey and Teys quickly opened up the Hawks' defence and turned it to Swiss cheese. Two quarters in, it was 67-42 and the game was more or less over.
On Sunday, in Auckland, there was also a brief moment where it looked like Adelaide's relentless transition game could be slowed. It didn't last.
When the Breakers closed to within 5 in the second quarter of Sunday's clash, coach Joey Wright called a timeout and implored his point guard to pick up the pace.
"We gotta push the ball, you're still not pushing the ball. You're not pushing it. You see the video, you'll be surprised. You're not pushing it."
Randle and Co. got the message, storming out of the timeout with a 25-8 run to take a 62-40 lead into the main break.
Right now, the 36ers, who lead the league in pace, are playing so fast that the game is over by half time.
The other guys
Round 14 was really about the less heralded players, who have been bringing the energy all season in supporting roles, getting some well-deserved time in the spotlight.
Anthony Drmic and Matt Hodgson started the trend in Adelaide on Thursday night. Check out Drmic's first defensive possession, battling the enormous Michael Holyfield in the post.
On Illawarra's next possession, he and Hodgson combined for a slick steal-and-fast-break combo.
Drmic was everywhere in his 15:21 on court, finishing with 13 points (despite suffering a nasty case of the yips at the free throw line), 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Hodgson was a defensive beast with 4 rebounds and 3 blocked shots to go with 9 points (3-3 FG, 100%), and a team-best plus-36 in his almost 20 minutes of game time.
Next up was Taipans guard and Ladbrokes Player of the Game, Mitch McCarron, who was a shining light in a gruelling battle against the Breakers in Cairns. With the Taipans' season arguably on the line, he top-scored with 14 points and picked up a couple of decisive offensive rebounds down the stretch, as the men in orange managed to scrape over the line for a 65-63 win.
In Illawarra, it was Nicholas Kay stepping up to a leading role. He compiled an outrageously efficient, season-best 22 points on 8-9 (88%) from the field and 6-6 (100%) from the free throw line, as the Hawks bounced back against Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Wildcat Jameel McKay finally found a way to make a big offensive contribution in Perth's crucial win over the Kings. McKay has been the epitome of an energy guy for the 'Cats, first in the league in blocks (2 per game) and offensive rebounds (3.1 per game), but he has struggled to find scoring opportunities, averaging under 10 points per game.
Against Sydney, his teammates did a much better job of finding him in dangerous spots, and he took full advantage.
His 19 points (8-12, 67%) marked a season high, with a handy 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots to boot.
The sleeping giant, woken from its slumber
Speaking of those Wildcats... Embed from Getty Images
Three straight road wins. The return of Damian Martin, five-time NBL Defensive Player of the Year. A smooth 26 points on debut from Bryce Cotton, the highest-scoring debut by any Wildcat, ever. A leap from 6th to 2nd on the ladder.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Sydney, from two MVPs to none
With their loss to Perth on Saturday night, the Kings slumped to their fifth defeat in six games. After finishing nine straight rounds on top of the NBL ladder (Rounds 2-10), they now find themselves sitting outside the top four. Embed from Getty Images
It has now been reported that Brad Newley is 'out indefinitely' with a hamstring injury, while his partner-in-crime, Kevin Lisch, has looked a shell of his former self in recent weeks.
Over the last four games, Lisch is averaging 11.3 points per game on 23% from the field and 15% from the perimeter. That's down from season averages of 17.4 ppg, 42 FG% and 34 3P%.
Through injury and form, the Kings have gone from two MVP-calibre players to none. They need one back to stay in the finals mix, and both to make a run at the championship.
Melbourne United, lost without CG43
Melbourne were staying in touch with a fired up Illawarra Hawks at the Sandpit at half time on Saturday night. But when Chris Goulding didn't return to the court in the second half with an apparent aggravation of an ankle sprain, United quickly lost touch. Embed from Getty Images
It's always difficult to adjust to losing a star player during a game, but Melbourne have looked bereft of offensive structure without Goulding this season.
They went 0-5 when he missed games earlier this season, and they are a whopping 15.8 points per 36 minutes better with him on court, per crunchtimeshots.com.
Their second half against the Hawks featured an overdose of Casper Ware isolations that ended in relatively contested threes off the dribble. While Ware has proven himself capable of making such shots, they need to find a way to get others involved when Goulding is out of the game, especially if he misses more games due to this latest ankle injury.
The Breakers, on the cusp of elimination
New Zealand fought tooth and nail in Cairns, and never gave up against the 36ers, but ultimately came up empty in Round 14. They now sit in last place at 8-12, two games clear in the loss column.
They're desperately trying to integrate two new imports, Paul Carter and Kevin Dillard, in time to rescue their season.
In Round 15, they take on the struggling Kings at home before a trip to Brisbane to face the Bullets, who are not exactly setting the world on fire either. Two winnable games that could put them right back in the finals picture. Two losses, however, will all but mathematically rule them out of a top four spot. The moment of truth has arrived for the Breakers.