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NBL Winners and Losers: Round 18
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…
Final round fireworks
Last season, going into the final round, we knew which four teams were playoffs-bound. Same thing the previous season.
In 2016/17, here we stand, approaching the culmination of the NBL regular season, and seven of the eight teams remain standing. All but the Brisbane Bullets cling to hope of raising the Dr. John Raschke Trophy.
Illawarra holds pole position with 14 wins in the bank, but even they are still not guaranteed a finals berth with a pack of five teams on 13 wins breathing down their neck. Six teams are trying to squeeze into three remaining postseason spots.
Round 18's results set the scene for a fitting finale to a regular season that is almost certainly the best this league has ever seen.
Melbourne's overqualified bench bigs
Dave Andersen and Josh Boone have suited up for just three games together, but if Round 18 was any indication, they might be set to share the court a few more times beyond this weekend. Embed from Getty Images
Andersen's offensive firepower isn't news to anyone, but there were question marks over how much he had left to offer after battling injury this season. He answered those questions emphatically with an absurdly efficient 21 points on just 11 field goal attempts against Sydney, including 4-4 (100%) from the perimeter.
Meanwhile, Josh Boone found a new level of comfort and impact in the NBL with a pair of massive double doubles. He followed up 12 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in Sydney with 20, 12 and 1 in Monday night's open air win over the Hawks at Hisense Arena.
It seems crazy to bring these two ex-NBA veterans off the bench, but it might just be a perfect fit.
"I've always been a big that works very well off of another big that can score," Boone said after Melbourne's win over Illawarra.
It makes sense. Boone's defensive athleticism and rim protection help cover Andersen's lack of mobility, while his dunking threat and offensive rebounding meshes well with Andersen's dangerous inside-out game. With Ware and Goulding dominating the ball in the starting five, the big man duo could be just what coach Dean Demopoulos has been looking for to spark his previously struggling bench unit.
The Breakers, stayin' alive
Down 13 with 9 minutes remaining, their season looked over. Down 7 with 3 minutes remaining, their season looked over. Embed from Getty Images
Somehow (Kirk Penney), someway (Kevin Dillard), the Breakers found a way to steal a one-point win on slippery foreign turf in Adelaide.
They now need to beat Melbourne in Auckland, and have a bit of luck go their way (mostly, avoid a mini-table situation with the Taipans, who torched them 4-0 in the regular season series). But, most importantly, they're still alive.
The Kings' inability to protect their territory
Sydney's 76-89 loss to Melbourne on Saturday night means they will finish the regular season with the second-worst home record in the league at 7 wins and 7 losses. Embed from Getty Images
Their failure to create any sense of fear for visiting teams at Qudos Bank Arena is a big reason why they find themselves in a desperate situation going into Round 19, needing an unlikely win in Perth and other results to fall their way in order to clinch a playoff spot.
It certainly wasn't the sometimes fickle Sydney fans to blame for Saturday's result, with a boisterous crowd of over 11,000 in attendance producing a finals-like atmosphere. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to inspire their team to a win.
Perth's tough call
Greg Hire has been one of Perth's most consistent contributors this season. He leads his team in plus-minus, with the Wildcats 9.1 points per 36 minutes better when Hire is on the floor.
He has found his three-point stroke of late, something Perth have desperately needed. He had a breakout 20-point game against Brisbane in Round 18, including 5-of-6 from deep, and is now up to 40.5% from the perimeter on the season.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the NBL Game Review Panel slapped Hire with a two-game suspension for an incident with Tony Mitchell from Sunday's game in Cairns. It can be reduced to one game with an early guilty plea, but the Wildcats certainly might feel they have grounds to fight this one. They have a very difficult decision ahead of them.
Technical fouls, ejections, fines for breaching the NBL Code of Conduct for comments about referees to the press... It's been quite a week for Adelaide 36ers head coach Joey Wright.
Adelaide have found themselves in a strange position, having locked up top spot so early. Time will tell whether Joey's turbulent week will serve as a distraction, or as a catalyst to refocus the playing group ahead of their finals campaign.