Form teams face off to begin penultimate round
IT is probably the best time of the season isn’t it? The National Basketball League (NBL) is set to hold Round 20 of play over the coming Easter weekend, and there is no shortage of action for fans to enjoy over the break. With the finals series just two weeks away, and the top four spots not quite locked in yet, there will be plenty to play for as some of the competition’s best players hit the court. The round will kick off with a blockbuster clash between two of the competition’s finalists, but the excitement won’t stop there, with plenty of big matchups that will certainly shape the standings.
There is no better way to kick off the weekend than a clash between the Illawarra Hawks and the Sydney Kings at WIN Entertainment Centre on Friday night, in what is shaping up to be the biggest match of the round.
The Hawks have managed to turn their fortunes around after a mid-season slump saw their season almost written off. Coaching legend Brian Goorjian has managed to take his team to the next level, producing a fast-paced style of game that has seen his players get the most out of their own game. Like their opponents, the Hawks have been on a roll of late, with players such as Duop Reath and Justinian Jessup delivering season-best form. They will have a tough task on their hands slowing down a red-hot Kings unit, but with the way the Hawks have been going, why can’t they?
The Kings have been the form team of the competition for the last couple of months, emphasised by their whopping 12-game winning streak at the moment. Despite a few scares, Chase Buford has led his side to a remarkable run of success to close out the home and away season, but they do face some tough competition. Thankfully, the Kings do have the services of MVP-candidate (and nearly favourite) Jaylen Adams, who has delivered time and time again, so they will have no shortage of opportunities to win the contest.
The second match in Thursday’s double-header will see the Adelaide 36ers try to cause an upset when they head west to take on the Perth Wildcats at RAC Arena later in the evening.
The Wildcats were able to snap their three-game losing streak with a win over the Breakers in Round 19, which was crucial in keeping their spot inside the top four. Currently sitting in fourth spot, there are a couple of other sides knocking on the door of a finals appearance, so the Wildcats will be pretty eager to make it two in a row and edge closer towards locking in fourth position. We all know what they are capable of once inside the finals, but it is just a matter of getting there, and that starts against Adelaide on Thursday. The Wildcats will enter the match as the favourites, given the firepower they possess in guys like Bryce Cotton and Victor Law, and it will come down to execution.
The 36ers have found themselves out of form of late, currently in the midst of a four game losing streak. A couple of those have come in extremely close fashion, so they might consider themselves a bit unlucky. Regardless, Adelaide will be keen on snapping it by causing a major upset and taking down the Wildcats on Thursday night. A lot will have to go right for that to happen, but they have shown the capability to beat the best in the past. They also have a bona fide star in Daniel Johnson, so if he and a number of others can fire, a surprising result may be brewing.
New Zealand Breakers
Basketball fans will be treated to some Good Friday action when the New Zealand Breakers lock horns with the Tasmania JackJumpers at MyState Bank Arena on Friday night, with a fair bit on the line for the latter side.
The Breakers have been stiff not to get a win over their last few outings, with their last three losses decided in the closing minutes. Some have been against the best sides in the competition too, so there will be a feeling of missed opportunity. They get the chance to flip the script and finally get on winners’ list tomorrow night, but the JackJumpers have been in good form themselves. New Zealand’s best hopes will come in the form of Yannick Wetzell, as Tasmania has struggled to defend the paint for much of the season, so expect the big man to have a big say on the outcome of the game.
The JackJumpers are still a chance of sneaking into the finals in their first season in the NBL, which would be a remarkable feat. Coach Scott Roth has proven to be a tactical mastermind at stages, and has led his side to 14 wins. While a bit would have to go right to jump up to fourth, all Tasmania can do is beat the sides in front of it, and that comes in the form of the Breakers on Friday. Jack McVeigh has proven one of the recruits of the year, so expect him to be involved again here.
Next up on the agenda is a clash between Melbourne United and the Brisbane Bullets at John Cain Arena on Saturday evening, kicking off the action for the day.
The reigning champs look determined to lock in top spot come season’s end, having won 18 of their 25 games to date. However, the Kings are hot on their tail with a game in hand, so United will still be eager to get the win on Saturday and seal their fate at the head of the table. In their way are the Bullets, but United will be widely expected to get the win in front of their home crowd. One of the barometers for the team is veteran sharpshooter Chris Goulding, who has been in good form of late, which has reflected in results as a team, so look for Melbourne to get the ball in his hands around the perimeter.
Despite not qualifying for the upcoming finals series, the Bullets have been quietly chugging along nicely of late, winning two of their last three, including a thriller against Adelaide in Round 19. They will be keen on shaking things up a bit with an upset against United on Saturday, but will need to bring their A-game. However, when guys like Robert Franks and Jason Cadee are fit and firing from the field, they are a much better side and look a bigger chance of posting a winning score.
Rolling on after the previous game, the Cairns Taipans will also make the trip West to take on the Wildcats at RAC Arena on Saturday night. It will be the second clash of the round for the Wildcats.
The Taipans are focussed purely on finishing their NBL22 campaign strong, having not qualified for the postseason. Their three-game winning streak came to an end in Round 19, and they face a tough task in getting it going again in the Jungle against one of the competition’s premier sides. However, there are no certainties in sport, and Cairns has proven too much for some of the best teams in the past with their strong work inside the paint. If Keanu Pinder can keep his form rolling, then why can’t the Taipans shock the league?
Easter Sunday will see a double-header kicked off by a clash between the SEM Phoenix and the Tasmania JackJumpers at John Cain Arena on Sunday afternoon. It marks the second game of Round 20 for the JackJumpers.
Things are not exactly looking promising for the Phoenix, having essentially slipped out of contention for the finals after an extremely promising start to the season. They have been unable to reach the offensive heights of the first half of their 2021/22 campaign and it has resulted in the side falling to fifth on the ladder. They come up against a side just one win ahead on the ladder, and will be looking to prove to the rest of the competition that they can still produce winning performances. After an excellent debut season, watch Xavier Munford to be heavily involved once again for the home side.
The second match in the day’s double-header will see the Sydney Kings play host to the Adelaide 36ers at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday afternoon. The game will mark the second outing of the round for both sides.
The final match of the round will see the Taipans continue their road trip when they take on United at John Cain Arena on Monday night, in the second outing of Round 20 for both teams.