Last spot up for grabs in massive final round
HOW good is it to see such a tense finish to the year? The National Basketball League (NBL) is all set to kick off its final round of the 2021/22 season, and things are set to end in the most dramatic of fashion. In the most unforeseen race for fourth spot in the standings, the competition’s newest side are pressing one of the heavyweights for the final position in the postseason. The ladder is far from secure, and with some massive matchups on the cards for the upcoming weekend, you would not want to miss the action.
Round 21’s action kicks off on Thursday night, when the Sydney Kings head north to take on the Cairns Taipans at Cairns Convention Centre in a match that won’t have too much to say on the standings.
The Taipans fell out of finals contention weeks ago, but are still looking to finish the season strongly. They had a tough fixture in Round 20, facing off against a clinical United side and the hungry Wildcats, with both matches taking place on the road. There is no doubt that Cairns will be licking its lips at the opportunity to finish on a high and cause an upset here but it will be no easy feat. They had a breakout game of sorts from Ben Ayre, who recorded a double-double of 20 points and 10 assists, so expect the guard to be heavily involved again.
The Kings have been exceptional to close out the season, with the return of superstar Jaylen Adams proving the catalyst for a serious run in the back half of their campaign. Sydney has been arguably the most impressive team in the last few months, demonstrated by a whopping 12-game winning streak. However, it was broken in Round 20 by a hungrier 36ers side, as the Kings were handed their first loss in a while. With a spot in the finals guaranteed, and the likes of Adams and Jarell Martin missing Thursday, Sydney will still need to bring its best.
Kicking off the action the following day, the SEM Phoenix will play host to the Adelaide 36ers at John Cain Arena on Friday night, with the two sides in contrasting form over recent weeks.
After a promising start to the 2021/22 season, the Phoenix have slipped out of finals contention due to a drop in form in the past couple of months. Things looked to be back on track when they held a 15-point lead in their matchup against the JackJumpers last weekend, but could not maintain it as the competition’s newest side ran over the top of them. They will be taking on a red-hot 36ers side, so Mitch Creek and co. will need to bring their A-game if they wish to finish the season in style.
The 36ers have found a name for themselves as the ‘giant-killers’ over recent weeks, having taken down some of NBL’s best sides. They kicked off Round 20 by defeating the Wildcats in the Jungle, to make Perth’s life a bit more difficult and throw the race for the top four into disarray. Adelaide then backed it up by putting a halt to the 12-game winning streak of the Kings later in the round, so they could not ask for more in terms of finishing the season off in style. With Dusty Hannahs back in the lineup and firing over the last two wins, they may prove tough to stop.
In one of the most anticipated matchups of the round, the Perth Wildcats will welcome the Illawarra Hawks to RAC Arena on Friday night, as both sides look to lock in a spot in the upcoming finals series.
The Wildcats found themselves in danger of missing the postseason after Round 20’s shock loss to the 36ers, and with Tasmania hot on their tail, the pressure is all on last year’s grand finalists. There is plenty on the line coming into the clash against the Hawks, and with speculation around United resting a few players against Tassie later in the round, a win here would be massive. With Victor Law in a moonboot throughout the week and unable to compete in Perth’s crucial games in Round 21, Bryce Cotton will need to do what he does best and drag his side over the line.
The Hawks are in a much better position to qualify for the finals over the weekend’s fixture, with a lot needing to go wrong to prevent it. They would need to lose both games and Perth or Tasmania would need a significant percentage boost, so Illawarra is extremely likely to seal its fate early in the round. Taking down the Wildcats on the road would make the process even sweeter, and if Tyler Harvey keeps his offensive momentum rolling, they will have no trouble posting a winning score.
Another contest with plenty of hype heading in, the Tasmania JackJumpers will look to keep their finals dream alive when they take on the ladder-leading Melbourne United at MyState Bank Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The JackJumpers have been the story of the season, with the competition’s newest side giving themselves every chance to compete in the finals in just their first campaign in the NBL. Much of the charge has been led by Scott Roth, who was recently nominated for Coach of the Year. They overcame a 15-point defecit against the Phoenix last round, so there is plenty of fight in Tassie. With plenty of intrigue around whether Melbourne will enter the clash with a full strength side, and with momentum on their side, the JackJumpers will consider themselves a red-hot chance to take the win here.
United sealed top spot on the ladder with last week’s win over the Taipans, so there is not much pressure on Melbourne heading into Saturday’s clash. The chatter around the league is if the visitors will rest their stars and force Perth to win both of its games to qualify for finals. However, United’s depth is remarkable, and doing so will not guarantee a win for Tasmania.
The second match of Saturday’s double-header will see the two Queensland based sides lock horns when the Brisbane Bullets travel up to the Cairns Convention Centre to take on the Taipans, in the home side’s second outing of the round.
The Bullets have not performed as strongly as they would have liked in the 2021/22 season, not qualifying for finals with just 10 wins next to their name coming into the final round. They have performed strongly against some of the better sides the NBL has to offer, but a lack of consistency prevented a winning record. Jason Cadee spoke about the importance of finishing strongly throughout the week, so it is evident that Brisbane plan on taking down the Taipans and building some momentum heading into next season.
Kicking off Sunday’s triple-header is a clash between the New Zealand Breakers and the Adelaide 36ers at the former’s home away from home in MyState Bank Arena. It will be Adelaide’s second game of Round 21.
The Breakers will finish at the bottom of the ladder with just five wins, but the season has not been all bad news. They have done plenty of development in their young guns including Ousmane Dieng, Hugo Besson and Yannick Wetzell. Sunday presents the opportunity to finish in the winners’ column, and if the three players mentioned above can fire, then it very well could happen.
The second match of the day’s triple-header will see two contenders lock horns as the Hawks travel to Qudos Bank Arena to take on the Kings on Sunday afternoon. It will be the second outing of the round for both teams.
The final match of the final round will see the Wildcats potentially fight for their season when they go head to head with the Phoenix at RAC Arena on Sunday evening. It marks the second game of Round 21 for both sides.