NBL Blitz Monday wrap: Phoenix and Kings rise

OVER the last few days, the National Basketball League (NBL) held its preseason ‘Blitz’ competition, with sides able to get some run into their players heading into the season opener next month. The competition is being played across three states, with Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria all hosting some action over the coming weeks. This weekend kicked off the first batch of the 22-game fixture, with plenty of close contests keeping fans around the country entertained for the weekend, and unsurprisingly, the usual suspects fired again as they look to set themselves up for a strong NBL22 campaign.

South East Melbourne Phoenix (112) def by. Illawarra Hawks (116)

The NBL Blitz delivered another thriller with the Hawks taking down the Phoenix by four points in an overtime cracker at Melbourne Sport and Aquatic Center on Monday night. The two sides produced four exciting quarters of action throughout all four quarters, with similar shooting percentages from the floor (the Phoenix shot 47 percent while the Hawks shot 44 percent) demonstrating how equally matched the two clubs were on the night.

A jump shot from Illawarra’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes saw the sides tied up with just over 38 seconds to go, and neither team could find the match-winning basket before overtime. The heroics of Hawk Antonius Cleveland in the extra period despite a quiet night proved enough to give his side the slim victory, as they kicked off their pre-season campaign on a high.

NBL Next Star and Hawks guard Justinian Jessup delivered an eye-catching offensive performance, pouring in 27 points and five rebounds as he led his side to a tense victory. It was the efficiency of Jessup that proved most impressive, with the future Golden State Warrior making nine of his 12 field goal attempts, including a massive dunk over a Phoenix defender. With an NBA contract guaranteed, the Hawks will be counting their lucky stars that they are able to bring back Jessup for the final year of his NBL Next Stars contract.

Despite the loss, the Phoenix appear pleased with the performance of new recruit Zhou Qi, with the big man producing a towering effort in his second game for the club. Starting at the center position for the second time in two games, Zhou finished with 17 points while pulling down 12 big rebounds and blocking two attempted shots by the opposition. The former Houston Rocket was one of the league’s most intriguing signings in the offseason, and if he can carry this momentum into the regular season, he should reward Phoenix coaches, players and fans.

Sydney Kings (80) def. Melbourne United (75)

Monday night’s second game saw yet another close contest, with the Kings able to hold off a Melbourne United side that stormed home to almost steal an unlikely victory. However, commanding first and third quarters from Sydney ended up being the difference in the final result, with the Kings claiming a narrow five-point victory at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Center.

The Kings started the match in blistering form, outscoring their opponents by 10 points in the opening quarter, before United were able to reduce the margin to just two points at the main break. The third term saw Sydney once again prove too dominant for their opposition, and while Melbourne had an impressive final term, the damage had already been done, with the Kings able to hold on to claim their first NBL Blitz triumph this year.

Kings forward Xavier Cooks once again proved why the team can rely on him with a terrific all-around performance in the side’s win. Cooks stuffed the stat sheet to finish with 14 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks, essentially doing everything for his side in just 27 minutes of action. His opponents simply had no answer for his hard work on both ends. If the 26 year old can produce numbers such as these throughout the regular season, it will go a long way in determining the success of the Kings come the end of NBL22.

Melbourne United’s Caleb Agada was one of his side’s strongest performers, able to hit the scoreboard while still proving a disruptive presence on the defensive end. Despite an inaccurate night shooting, Agada was still able to finish in double-digits with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. What was most impressive was his game-high five steals, as he consistently made life difficult for his Kings opponents, poking the ball free whenever there was an opening, and announcing himself as a threat on the defensive end in an impressive NBL Blitz showing.

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