NBL | Massive matchups – Round 19

THE 2023/24 season of the National Basketball League (NBL) is shaping up as one of the best ever, with the competition extremely close with just two rounds remaining.

As of the conclusion of Round 18, every team in the league can still make an appearance in the play-in at the least, although the top two spots have been secured by Melbourne United and the Perth Wildcats respectively.

However, third to sixth place in the standings are still very much up for grabs, but with just two weeks remaining, time is running out for several sides to make their run and grab one of four remaining play-in spots.

With that in mind, Rookie Me Central will take a look at three key matchups that are set to play a huge role in the race for these remaining spots.

New Zealand Breakers (7th) vs. Illawarra Hawks (4th)

The Breakers lost their most important player in their most important win of the season in a cruel twist of irony last weekend. Star import Anthony Lamb suffered a torn Achilles in the win over the Perth Wildcats on Sunday, but the team was still able to get the job done. Currently one win out of the play-in, New Zealand will need others to step up in Lamb’s absence.

The Hawks have been one of the stories of the season, turning things around from sitting in 10th spot by a comfortable margin, to booking fourth spot with a win over the Bullets last weekend. Justin Tatum has his team humming at the right time of the season, and Illawarra suddenly has a strong chance of a postseason appearance. However, these are the games the Hawks must win if they are the real deal, so they’ll need to bring their signature offensive flair.

Brisbane Bullets (6th) vs. Adelaide 36ers (9th)

The Bullets have been flying under the radar throughout the season, and have knocked off some big scalps in the process, while getting the job done against sides they should be beating. However, the team was brought back to reality by the Hawks last week, well-held defensively with no player scoring more than 11 points for the match. Although ranked higher than the 36ers, Brisbane will need to lift its offensive output a win is to occur here.

The 36ers have been another success story, also flipping the script and storming up the standings. Their season looked over a couple of months ago, but they have beaten some of the best the NBL has to offer, including the ladder-leaders and the reigning champions. Now, they are just one win outside of the top six, and are bringing in some solid form despite a loss to the JackJumpers last round. They certainly have the tools to make a late run and it all starts against Brisbane.

SEM Phoenix (10th) vs. Tasmania JackJumpers (3rd)

Although the Phoenix may look like heavy underdogs on paper, it is a testament to how close the competition is at the moment. South East Melbourne has had a terrible run on the injury front, and it has seriously affected the team’s form. However, the Phoenix will regain some troops in Round 19, including important duo Mitch Creek and Matt Kenyon. Adding to the intrigue in the match is the fact that the Phoenix rolled the JackJumpers on Christmas Day, so an upset may be brewing that would keep South East Melbourne’s season alive.

The JackJumpers recorded a pair of important wins in Round 18, downing the Cairns Taipans and the 36ers. Tasmania will be eager to solidify a home play-in spot and finish third, but Saturday’s game at John Cain Arena will be a test. The Phoenix have had the wood over the JackJumpers in recent games, and Tasmania will need to flip that narrative if it is to move closer to that goal.

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