NBL | Ones to Watch – Round 18

ROUND 18 of the 2023/24 season of the National Basketball League (NBL) kicked off last night, and with just a few weeks remaining until finals, it has a massive say on who makes the postseason.

With every side still mathematically capable of making the finals as it stands, every game is crucial from now until the end of the fixture. With just six games taking place from Thursday to Sunday, the quantity of games will be overshadowed by the sheer quality of the matchups.

Things started last night, with the Tasmania JackJumpers defeating the Cairns Taipans by eight points at the Cairns Convention Centre. Although the Taipans can still technically qualify for the play-in, they would need a miracle.

With that in mind, Rookie Me Central will continue its weekly series of highlighting some key players worth keeping an eye on this weekend.

Chris GouldingMelbourne United

Goulding and United may have solidified top spot in the standings, but they were still shown to be vulnerable last weekend, falling at the hands of the Sydney Kings in the final game of the round. The 2023/24 season is Melbourne’s to lose from here, with a stacked roster and a masterful coach in Dean Vickerman at the helm. However, United will be eager to bounce back from here, and enter the finals series with some momentum. Veteran sharpshooter and team captain Goulding is the key to the puzzle, and if he can get back to the form that saw him lead the race for the Most Valuable Player (MVP), it will go a long way.

Mitch CreekSEM Phoenix

Facing off against Goulding and United on Saturday night will be Creek and his South East Melbourne Phoenix. Despite being remarkably undermanned, Creek poured in 31 points (25 in the first half) to lead the Phoenix past the Kings in the first game of last round. It was a spectacular performance that was indicative of what he is capable of. If the Phoenix are to be any chance against a fit and firing Melbourne side, then their star forward will certainly need to be at the forefront. At his best, he can torch any opposition defence, and while he faces a test against a United side that prides itself on defence, he certainly has the runs on the board.

Gary ClarkIllawarra Hawks

One of the league’s most successful imports for the 2023/24 season to date has been Clark, who has played an immense role in Illawarra’s charge into play-in contention. Over the past couple of weeks, he has recorded some big totals, including 36 in a loss to the Taipans at the buzzer. However, Illawarra went 2-0 last weekend, and Clark’s strong play was a heavy factor in this. The team will be eager to lock away one of four play-in positions, and their import holds the key for that mission.

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