NBL set to kick off historic first play-in

THURSDAY NIGHT will see the NBL hold its first ever play-in tournament, with four teams fighting for two spots in the finals.

Introduced by the NBA in 2020, the play-in tournament will allow the teams placed third to sixth will play off to determine who is locked into third and fourth to take on the Sydney Kings and the New Zealand Breakers in the semi-finals.

With a pair of exciting clashes set to take place tonight, the play-in is looming as one of the most exciting nights in recent NBL history.

The NBL Finals picture ahead of the play-in. Photo: NBL

SEM Phoenix vs. Perth Wildcats
Thursday, Feb. 9 @ 6:30pm AEDT
John Cain Arena

Things kick off in Australia’s sporting capital when the Phoenix host the Wildcats at John Cain, in what should be an enthralling battle of offence. The winner of this match will face off against the loser of the following game for a spot against the Kings in the semi-final, while the defeated side is eliminated.

The Phoenix may be a bit rusty, as they did not have a scheduled game in Round 18, but when at their best, can take down anyone. A late-season drop in form saw the Phoenix drop from the top-four, but a purple patch in the middle of the fixture had the whole competition worried.

Star forward Mitch Creek will have a big say in the result of the match, and the last time these two sides locked horns, big man Alan Williams was the match’s dominant figure with 27 points and 13 rebounds, so watch for his involvement again. South East Melbourne will also host home court advantage, so expect a rocking John Cain Arena crowd.

The Wildcats snuck into the postseason in dramatic fashion on Sunday, defeating the ladder-leaders and knocking out United by .04 percent. While that game may have been taxing, don’t expect this side to show any signs of fatigue when the ball is in the air for the opening tip.

John Rillie‘s men are as experienced as ever in crucial matches, and certainly have the tools to make it past the Phoenix. Speaking of big games, there is no one more suited for these sorts of circumstances than Bryce Cotton, who admittedly is coming off one of his poorer games (1/19 in the final). However, the gun players don’t have two bad games in a row, and expect him to be fired up in a season-defining clash.

Cairns Taipans vs. Tasmania JackJumpers
Thursday, Feb. 9 @ 8:30pm AEDT
Cairns Convention Centre

The second match in Thursday’s double-header will see the JackJumpers travel north to take on the Taipans, with both sides missing some key players. The winning team will advance to take on the Breakers in the semi-final, while the loser will get a second chance against either the Phoenix or the Wildcats.

The Taipans found themselves knocked out of the top-two in the final match of the round, with the Breakers responsible for this. Instead, they will be forced to work their way to the semi-final, and in their way are the league’s newest side. Despite the JackJumpers winning the most recent clash between the two sides, Cairns won the season series 2-1, and got the better of the competition’s newest side.

However, the northernmost team in the league will be missing the services of Keanu Pinder, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a facial injury, but the Taipans have done a solid job of replacing him over the course of the season. Expect the likes of DJ Hogg and Tahjere McCall to be the focal point of the offence, while NBL Next Generation Award winner Sam Waardenberg could be the match’s wildcard.

The JackJumpers stormed past the Hawks in the final round of the season to claim fourth spot, but the result did not come without a cost. Star point guard Josh Magette copped an errant elbow to the face, which resulted in a broken cheekbone and fractured eye socket, essentially ruling him out for Tassie’s finals campaign. His loss may prove vital to the last year’s grand finalists, who will have to make changes to the team’s structures.

Milton Doyle is the team’s next best ball-handler, but the added responsibility may see his scoring opportunities dwindle in the process, which is the team’s best weapon. One of Jarrad Weeks or Isaac White may get a start, so expect a different looking Tasmania side tonight. Regardless, the team from the Apple Isle have shown plenty of character in their first two years, so they will still give themselves every chance against Cairns.

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