Throwdown kicks off 23/24 NBL season

AFTER months of waiting, the National Basketball League (NBL) returns tonight to commence the 2023/24 season, with the two Melbourne sides locking horns in a tantalising matchup.

There was plenty of excitement since the last NBL match, with player movements, coaching changes and preseason hitouts ensuring the hype around this season continued to build.

It all kicks off tonight at John Cain Arena, with Melbourne United and the SEM Phoenix doing battle in a perfect way to begin proceedings. There will be plenty of atmosphere, with the match sold out and NBA legend Scottie Pippen set to be in the house to launch the season.

Melbourne United vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix

John Cain Arena

Thursday, September 28 @ 7:30pm AEST

What better way to mark the start of a new NBL season than a battle between two rivals in a sold out arena?

There will be plenty of excitement surrounding the season opener, and a lot of that can be attributed to the first true look at United’s new squad.

Melbourne went shopping over the off-season and picked up some seriously big names to announce itself as a genuine contender for the upcoming season. Thursday night will see the likes of Matthew Dellavedova and Luke Travers suit up for United in a regular season match for the first season, and combining with returning star Chris Goulding and under the guidance of Dean Vickerman, will be a strong chance of claiming an opening night win.

From a United perspective, the key to victory will be a healthy balance of contribution between their stars and some of the role players on the team. One player to keep an eye on is Flynn Cameron, who had some healthy minutes in the Blitz and will be looking to take the next step in his development.

On the other hand, the Phoenix will enter their first home and away match under new coach Mike Kelly, and adding to the drama of the game is the fact that Vickerman was once mentor to Kelly. The two will know how each other operate in a tantalising tactical battle within the game.

The Phoenix will be slightly underdone with some key players missing, but the return of star forward Mitch Creek in the final game of the Blitz was excellent, with the MVP candidate registering 30 points. Also impressing during the pre-season was Tyler Cook, who was signed as an injury replacement for big man Alan Williams.

During the NBL Blitz, Cook was one of the strongest performers across three games, and will be one of the key figures in tonight’s match. If he can emerge as a genuine second star next to Creek, it will go a long way in the Phoenix securing a win.

Defensively, there will need to be improvements from South East Melbourne, who struggled with that aspect in its preseason matches. However, Kelly has publicly addressed this, and you would imagine the Phoenix will come in with a clear defensive gameplan against United.

Although there are some big names out for both sides (Ian Clark and Jo Lual Acuil will miss for United, while Gary Browne is injured as well for the Phoenix), the season opener is shaping up as a cracker.

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