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R19 Preview: Melbourne v New Zealand

Who: Melbourne United v New Zealand Breakers When: 3pm (AEDT), Sunday 14 February Where: Hisense Arena, Melbourne Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: New Zealand 100 (Charles Jackson 18, Cedric Jackson 17, Webster 17) d Melbourne 63 (Adnam 16), Round 19, North Shore Events Centre, Auckland THE MATCH-UP Majok Majok v Charles Jackson – In a game with little riding on the result, this pair can be counted on to bring the energy on the boards, and their rebounding, hustle and athleticism in the upcoming semi-final series could be pivotal to the result. THE STATS New Zealand are 8-4 when Jackson grabs eight or more boards and 7-8 when he doesn’t. Melbourne are 11-3 when Majok pulls in eight or more caroms and 7-6 when he doesn’t. THE STORY Melbourne have secured the minor premiership, the Breakers are locked into fourth place, they will meet in four days’ time in Game 1 of the semi-finals at Hisense Arena. Sunday’s clash might now effectively be a practice run, but that won’t change too much for Melbourne, who according to Chris Goulding are simply focused on “playing the right way”. “In that middle part of the year teams started to guard us a little differently to what they had in those first 10 games and we just tried to play the same way and it obviously wasn’t working,” he said. Goulding said United were only putting together “10-minute blocks” of good basketball and that “wasn’t sustainable”. “We had a reality check and figured out the right way to play, and just trying to play that as much as we can has held us in good stead at the end of games,” he said. One of the keys has been exploiting mismatches without their ball and player movement stagnating, and on Sunday you can expect coach Dean Demopoulos to be eyeing off where their advantages lie ahead of the Finals. “We’ve got guys who can play basketball so we want to come out, be aggressive and see which way the other team is going to defend us so we can adjust accordingly and make our reads,” Goulding said. “Dean’s really good at figuring out what the other team does and how to exploit that offensively … I guess it’s just finding out early on what the other team’s doing and figuring out the best way to be successful against that.” For that to work though, Goulding knows they need the ball, and that means manning up against Charles Jackson, Alex Pledger, Mika Vukona and Co, who lead the NBL’s best rebounding team. “Rebounding’s another massive thing for us, in early stages we weren’t fantastic at it, but everyone’s working hard to try and lock down that area and try not to give up second shots,” he said. And for Goulding personally, he wants Sunday to be about attacking the paint. “I haven’t been doing that,” he said. “I’ve been hanging out around the three-point line too much these last few weeks, let’s see if we can change that.” THE WRAP With a full house in Hisense Arena have no doubt United will be keen to put on a show, with this the last chance to iron out any crinks before the semi-finals and for Goulding, Daniel Kickert and Hakim Warrick to get some burn after sitting out Friday night. While Melbourne won’t give too many secrets away to their semi-final opponent, they will be keen to make a statement on the boards, having been outrebounded 133-99 across the season series. New Zealand will likely share the minutes around in this clash, but that creates an opportunity for the league’s lowest-scoring bench to run into some form, with Reuben Te Rangi and Everard Bartlett potential wildcards in the post-season if they can find their range. Two seasons ago Adelaide hosted the Tigers four days before their semi-final series and produced an entertaining, high-scoring affair, so don’t be surprised to see an offensive-minded display from both teams on Sunday, especially with the likes of Goulding and Cedric Jackson on the floor.
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