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Cairns Taipans v Sydney Kings Game Preview

Cairns Taipans v Sydney Kings When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 5 November Where: Cairns Convention Centre Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ Form teams Rewind just over a week and this pair of Round 5 clashes between the struggling 0-3 Taipans and the all-conquering Sydneysiders were hardly anticipated match-ups. But how things can change, Cairns reminding the league The Snakepit is a fortress with a clinical win over Melbourne, then backing it up with a high-octane road victory in Wollongong. Now, they're ready for the ladder leaders, hoping to get some vengeance for their Round 2 loss at Qudos Bank Arena. “We’ve got the number one team in the league coming into our building next week in Sydney, then we hop on a plane together and go back and play them on Monday,” coach Aaron Fearne said with enthusiasm. “Looking forward to it, really looking forward to that.” After averaging just 73 points per game at 36 per cent from the field – and a wayward 28 per cent from the arc – in their first three outings, the Taipans burst out of their slump with 181 points last round at 50 and 41 per cent respectively. Fearne is delighted to have stars Travis Trice, Nate Jawai and Mark Worthington back firing after pre-season injuries, and knows his entire team must be on song when Andrew Gaze’s stacked roster pays a visit on Saturday night. “They’ve put a huge amount of resources into that franchise, their level of talent is very impressive, they're playing great basketball and Andrew’s doing a great job getting them hooping,” he said. “But they’re coming into our place and we’re going to want to defend our home court.” Fearne knows his team must be ready for a very physical Kings defence, but is confident the Taipans are now playing at a level to deal with that. “Just what we’ve been doing, playing with a lot of energy, physicality, really competing, just overcoming whatever comes our way,” he said. Trice would be nice The question mark on Cairns is the availability of Trice, who was a revelation in Round 4 with 40 points in 48 minutes on a sizzling 14-of-22 from the field. However, a nasty fall has left the pint-sized point guard in doubt for Saturday’s clash, which would dampen the match-up with star Kings guards Kevin Lisch, Jason Cadee and Steve Blake, and also expose the Taipans to pressure defence. Sydney have forced 70 turnovers in the past four games to lead the NBL in that category, and it is a scary sight for opposition teams when the Kings get loose in transition. When the teams met three weeks ago, the Taipans at times cut the Kings’ defence apart to lead with less than five minutes to play, but Sydney forced four turnovers in the final four minutes to spark an 18-2 run to the finish line. “In that third quarter we couldn’t stop them, they were scoring at will and our defence, although we were working hard, we couldn’t stop them,” Gaze said. “But when it counted we were able to come up defensively and get stops.” Sydney forced 17 turnovers that night against the usually careful Taipans, who also coughed up the ball 16 times in their blowout loss to Adelaide, but have averaged just eight per game in their two wins and an overtime loss in Perth. Battle of the bigs With Cairns’ offence clicking and Jawai finding his groove, the Taipans will be keen to get their big fella as many opportunities as possible, and his match-up with Josh Powell and the defensive-minded Aleks Maric and could be the highlight if Jawai repeats his form from the win over Illawarra. “What Aleks does is give us that spark on the defensive end,” Gaze said after last week’s win over Brisbane. “At the start of the fourth I felt we needed defence more than we needed offence, we’d established a little bit of a margin so what we needed was stops, and he came in and did that and then some. “To me he was much more effective on the glass than the stats would indicate, so he’s competing but not necessarily getting the rebound, it’s almost like a rebound assist that he provides … the combination we’ve got between Josh and Aleks right now is really, really good.” While Gaze is loving his team’s brand of basketball, he issued a word of warning with trips to Brisbane and Melbourne following this weekend’s double. “It’s very early days, we’ve got four games in eight days, if we drop those four we’re back in the middle of the pack, which is not inconceivable,” he said. “We don’t plan for that to happen, and we’re playing a level of basketball where we don’t think that will happen, but nevertheless, given how tight the competition is, you can play well and lose.” And that means they must be close to their impressive best against a very good Taipans team in a very difficult venue. “Cairns are tough, we played them second or third game and they were in a position to win, we had to dig deep where just our offence held the day for us,” he said. “They are getting better, they're getting better as the season rolls on.”
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