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GAME REPORT

Kings Claim First Regular Season Crown Since 2008

The Sydney Kings celebrated winning their first NBL regular season championship in 12 years by beating a gritty Illawarra Hawks 98-82 at Qudos Bank Arena on Friday night.


The Kings, who achieved the rare feat of leading the competition from go to whoa, will finish the season at least one win ahead of second-placed Perth regardless of the result of the Wildcats’ clash against Adelaide on Saturday.


It’s the club’s fifth regular season championship and the first time the Kings (20-8) have topped the NBL standings and registered 20 wins in a season since 2007/08.


The Kings’ semi-final opponent is yet to be determined, with New Zealand, Melbourne and Brisbane still in the mix to finish fourth. What is locked away are the dates, though, with Game 1 to be at Qudos Bank Arena on Saturday February 29.


Game 2 will be an away game for the Kings on Monday March 2 and if required, the third and deciding semi-final contest will be on Thursday March 5. The other semi-final series features the Wildcats and the Cairns Taipans.


Will Weaver’s men have earned home-court advantage for whoever awaits in the first round of the playoffs - a big plus given the Kings’ 12-2 home record this season.


Welcoming back star centre Andrew Bogut and forward Craig Moller from injury but still without Brazilian Next Star Didi Louzada, the Kings again demonstrated their enviable depth in the first-versus-last contest in front of 11,047 fans.


Eleven Kings players contributed to the score sheet as Weaver used all 12 of his squad on the floor.


Usual suspects Casper Ware (19 points) and impressive power forward Jae'Sean Tate (19) led the way for the Kings’ offence, while Brad Newley played his part off the bench with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists.


Xavier Cooks also chipped in with six points and 11 boards, and Deshon Taylor added 12 points, five rebounds and three assists.


Captain Kevin Lisch continued to build too with another 15 minutes for six points and two assists. He wasn’t surprised by the club’s ability to maintain their consistent record despite having key players miss large chunks of the season.


"We prepared early for that by having guys out early," he joked.


"The coaches and medical staff have done an amazing job, and really we know nothing different than having guys coming in and out because we’ve been doing that the whole year.


"We have a team that’s able to say here’s the situation, let’s go out and play. It’s a combination of how we’re taught to play and the people we have, and when you put those together, it just naturally happens."


Bogut, who has missed the Kings’ past two games, announced his return with a monster slam for his first basket early in the opening term on his way to six points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes of court time.


Moller, who has been absent since Round 8 with a right ankle injury, played seven-and-a-half minutes for four points.


Sydney led 31-26 at quarter-time and 57-43 at the main break despite Hawks guard Sunday Dech keeping his side in the contest with 17 first-half points.


Dech finished with a season-high 26 points, while fellow guard Angus Glover (15 points, eight rebounds and four assists) was another bright spot for the Hawks.


It may have been Valentine’s Day, but Sydney showed the battling Hawks no love in the second half and extended the lead to 74-57 at three quarter-time before piling on 24 points in the final quarter.


Illawarra (5-23) finished the season with 10 straight losses and collected the wooden spoon for only the third time in their long history as the last remaining foundation club.


However, coach Matt Flinn believes the club - which drew worldwide attention this season when potential NBA No. 1 draft pick LaMelo Ball pulled on the Hawks colours as one of the league’s Next Stars - should be judged on more than wins and losses.


"Whilst the record is not good, success is measured in different ways. Obviously we’re not happy where we’re at in terms of where we finished on the ladder, but we are quite happy with the forward progress we’re making and the trajectory of the club," Flinn said.


"The learning curve we’ve all been on this year has been enormous, and we’re going to be better for the run. If you take it from my appointment, in the 12 months we’ve been here we’re probably the first time in history the club’s close to break even.


"For us that’s huge because everyone knows our story, and that was part of the objective when I first got the gig."


NBL ROUND 20


SYDNEY KINGS 98 (Ware 19, Tate 19, Newley 13)

 

ILLAWARRA HAWKS 82 (Dech 26, Glover 15, Grida 9, Froling 9)


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