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Melbourne United v Brisbane Bullets Game Preview

Melbourne United v Brisbane Bullets When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 20 October Where: Hisense Arena, Melbourne Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ United and snuggly The big question surrounding Melbourne United heading into this season was how would all the pieces fit together? Was their enough ball to go around, were there enough role players to do the less glamorous jobs? Well in Round 2 the pieces fit together very snuggly indeed as United dispatched the 36ers and Illawarra by a combined margin of 23 points, scoring 193 points for the round compared to the opening weekend’s lowly tally of 150. In fact, if you take out Adelaide’s 12-1 run in three minutes near the end of Friday’s game and the Hawks’ 13-5 burst in four minutes surrounding quarter-time on Sunday, Melbourne were a dominant 187-145 in the other 73 minutes of action. United dished out 45 assists to just 26 turnovers as they played with great precision and polish, key men Cedric Jackson, Chris Goulding and David Andersen dishing off 28 dimes between them to highlight the unselfish approach. Forward Todd Blanchfield described playing with that trio as “a luxury” such is the defensive attention they draw. Andersen has ignored his shooting woes to make intelligent reads and passes out of the post, while Jackson is proving too much to for smaller point guards down low. “He’s such a tough cover, especially in that low block, and we ran a lot of stuff for him down there,” Blanchfield said. “He’s strong, he scores when he wants to down there, and when they send a double team there’s someone open on the weakside and we were able to take advantage of that.” The glue guy Blanchfield was usually the beneficiary as he stroked a remarkable 13-of-19 from the arc to finish with 44 points and 11 boards for the weekend. There were calls for the athletic small forward to be removed from the starting line-up last week, but coach Dean Demopoulos scoffed at the idea, knowing Melbourne have outscored opponents by 36 points with Blanchfield on the court this season, and been beaten by 26 when he’s on the bench. “Whether he’s missing shots or not he’s out there, he’s one of the hardest guys for me to take off the floor for two years,” Demopoulos said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He’s still a young player but he’s played a lot in his young life at this level. He’s got a long way to go too, and he knows that. But he’s a really fine player.” While Blanchfield has been the glue for Melbourne, the revamped Bullets head to Hisense Arena this Thursday still trying to stick all their new pieces together. Welcome back Bair Their Round 2 clash with Adelaide saw the long-awaited return of former Chicago Bull Cam Bairstow and he didn’t disappoint with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. However coach Andrej Lemanis his big man “ran out of gas” after such a long lay-off, and the team’s sync wasn’t quite the same as Round 1 with a new and important player introduced. “He showed what he’s going to be to do for us, he’s certainly a good presence around the rim and moves well off the ball and he’s great on the glass,” Lemanis said. “It’s going to take us a while to find our rhythm with Cameron, we haven’t had a pre-season with him … you then need to find a rhythm of how the game will unfold and how we play best together with all the pieces in place.” For the first time this season Brisbane were unable to control the tempo for the majority of the game as Jerome Randle and the 36ers claimed victory despite having 15 less possessions, overcoming the Bullets’ dominant 22-8 offensive rebounding led by Tom Jervis and Torrey Craig. “(There was) certainly a lack of urgency on the defensive end. When we got that lead and they came charging at us I thought we gave up too many easy scores, on the back of second effort plays,” Lemanis said. “We make a foul shot and Randle dribbles the length of the court and shoots a three-ball.” Testing times Brisbane have pressed defensively with the aim of slowing opponents and chewing shot clock, but Randle and Adelaide attacked them relentlessly to get easy looks or force the Bullets defence into rotations early in the clock, or spectacular plays to save a bucket. That is something Jackson is more than capable of, and with the United shooters willing to fire in transition this should be a fascinating test of Brisbane’s defensive schemes, the ability of Adam Gibson, Jermaine Beal and Shaun Bruce to slow the dribble and how well Anthony Petrie and Daniel Kickert can defend early on-balls. The other area of disappointment for the veteran Bullets was their inability to close the game out down the stretch, something that had been a feature in their 2-0 opening round, and something they’ll need back to claim a big road win at Hisense Arena. “It’s something we’re hoping to hang our hat on, having that resilience down the stretch to hold onto games, or at least stay in them and then come back and get the win down the stretch,” Kickert said. “Unfortunately that didn’t go our way in the fourth quarter and we lost some of that poise.”
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