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R10 Preview: Cairns v Illawarra

Who: Cairns Taipans v Illawarra Hawks When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 11 December Where: Cairns Convention Centre Watch: Fox Sports (Live and in HD); Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Illawarra 97 (Penney 24, Ogilvy 19, Coenraad 17) d Cairns 82 (Starks 19, Weigh 17, Gliddon 13), Round 10, WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong THE MATCH-UP Matt Burston v AJ Ogilvy – 19 points, nine boards, three assists, two swats and a steal, it was another beast of a night inside for AJ after the Taipans lost Burston to a migraine pre-game on Wednesday. If he’s fit and firing, Burston changes the way the Taipans can defend. THE STATS On the road Illawarra are conceding 87.7ppg, almost identical to their 87.1 at The Sandpit. Their own scoring, however, drops from a staggering 98.8ppg at home to just 81.7 in unfamiliar climes. If Cairns lose this they will be four games behind the Hawks in fourth place. No team has come from that far back after Round 10 to make the playoffs in the 40-minute era. THE STORY After five of their first seven games on the road, home cooking has been good for the Hawks, who have steamrolled their way to four straights wins and fourth spot on the ladder. “It just seems the things starting to click now they’ve bought into how I want the game to be played, how hard they're playing, how unselfish they are with the ball movement,” coach Rob Beveridge said. Wednesday’s 15-point triumph over the Taipans was arguably their most complete of the season, but Beveridge believes Friday’s rematch will be “massively different” if Matt Burston returns. “That really hit them for six, Burston’s a veteran, he’s smart, he’s a really good defender, he can match-up on AJ and I think that completely through their game plan out,” he said. Bevo also thinks “there’s just something about” Cairns which helps the Taipans grow an extra leg, their defence keeping opponents to just 77.8ppg in the Far North. “I think it’s going to be a grind, they’ll want to slow us down, make it a half-court game, and I think it’s going to be like a playoff game,” he said. Cairns are expert at slowing opposition teams through their own pace in the half-court, their ball movement throughout the 24-second shot clock forcing defences to work hard, negating their ability to play with speed going the other way. With Markel Starks and Shaun Bruce lightning on penetration, Stephen Weigh and Torrey Craig genuine perimeter threats, Burston a pick-and-roll master, Cam Tragardh a low-post genius, Mark Worthington and Alex Loughton multi-skilled at power forward, and Cam Gliddon the master of ceremonies, the Taipans have all the counters if they can get through their sets. For Beveridge, the only answer is to proactively disrupt the Taipans usually composed execution. “I’m a switching defensive coach so I want to control the game by switching up zones, switching up man, the way we defend on-ball screens, we don’t want to give them something they feel comfortable with,” he said. At the other end, he feels more comfortable with his teams’ adaptability after they racked up 97 points with just nine made triples on Wednesday, with Kevin Lisch, Kirk Penney and Tim Coenraad scoring from inside and out. “Having Rhys Martin back in the team helps that as well, he’s such an incredibly smart guy, his poise and control is definitely a settling influence on what you might think is a run-and-gun team,” he said. THE WRAP Cairns have to stop the Hawks’ penetration, which cut their defence apart on Wednesday. The Taipans tried switching ball-screens to limit Illawarra’s three-balls – which they did successfully – but they conceded 70 points on ones and twos. Burston’s expected return should plug some defensive holes, but without a more discerned effort slowing the ball in transition, Cairns’ defence will again be reacting to Lisch, Martin and Penney for most of the night, and there’s every chance the Hawks will be marching to the free-throw line again. Illawarra’s scrambling defence has gone up a level the past three games, allowing just 79.7ppg, and the Taipans’ bigs must punish them with more than Wednesday’s six offensive boards and 22 points at 31 per cent, and Cairns guards have to absorb pressure make sure the ball gets inside.
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