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PREVIEW

R11 Preview: Illawarra Hawks vs Brisbane Bullets

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 29 March

Where:
WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

Broadcast:
ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time
Brisbane 97 (Law 29, Sobey 18, Hodgson 12) d Illawarra 91 (Jessup 26, Harvey 15, Froling 13, Simon 13), Round 7, John Cain Arena, Melbourne

After two losses to the Hawks in the opening two weeks, where they were overrun in both, Brisbane weathered two fierce final-quarter charges to prevail in this Round 7 rematch. Ultimately the difference was Vic Law, who drew 8 fouls and shot 11-of-12 from the stripe en route to a game-high 29 points, leading the Bullets’ relentless rim attacks that saw them go +17 on paint points and free throws. For the Hawks, Justinian Jessup sizzled with 26 points at 67 per cent, but his teammates hit at just 39 per cent to come up short.


The now
Right now it couldn’t get much tighter between these teams, both sitting 9-8 in fourth and fifth spots, the Hawks with a 0.75 per cent advantage. The defensive physicality currently on show, combined with fatigue from the crowded schedule, isn’t an ideal combination for either teams’ offence, which both rely on ball and player movement to get good looks.

Illawarra have reached 80 points just once in their past five games – and have shot 16-of-72 from deep in their past three – while the Bullets shot 16-of-58 from three in back-to-back meetings with New Zealand, after nailing 29-of-66 in their pair of Round 9 wins over Adelaide and Sydney. Is it just a sickness bug biting, or has their offensive magic dried up?


The stats

 - Illawarra have averaged 90.3ppg on 18.3 free-throw attempts against the Bullets this season, compared to 84.2ppg against all other opponents on 13.4 foul shots

 - The Hawks won bench scoring 39-24 in their Round 1 win over Brisbane, but lost that stat 39-24 in their Round 7 defeat


 - The Bullets are +32 on points in the paint against Illawarra this season, but -17 on second chance points

  - Brisbane scored 69 points in regulation at 35 per cent against NZ on Saturday, then went 2-of-13 in the extra period. In their previous 10 games they'd shot 45 per cent or better nine times


The key men

Justin Simon – It’s fair to say Simon says bring on the Bullets. In three meetings he’s averaged 11.7 points, 7.3 boards, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals and shot 43 per cent from range, all those numbers above his season averages. Illawarra have been +26 with their small forward on the floor against Brisbane, and -18 in his pine time. Perhaps the big question for Monday night is defensively – is he the best match-up for Law or is his length needed on Sobey?

Vic Law – When the former Magic man has passed 20 points the Bullets are 6-1, when he’s scored less or not played they are 3-7, highlighting his offensive importance. After missing Saturday’s loss due to illness, Andrej Lemanis and Co will be hoping their star import is feeling better, and ready to bust out of a 11-of-37 shooting slump from his past two games, and break a run where he has shot just 43 per cent in three games against the Hawks.



The quotes

Brian Goorjian has always been a coach who speaks out for his team, and nothing has changed from his time overseas.

“I've never seen anything like it, we’ve played 17 games and we've played 16 on the road, we come out of the hub and they send us back to Melbourne and they send us to Perth,” he said after their late fade-out against the Wildcats.

It has been a testing season for all teams, but perhaps only New Zealand has faced more challenges than the Hawks, and the physicality and scheduling is clearly wearing them down.

While at a number of points in Goorjian’s NBL career his teams have brilliantly exploited the ability to hold off the ball unwhistled, that restriction on freedom of movement is now back in vogue and hampering his side, rather than helping it.

“They're locking in real hard and real physical on our shooters, and it’s really tough to get them clean looks unless we can get out on the break and go off our stops,” Goorjian said.



“I just think you get to the point in the game where they free up a little bit and they just don’t have legs.”

After being the league’s best three-point shooting team for the opening portion of the season, Illawarra are struggling to buy a basket from deep, shooting just 22 per cent from the arc in their past three games with Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup shackled.

That is allowing opponents to clog the paint, restricting Goorjian’s men from getting to the foul line, which in turn means their defence is missing those chance to get set and apply pressure.

For captain AJ Ogilvy, his team must get back to executing with precision to get all aspects of their game style back on track.

“We play a lot of movement on offence, it’s not an easy way to play, and I think that definitely wore us down,” he said.

“We've just got to be able to get through a whole game of basketball playing that way, we’re not going to win playing any other way, we know that.”



Things don’t get any easier, having to travel back across the Nullarbor to face a Bullets team bouncing back from an overtime defeat to New Zealand.

They've been facing their own challenges, with most of their rotation struck down by illness over the past 10 days, then Vic Law and Matt Hodgson being struck down by injury last Saturday.

“Vic’s is an accumulation of wear and tear over two or three months, and it just flared up on him late last night, early this morning, so it was a bit of a surprise to us,” coach Andrej Lemanis said after the loss to NZ.

“Hodgy was all good and then coming into the game tonight his calf just started to tighten up.

“He said it felt like it did before our Perth pre-season game, where he ended up tearing that calf in that game and he ended up being out for six weeks, so once we got to that point it was obvious that wasn’t a risk worth taking.”



They’ll certainly be hoping he’s back on board for Monday’s clash, the Bullets 9-4 when Hodgy plays and 0-4 when he doesn’t, while Law along with Sobey is the go-to man when a bucket is needed.

“It’s a day-to-day proposition, we’ll travel both to Illawarra and hope they pull up better than they did today,” Lemanis said.

Goorjian is just hoping a long-awaited return to the Sandpit is what’s needed to put a pep in his “gassed” team’s step, with a crucial run of home games coming up.

“I think we’re playing the games in that (gassed) manner, so I hoping at some point of time this things settles down and we freshen up, and when we do that I'm putting some money on that that we’re shooting the ball better when we get home,” he said.

“We’re in it, we’re 17 games into it and now we get a chance to get settled and maybe get a little run at home, it’s going to make or break our season …

“The home games in the home environment is going to be everything for us, and that’s coming over the next three weeks.”
 

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