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R11 Preview: Perth v Cairns

Who: Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 17 December Where: Cairns Convention Centre Watch: Fox Sports (Live and in HD); Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Perth 91 (Prather 26, Jawai 20, Beal 13) d Cairns 90 (Starks 19, Worthington 16, Burston 15, Gliddon 15), Round 7, Perth Arena THE MATCH-UP Markel Starks v Damian Martin – Cairns look best when they test the defence early, and that usually comes in the form of Starks’ speed in transition. The first-year Taipan has scored 70 points at 53 per cent in his past three games, but faces the NBL’s toughest test in the form of Martin and his remarkable defensive intensity. THE STATS In the fourth quarter of Friday’s win over Illawarra, the Taipans scored 10 points with Starks and Cam Gliddon combining for three points on five field-goal attempts. In the two extra periods that duo scored 20 of Cairns’ 23 points on 11 field-goal attempts. Since 2010/11 the Wildcats record in Cairns is 3-8. Against the rest of the league over that period, Perth have won 56 per cent of their road games. THE STORY When Cairns needed a hero in double overtime it was Markel Starks who answered the call, scoring eight points in just over two minutes to turn a tied ball-game into an eight-point Taipans lead. Forward Alex Loughton said it was reminiscent of the way Scottie Wilbekin would deliver down the stretch last season, while coach Aaron Fearne was also full of praise. “In that overtime he made some huge plays and got the game our way,” Fearne said. “He struggled a bit through that fourth quarter, but credit to him to come back and make some big plays when they needed to be made.” While Starks pulled on the superhero cape, kryptonite arrives in Cairns this Thursday in the form of Wildcats skipper Damian Martin, possibly the greatest defensive player in NBL history. But even the great Damo has to shake his head at the never-ending array of need-for-speed point guards on his menu week-in, week-out. “I don’t get why they don’t go for a 6’3 super slow guy who points fingers and runs the team,” he laughed. “If they’re super quick and still a scorer you’ve really got to pick your poison with the distance you guard them at, because if you’re too close they can get by you, if you sag off too far you’re going to give up an open shot, and Markel Starks is in that type of mould.” Starks has a willing accomplice, with Cam Gliddon also making a string of big plays to see the Taipans home last week. A quality defender, Gliddon’s likely battle with the red-hot Jermaine Beal should be a treat to watch, but Martin says the Boomers reserve provides Cairns with much more than three-and-D. “He’s capable of turning a game around really quickly, even if he’s missed a few shots,” Martin said. “He is the floor general out there so whoever gets put on him has a massive job ahead of them, especially trying to disrupt the rhythm and timing of their offence which usually starts through him.” THE WRAP The only way to force Martin to change his aggressive defensive approach is to attack off the dribble and then make good decisions in the lane, and Starks has shown the tools to tick both those boxes. The big test, literally, will be his ability to finish over Nate Jawai, Matt Knight and Tom Jervis using his pull-ups, floaters and bank shots from outside lay-up range, which have been falling at an impressive 52 per cent this season. The battle between Jawai and Burston was fascinating in Round 7, and expect both to exploit their size and mobility respectively, while the clash between Knight and Mark Worthington will also be an intriguing contrast of styles. Perhaps the biggest factors for the Taipans are repeating their strong rebounding effort from the teams’ last meeting, and for Stephen Weigh and Torrey Craig to step up and shut down the ever-improving Casey Prather, who was a match-winner in Round 7.
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