R13 Preview: Cairns Taipans v Brisbane Bullets

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 24 February, 2022

Cairns Convention Centre

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?
Cairns 102
(Deng 26, Kuol 26, McCall 19) d Brisbane 94 (Franks 22, Patterson 16, Cadee 15) – Round 10 , Nissan Arena, Brisbane

Bul Kuol had a coming out party in Round 10, his 26 points on 8/10 from range the game-breaking in a wild Sunshine Stoush, played at high speed and with high intensity throughout. The Bullets closed within four midway through the final term, but a pair of clutch Marshall Nelson triples halted their run, then Kuol added two more from range to shut the gate.

What happened last start?

The Taipans blew the gate wide open with a 23-9 opening term in Adelaide, but it was all downhill from there as their half-court offence again produced little. In response to the officiating changes, Cairns are bringing enormous physicality to their defence this season, but is that just locking them into brutal grinds that don’t suit their athletic line-up?

Brisbane coach James Duncan wants his team grinding away, tacking from the offensive-minded Andrej Lemanis style that produced beautiful basketball but no genuine title run. However, after two grinds in Round 11, the Bullets were back to a old-fashioned shootout against the Phoenix, falling just short as Robert Franks’ game-winner went wide.

Who’s in form?

Stephen Zimmerman – Taipans boss Adam Forde has asked for effort, effort and more effort. Well he got that from big Zimm, who banged for 35:22 in Adelaide to produce 21 points at 69 per cent, 13 rebounds and two steals. Whether watching Zimm back opponents down best suits Cairns’ other pieces is another discussion, but he never stops giving his all.

Robert Franks – After adjusting to the level of scouting in the NBL, Franks is back on track, averaging 19.5 points and 7.0 boards in his past four games, shooting 55 per cent from the field and 13/27 from distance. That run started against Cairns, when he scored 16 of his 22 from the rim or the free-throw line, so expect more post-up opportunities on Thursday.

Who needs to be?

Cairns’ offence – The Snakes rank third in defensive field-goal percentage, third in turnovers forced, fourth in opposition scoring and would rank even higher if they didn’t give up so many cheap points from turnovers. Coach Forde’s challenge is putting players in positions to use their offensive strengths, a tough task with a new team and constant injury interruptions, but they can’t rely on forcing cough-ups to post winning scores.

James Duncan – The new Bullets boss has stated he wants to change the team’s culture. He wants a group that is all about the defence and then the offence will follow. The reality is that hasn’t been the case so far, and Brisbane’s most successful basketball has been in high-scoring games, and their best players excel in high-speed contests. If Duncan truly wants to make this transition in style, he may have to take plenty of lumps along the way.

Who’s statting up?

 - Brisbane are 1-6 and -61 in games with a total score of 170 points or fewer, compared to 4-2 and +15 in higher-scoring contests

 - The Bullets currently sit ninth in defensive rating. The previous three seasons they ranked eighth, fifth and fourth

 - Cairns scored 21 points in the opening term in Wollongong, and 23 in the first quarter in Adelaide. In the five quarters surrounding that, they managed just 57 points or 11.4 points per term

 - The Taipans’ starters average 11.9 turnovers per game. The other nine starting quintets average just 8.2. Last round, the Snakes were -33 on points from turnovers in two games

Who’s matching up?

Tahjere McCall v Lamar Patterson – Given McCall’s passion to make things better, you’d expect he’ll put his hand up for this job. Patterson has averaged 23ppg and 4.8apg over the past five, shooting 49 per cent from the field and 41 per cent from the arc. Last time against Cairns he was held to 16 points by McCall, Kuol and Co, but still made some tough shots.

If McCall can use his deceptive length to force Patterson into contested shots, he sets the Taipans up to rebound and run, but he needs to avoid cheap fouls elsewhere. At the offensive end, Tahj has averaged just 7.7ppg at 25 per cent the past three games in the Taipans’ congested offence, and will be hoping for some cheapies to get him going.

Who’s talking the talk?

We’re still getting to know Tahjere McCall, but this week he made it clear he takes a no-nonsense approach to poor performances, calling a players-only meeting and then fronting the media to explain.

“I felt terrible after the game, that’s just what I felt. I always say what I feel, how I feel, I don’t like having hidden agendas or people not understanding what’s the aura in the room or what you’re thinking,” he said.

“I just felt that way about how we've been performing, especially for the team, for the club, for the fans, we haven't been performing the best we can perform, let alone wins or losses. We haven't been putting forth the best effort that we should every day.”

McCall made it clear, even with the horror injury run his team has experienced, he expects better, and he knows this is a key moment where the season can slip away if his teammates lose hope.

“I don’t know too many winning teams when things go wrong everyone goes in different directions or you can see frustration instead of us coming together and picking our brothers up,” he said.

“There’s really no sugar coating it, we look bad, we’re playing bad, our record is bad, it’s not a good feeling to be in this position, I don’t like this position and the team doesn’t, so eventually something has to change and it starts with us on the court.”

Of course, you only need to rewind 19 days and the athletic Taipans were playing the style of basketball many pundits envisaged at the start of the season.

Cairns were up the floor, challenging the Bullets to play fast, then running it back down their throats the other way.

They were red-hot from the perimeter as they generated countless open looks in transition, when they missed Stephen Zimmerman, Keanu Pinder and Co swooped on offensive rebounding lanes left by the scrambling defence.

In reality, the Taipans played harder over 40 minutes and got the win.

“We’d get some stops defensively, but then offensive rebound and offensive rebound, which gives them energy,” Bullets boss James Duncan said.

“It’s not that complicated, we've got to do a better job of taking things personally, boxing out and hitting people and going after the ball, all those things matter … and we weren’t up to the task.”

The Taipans grabbed 19 o-boards from just 40 missed field goals, but at the other end gave up 18 second chance points and 19 points from turnovers.

Given Brisbane were without Nathan Sobey, allowing 94 points at 50 per cent was not the defensive performance the Snakes were after.

“We couldn’t defend, we couldn’t protect the paint very well,” coach Forde said.

“Franks and Cadee were cooking us in the first half, and then Lamar was just doing what Lamar does, those little mid-range spin fade-aways, Tahj has a hand in his face he still drilled it. All you can do is shrug, he’s a hell of a player.

“Thankfully we made a whole bunch of shots too. I’d you told me we’d have to roll in here and score 102 points to get the win I would have been nervous.”

The rematch is a battle between two teams who have only won a solitary game this month, struggling to find the identty that suits them best.

Cairns’ coach wants more effort, but their defensive numbers are solid, and they’ve averaged 97.5 points in their past two wins.

Brisbane’s boss wants his team playing “the right way”, which for him means keeping teams to low scores, yet the only low-scoring game they’ve won was courtesy of a late Adelaide meltdown.

Nathan Sobey returns for the Bullets, who were 1-3 in his absence, and gives another brilliant transition weapon alongside Franks, Patterson and Jason Cadee. Can they find a way to defend and rebound that allows them to get out for some easy scores?

Can Cairns find ways to use their offensive weaponry to greater effect. Scott Machado was at his best with an airborne alley-opp target in Cam Oliver.

When Machado is on the floor, does Zimmerman need to sit, with Pinder flying down the lane after ball-screens?

With Ngatai, Djeric and Deng all in the line-up together, can they be the floor spreaders to make Machado more effective?

These are just some of the questions Forde and Co needed to sort out after a horror Round 12, as more effort clearly isn’t a sustainable answer.

“This is us, facing our biggest opponent in ourselves. The competition’s great in the league, but our biggest competition is ourselves, right here, right now," Forde said.

“We went 45 minutes over in our training session and that was driven by the players, they wanted to go again and go again things that we identified is what they're doing on the court today.

“Can we transfer it over to this game on Thursday and transfer it over to this game on Sunday? Win, lose or draw, I just want us to play hard and play the right way.”


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