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R13 Preview: Cairns v New Zealand

Who: Cairns Taipans v New Zealand When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 31 December Where: Cairns Convention Centre Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: New Zealand 90 (Webster 35, Wesley 26) d Cairns 67 (Craig 17, Starks 13, Burston 12), Round 4, Vector Arena THE MATCH-UP Cam Gliddon v Corey Webster – Webster landed 35 points the last time these teams met, so don’t be surprised to see Gliddon, Shaun Bruce, Torrey Craig or whoever is closest in transition taking their turn on the deadly Kiwi. THE STATS New Zealand has ventured to Cairns twice on New Year’s Eve, falling 57-74 on the final day of 2011 before gaining vengeance the following year with a 66-61 victory. Eight of these teams’ past 12 meetings in Cairns have been decided by single figures, with the overall honours split 6-6. THE STORY Cairns have had some solid home form this season, but they won’t want to hear about that ahead of New Zealand’s visit on New Year’s Eve. The last time the Breakers came to town the Taipans had won 11 of their previous 12 at The Snakepit, claimed the minor premiership, swept the defending champion Wildcats in the semi-finals and looked poised to claim their first NBL championship. Fast forward two hours and New Zealand had produced a devastating 86-71 win, outscoring the hosts 25-11 in the final term as Cedric Jackson sliced his way to 22 match-winning points. The story was similar in Round 4 this season in Auckland, the Breakers busting open a tight game with a 48-30 second half that had Taipans captain Cam Gliddon admitting “we let them roll over us." “We came out a bit soft and they just adjusted and took advantage, we had no answer … we’ve got to be tougher,” he said. The inability to close out games has put the Taipans on the playoff precipice with 12 games to play, having lost six of their past eight contests decided by single figures. The Taipans scored just three points in the final six minutes against Perth in Round 11, the hamstring injury to Markel Starks and a quiet night from Torrey Craig leaving them devoid of penetration. “We kind of went away from what we were doing in those first three quarters to get that lead - move the ball and just keep hooping,” coach Aaron Fearne said. “The two games we’ve played here at home that we’ve dropped have both been close, we just haven’t been able to make enough plays.” But there was some good news for Taipans fans ahead of their grand final replay with New Zealand, their teams’ leaky defence finding some of its 2014/15 starch against a loaded Perth squad. “Defensively we were tough as,” Fearne said. “We were physical and rotation wise, we kept them to 73 points and you’re going to win ball games doing that.” THE WRAP This rivalry has quietly developed into one of the NBL’s best, with both teams claiming big wins on their opponent’s home floor. With Markel Starks absent and Webster coming off a 38-point explosion in Sydney, the Breakers will be favoured to add another notch to their road belt. In Round 4, New Zealand allowed Cairns just seven offensive boards from 42 missed field goals, a repeat of which will see Webster, Cedric Jackson, Tom Abercrombie and Charles Jackson motoring in transition. In the half-court, Cairns’ interior defence has been inconsistent this season, and the emergence of Tai Wesley as a three-point threat could stretch the floor for Cedric Jackson’s penetration and the pull-up games on Abercrombie and Webster. Offensively, the Starks-less hosts must find a way to make the defence collapse to create looks for Gliddon, Craig and Stephen Weigh, with the post-game of Cam Tragardh and the all-around offensive skills of Mark Worthington two weapons that must fire for the Taipans to post a winning score.
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