R13 Preview: Illawarra Hawks v Brisbane Bullets

When: 7.30pm (AEST), Wednesday 7 April 

Where: WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong 

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


The last time

Illawarra 96 (Harvey 28, Bairstow 12, Naar 11, Adel 11) d Brisbane 72 (Cadee 17, Froling 12, Krebs 11, Sobey 11) – Round 11, WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

This was less than two weeks ago and what a performance on their home floor it was from the Illawarra Hawks. In just their second home game of the season, they put on quite the show to end up blowing the Bullets away by 24 points and it was Tyler Harvey who set it up with 23 points in the first half alone. He finished the game with 28 while shooting 8/10 from long-range. But he did hurt his back on a layup in the second half and hasn’t been the same since, and time will tell if he returns to the line-up this week.

It was the first home game for the Hawks in over six weeks and Harvey had plenty of help too with Cam Bairstow delivering 12 points and five rebounds, Deng Adel 11 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, Emmett Naar 11 points and five assists, and Sam Froling eight points and four rebounds. Justin Simon was tremendous too not only with nine points and six rebounds but his defence that was a big part in limiting Nathan Sobey to just 11 points on 5/14 shooting and without a three-pointer from six attempts.

It was a night to forget for the Bullets who came in missing imports Vic Law and Lamar Patterson. Jason Cadee got going late for Brisbane to top-score with 17 points while hitting 4/7 from three-point land. Harry Froling had 12 points and seven rebounds but also went 5/18 from the floor. Tanner Krebs scored 11 points but it showed the Bullets can't get back import pair Patterson and Vic quickly enough.


The now

These are interesting times for both the Illawarra Hawks and Brisbane Bullets as they prepare to open Round 13 in the NBL on Wednesday night in the 'Gong.

The Hawks come into the clash having slipped to a 10-10 record having lost their past two matches while the Bullets have struck a horror run of injury which has helped result in three consecutive losses and them now holding a 9-10 record.

Not only have the Hawks lost their past two games to South East Melbourne by 32 points and then Adelaide by 12, but since the conclusion of the NBL Cup the Hawks have lost four of their last five, and there remains doubt over the availability of Cam Bairstow and Tyler Harvey for Wednesday's home clash with the Bullets.

The Hawks have struggled to look the same offensive threat these last two games without Harvey running the point and nor have they had that go to presence in the block without Bairstow, so with or without them on Wednesday night they will look to see an improvement in their offensive flow having just scored 63 and 72 points in those previous two matches.

Meanwhile, the Bullets have been without imports Vic Law and Lamar Patterson the past three matches before Tanner Krebs and Anthony Drmic joined them as outs for Saturday's 19-point defeat at the hands of the Sydney Kings.

The result has been three consecutive losses now since the NBL Cup and that was after a period of form in Melbourne where the Bullets were just about the form team of the competition having gone through a run of winning five of six games, including against Perth and Melbourne, and indeed the Hawks.

But the loss of the all-round talents of Law and still awaiting the fitness of Patterson who has replaced Orlando Johnson has been a challenge. Brisbane has still fought valiantly but it has proven too much to overcome against the Breakers, Hawks and Kings. They will be hopeful, however, that Patterson, Krebs and Drmic will all be available to take on the Hawks in Wollongong on Wednesday night.


The stats

- This will be the fifth and final meeting between the Hawks and Bullets this season. Illawarra won the first two games up in Brisbane before the Bullets got one back inside the NBL Cup in Melbourne, but last Monday night saw the Hawks hammer Brisbane 96-72 so they are 3-0 outside the NBL Cup in the series.

- Prior to Tyler Harvey getting hurt for the Hawks, they were shooting at a league-best 38.0 per cent from three-point range as a team. In his absence, they've gone 10/47 at 21.2 per cent.

- Brian Goorjian has not coached a team in the NBL that has lost three consecutive matches since it happened with his Sydney Kings in December in 2002 after they started the season with a 9-2 record.

- In Brisbane's first 16 games of the season, they were shooting at 46.6 per cent from the floor, taking 73.7 shots a game and putting up a league-high 93.9 points. Over the past three matches without an import, they have shot it at 33.9 per cent while taking a league-high 79.7 shots and only putting up 73.0 points.

The key men

Deng Adel – He was signed by the Hawks this season to be a difference-maker and based on what he's done on his career there was every reason to suggest he could deliver. He's played in the NBA, he had some impressive college numbers at Louisville and he has all the athletic gifts and basketball skills you could hope for. But so far it hasn’t translated into the NBL. He is only averaging 6.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game while struggling to shoot going at 32.2 per cent from the floor and 22.6 per cent from three. But he is capable of so much more and any night could be his breakout game, and what better time than this Wednesday with Illawarra looking to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat.

Lamar Patterson – Without putting too much pressure on someone playing his first game for the club of the season and first game overall since his last game with the Breakers that just happened to be against the Hawks in the NBL Cup. He hadn’t looked the same player he had been the past two seasons with the Bullets, but it just might not have been a good fit for him at the Breakers. He already knows he likes playing under coach Lemanis, he knows his teammates like Nathan Sobey, Jason Cadee and Matt Hodgson well already, and with the Bullets needing another weapon on the floor especially in the continued absence of Vic Law, he could just be the tonic they need to add to the group to avoid four losses in-a-row.


The quotes

Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian knows how much his team has missed Tyler Harvey and Cam Bairstow, but he feels like now that he's getting used to the extra responsibility, he can start to expect more out of point guard Emmett Naar.

"I'm really hopeful with Tyler, really hopeful for that and that's a key one for us. And with Bairstow, there's a process there but I'm feeling good and hopeful for Tyler to be available for this game," Goorjian said.

"I don’t want to diminish that I think we were in the game in the third quarter having Emmett play like he did so that when we get Tyler back, he has been playing very limited minutes so it gives him confidence and it gives me confidence that we've got another body there and maybe we can play them together a little more. 

"It was a real positive for him and it's a real growth spurt I think right now for Froling and he has to carry a real heavy load now, and be a focal point. These two guys are going to grow through these punches we're taking."

Initially the Hawks believed young guard Daniel Grida would miss the entire season, but now that #NBL21 has gone into April and potentially still has two months to go, he has been able to return from a knee reconstruction.

That means that when the full roster is healthy again, somebody on the squad is going to have to make room for Grida and that's a decision Goorjian is committed to making. So that puts on some extra pressure for those out on the floor in the meantime to audition to keep their jobs.

"I'm sure we are going to have to move somebody along because I'm not messing with that anymore. I like that energy to the team and he is rusty, but he's fresh, alive and full of energy having just played his first game in a year now," Goorjian said.

"There's a lot of excitement there and we're just going to have to wait and see what happens over the next four or five games in regards to who we move on. Somebody is going to have to roll, though, because I'm definitely bringing him into the group.

"I just think that right now it's obvious that Justin and Adel are struggling from the perimeter so another guy who is athletic is what Grida gives us, but he may be able to get that perimeter shot rolling. 

"I think it could really loosen up if we get a guy in there who doesn’t see us move backwards defensively and loses us some of that energy and athleticism, but can also knock down a perimeter shot. 

"Those shots are there for the picking but guys have to get better at that, but season-wise they are probably shooting at under 30 per cent on the season. So there are shorts there to be taken and Grida physically can be that guy so we don’t lose anything physically while giving us something on the perimeter"

Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis remains unsure on the diagnosis on star import Vic Law but he will hope to have some more clarity on his potential return date once they get this game out of the way on Wednesday night.

But he has continued to find positives from the performances albeit losing ones while they have been down on manpower while knowing he will continue to lean heavily on his Boomers pair Jason Cadee and Nathan Sobey.

"Because it was over Easter it was very difficult to get the experts that you need to give you that sort of information so we now hope to be able to soon sit down with the appropriate experts to sit down with Vic and our medical team to sit down and hopefully get more clarity on his situation," Lemanis said.

"We did take plenty of positives out of the fight that we showed despite missing some key players so we hope that gives us some confidence moving forward. Tyrell had 19 rebounds, Blake Jones came in and held his own as a starter when he's a development player, and Tamuri Wigness came in and gave us some good stuff.

"The reality is with Jase and Sobes, those two guys are national team players and they were with me on that journey for four or five years as we qualified for the World Cup and went through all that, won the Asia Cup together and we have to lean on those two guys now. 

"They were certainly guys I wanted on the team and we went hard to recruit them because not only are they good players, but they are good people. Again I think the attitude they came in with to approach that last game knowing they were going to carry a huge load was the thing they were able to maintain a good mindset through to continue to be positive and help those young guys get better. 

"We are going to ask a lot still of those two over this next period of time and I look forward to going through that journey with him."


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