R14 Preview: Illawarra Hawks v Melbourne United

When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 4 January

Where: WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

Broadcast: SBS Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand

The last time

Melbourne 94 (Trimble 22, Long 21, Goulding 10, Ili 10, McCarron 10) d Illawarra 73 (Naar 16, Glover 15, Ogilvy 13), Round 11, WIN Entertainment Centre

The undermanned Hawks made this a genuine contest for 26 minutes, but Shea Ili, Mitch McCarron and Melo Trimble upped the ante late in the third term to propel Melbourne on a match-winning 40-22 run. That trio scored 30 points from free throws and two-point baskets, and dished out 14 assists as United owned the inside, while Illawarra’s addition of two new imports backfired as Darington Hobson and Billy Preston combined to shoot a woeful 2-of-21 from the field as the Hawks connected at just 36 per cent.

The now

The immature Preston is now gone, and while Hobson has yet to upgrade his intensity levels to NBL standard, his ability to create for teammates has been a boon for the offence. So has the form of Josh Boone, who teamed with young guards Emmett Naar and Sunday Dech to rekindle his best form in the Hawks’ superb win over the Kings. Illawarra have now won two of their past four, and with three of their next four at home could generate some serious excitement in the ‘Gong following their win over Sydney.

The stats

- The Hawks have averaged 92.3ppg at 48 per cent from the field in their past four games for a 2-2 return. In their opening 14 games they went at 85.4ppg at 41 per cent for a 3-11 record

- Illawarra committed 7 turnovers in the opening 26 minutes in Round 11 and held United to 54 points at 44 per cent. In the final 14 minutes they had 8 miscues and coughed up 40 points at 65 per cent

- Melbourne shot 14 free throws and made 9 two-point baskets in the final 14 minutes of that game, compared to 12 free throws and 12 two-pointers in the opening 26 minutes

- In wins, United average 25.2 free throws while allowing 22.2. In losses, they shoot 19.4 from the foul line and gift opponents 27.3

The match-ups

Emmett Naar v Melo Trimble – Consider these numbers for a moment. Naar has averaged 13.4ppg at 62 per cent from the field, 6-of-8 from range, 6.8 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 25 minutes per game in his past five outings. In that span, the Hawks have been +41 with Naar on the floor and -62 when he rests. How do you spell emerging superstar again?

Last time these teams met, Emmett had 16 points at 77 per cent and 5 assists, but Melo had a pretty good time of it too with 22 points, 7 boards and 6 dimes, despite a 5-of-13 shooting night. That’s been the issue of late though, Trimble missing all 10 of his three-point attempts between Christmas and New Year’s, and having 5 turnovers to offset his 7 assists.

Josh Boone v Shawn Long – This should be a cracking match-up, the United championship winner against the man who replaced him. It was the Shawn Long show last time in Wollongong with 21 points at 67 per cent, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks as the Hawks failed to find an answer. Mr Double Double has now averaged 22.5ppg and 10.8rpg in his past six.

There is every chance Long is facing a very different Josh Boone this time around though, the former New Jersey Net winding back the clock on New Year’s Eve with an astonishing 21 points at 77 per cent and 9 rebounds. In form and fitness, there is no NBL big who can better expose Long’s lapses in defensive positioning and defensive transition.

The quotes

Melbourne United’s dual home losses to the Bullets and Taipans were not the festive season they were after.

“We still haven't got to a point of execution where the detail is good enough right now, and that’s on me to make sure everyone knows the system and knows the detail of plays. In key moments down the stretch we’ve got to be better,” coach Dean Vickerman said.

“We had these two home games against tough teams in Cairns and Brisbane and we had a chance to separate ourselves a little bit and we haven't been able to do it. We've put ourselves back in the mix of a lot of teams.”

Now, with five of their six games in January on the road thanks to the Australian Open tennis, United’s ability to win in hostile environments will determine whether they will reclaim third spot from the Taipans or slide further into the crowded pack that is chasing fourth.

“I don’t feel concerned about going out on the road, we've won our last two road games and we've come together really well, so I certainly don’t fear that one,” Vickerman said.

Those two away wins came in Perth and Wollongong, where Vickerman’s men gave up just 36 free throws in 80 minutes. In losses this season they're giving up more than 27 charity shots in 40 minutes on average.

“They were really good and our fouling contributed to them continuing to be able to tick the scoreboard over,” Vickerman said after the loss to Brisbane.

“A lot of (our fouls) are close to the rim, so we've continued to work on our verticality over the last month, but I still felt at times we made errors, we dropped our hands.

“Some other ones you’re going to question, but it’s an area where we certainly can’t let a team make 16 threes and get 32 free throws as well, that’s hard to stop.”

It’s something they must get right on Saturday against an Illawarra offence that is positively humming with Emmett Naar now in charge.

Gone is the stagnant play that highlighted this new squad early in the season, and last round they picked the Kings’ defence to pieces en route to outscoring the ladder leaders 76-41 on ‘ones and twos’.

“Emmett Naar’s ability out of the pick-and-roll, the poise he showed,” coach Matt Flinn marvelled post-game.

“He’s only a second-year pro but he had four years at St Mary’s where he was one of the elite guys in the NCAA at the mid pick-and-roll.

“We’re going to continually ride that train and develop him as he keeps going in his journey.”

At the other end, they forced Sydney into 36 threes while giving up just 18 two-point field goals and 11 free-throw attempts in a masterful defensive display again driven by youth.

“They really like to hurt you from the three-point line and they did that early. We stuck with our schemes and made a couple of adjustments on people and to our guys’ credit they picked it up on the fly,” Flinn said.

“We keep them to 15 and 12 in quarter two and quarter four respectively, they are probably two of our best defensive efforts this year, and it was the people on the floor that did that, with the young guys who are first year and second year pros.”


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