R14 Preview: Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks

When: 3.00pm (AEST), Sunday 18 April 

Where: John Cain Arena, Melbourne

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

The last time
Melbourne 75 (Landale 19, Goulding 16) d Illawarra 65 (Jessup 13, Harvey 11, Froling 11) – Round 10, John Cain Arena, Melbourne

The start to either half left coach Dean Vickerman fuming with Melbourne United staring down a fifth straight NBL loss, but they put the clamps on the Illawarra Hawks and did enough offensively for the rebound 75-65 victory.

A fifth straight defeat would have led to panic stations with United and the signs weren’t great early with the Hawks dominating all the effort areas to lead 14-4. But Melbourne steadied to go on their own 13-3 run and to end up leading by four at the half. But once again the Hawks outworked United to open the second half leading to Vickerman burning an early timeout. From that point on, it was all Melbourne and they outscored Illawarra 36 points to 25 over the final 36 minutes of the game to win by 10 and snap the losing slide.

Scoring just 75 points meant Melbourne's offence wasn’t really clicking still and the 18 turnovers were a concern for Vickerman as were the 20 offensive boards they conceded, but it was a step in the right direction. To hold Illawarra to shooting 27/85 from the field at 31 per cent and 5/20 from three at 20 per cent was a win for Melbourne. Tyler Harvey (4/17), Justinian Jessup (6/16), Deng Adel (2/7), AJ Ogilvy (2/7) and Deng Deng (1/9) all found the shooting going tough for the Hawks.

Jock Landale gave Melbourne a real lift in the second quarter and had a good game with 19 points and eight rebounds on an efficient 7/10 shooting. Chris Goulding was coming off a two-point outing against Sydney and had just four points in the first half even if one of the baskets was a breakaway dunk. But he turned it on in the fourth quarter with 12 points to finish with 16 for the game along with five assists.

You couldn’t question the endeavour of the Hawks but their shots just wouldn’t fall. Jessup still top-scored with 13 points to go with four steals and three rebounds while Harvey and Sam Froling had 11 points each. Froling had a double-double with the 11 rebounds too.


The now

Melbourne comes into Sunday's clash the fresher of the two outfits having not played since beating Brisbane at home on Monday while Illawarra has come straight from Perth to complete a challenging weekend on the road against the league's top two teams.

Melbourne still weren’t at full strength on Monday for their eventual 98-89 win against the Bullets, but they still did enough to record the win on the back of plenty of players making strong contributions.

Jock Landale led the way with 23 points and 13 rebounds but Yudai Baba added 16 points, Chris Goulding 18 points, Sam McDaniel 15 points, four rebounds and three assists, Jo Lual-Acuil nine points and five rebounds, and Mitch McCarron eight points, 12 assists and four boards.

It was enough to improve United to a 17-5 record on the season on the back of a seven-game winning streak which has all happened after a 28-point horror loss to the Sydney Kings. However, since beating the Bullets on Monday the Perth Wildcats have won twice and surpassed them in top spot so they do need to keep winning in that fascinating race for first place.

The Hawks are in the middle of a bit of a rollercoaster ride as they battle with the teams around them for a playoff position as well. They come into Sunday's clash having lost to the Perth Wildcats at RAC Arena on Friday night by 14 points.

That came on the back of three consecutive home games inside five days last week where they scored 82 points on each occasion for wins against the Cairns Taipans and South East Melbourne Phoenix following a loss to the Brisbane Bullets.

The Hawks now come into Sunday's clash with Melbourne on a 12-12 record having just slipped to fifth position behind the Sydney Kings.


The stats

- Illawarra was able to hold Melbourne to its season low score of 69 points in a win for the Hawks back in Round 9. United then lost to the Sydney Kings by 28 points next up, but since then they have gone on the current seven-game winning streak they are now  in the middle of.

- The Hawks will be hoping for an improved three-point shooting performance if they are to beat Melbourne on Sunday. The Hawks shot just 4/22 from beyond the arc agains the Perth Wildcats on Friday night. Over their last six games, the Hawks been the worst  three-point shooting team in the league at 26 per cent. They are also struggling at the free-throw line going at just 67 per cent in that time.

- How Melbourne United shoot has a significant impact on whether they win or lose. When United shoots 41 per cent or lower from the field, they have one just one in five games this season. However, when they shoot about that mark they are a near perfect 17-1.


The key men

Scotty Hopson – He is a crucial member of the Melbourne United arsenal and he is that extra spark and X-factor on offence that they might just need to be able to all the way and win a championship this season. He has battled a couple of injuries already along the way so far in #NBL21, but when he's played he has been an important presence at both ends of the floor. And now over his two seasons in the NBL, he is yet to lose to the Hawks in four attempts and has averaged 17.7 points up against them.

Deng Adel – He was an exciting signing for the Hawks for this season and rightfully they expected big things of him given his NBA credentials, but so far it has been a largely underwhelming return from someone with so much natural talent. There's still time for him to turn it around and any time he does step out onto the court he has the potential to be a match winner. But he will need to turn around a disappointing run of form over the last six games where he hasn’t scored more than four points in any of them. And those six games, he's shot at just 7/27 from the field 0/12 from three-point land.


The quotes

United coach Dean Vickerman isn’t sure on the availability yet or not of Scotty Hopson for Sunday's game against the Hawks, but he would like to soon be able to have his full squad available in the run up to the playoffs to try and build a consistent run of form with the same playing group.

"Yeah I'm not sure. It was an ankle sprain and he didn’t pass a fitness test for our last game on Monday but we do have until Sunday for the next game and I would expect he would be pretty close for Illawarra," Vickerman said.

"More than anything I would just like to coach the same team two nights in a row. I think every game recently has been a different line-up and, you know, the preparation has been at shoot around all about who is going to be suiting up tonight who isn’t, rather than us being able to prepare how we'd usually like to. 

"That has been an absolute challenge but I love the way the team have responded and it doesn’t matter who we suit up, we are going to turn up and play defence and some nights we are going to make shots more than other nights.

"That win on Monday was a good all-round performance and we are looking at it to say we played the first half of the season as a cut-off point so we are like 4-0 right now and we are just taking it as second half of the year. If we can beat our record for the first half of the year is what we are trying to do and that’s how we are going to be approaching it from here.

Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian wasn’t buying into the historic nature for the Hawks of yet another loss in Perth on Friday night where they lost for a 34th time in their last 35 attempts because of how new a roster this still is in 2021.

He is a new coach for the Hawks, you have two new imports in Tyler Harvey and Justin Simon, the Next Star in Justinian Jessup and new faces including Deng Adel, Deng and when healthy, Cam Bairstow.

That's why he is confident they can shake off that loss and be ready for the challenge of Melbourne United in Melbourne now on Sunday.

"We are just at zero out of 10 in terms of the evolution part of our growth as a group so everything is a new experience for us, and we are really starting from scratch. So the number of losses as a club we've had in Perth in a row and all that crap, this is a new team and we are marching to a different beat and we are trying to build something ourselves," Goorjian said.

"This is the team, this is the crowd, this is the place and for Friday night we will make no excuses. We were ready and they actually had a tougher schedule then we did coming into this, less rest so I just thought there were some key factors that is part of building this thing.

"We lick our wounds and we have another tough one coming up now on Sunday. But we have to take a deep breath because I thought in the middle of the third we were right where we wanted to be and we hadn’t gotten hot, we hadn’t gotten Tyler going, we hadn’t Justinian going and I thought 'God man we are right where we wanted to be' but again we just weren’t there yet."


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