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R15 Preview: Townsville v Adelaide

Who: Townsville Crocodiles v Adelaide 36ers When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 16 January Where: Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Adelaide 76 (Randle 19, Johnson 10) d Townsville 66 (Jett 15, Samhan 11, Maynard 10), Round 10, Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide THE MATCH-UP Nick Kay v Daniel Johnson – Kay has earned much respect with his defensive efforts in his rookie season but he’ll need plenty of help against Johnson, who celebrated Christmas by reclaiming his throne as the dominant offensive big man in the NBL. THE STATS Johnson has averaged 28 points and 14 rebounds in his past two games, shooting 58 per cent from the field and 73 per cent from deep. When Townsville hold opponents below 80 points their record is 6-3. When they don’t they’ve won just one of 12 games, their miracle comeback against Adelaide. THE STORY After the opening 76 minutes of this season series the 36ers led 185-146, their pressure and physicality too much for the inexperienced Crocs. In their opening clash in Round 6, Adelaide’s defence bullied Townsville into 17 turnovers, burning them the other way to rack up a 24-point win. When the 36ers led by 15 points late in the final term four weeks later it looked like more of the same, but the efforts of Mirko Djeric, Clint Steindl and Nick Kay delivered an unforgettable win. What has been overlooked amongst the heroics is the Crocs didn’t turn the ball over once in the final four minutes and held Adelaide to just four points. The teams met again two days later and the dynamic had changed. After giving up 2.4 points per minute across the first two games, Townsville held the 36ers to just 70 points in the first 38 minutes. The Crocs almost pinched a road win thanks to their composure on offence, weathering the 36ers’ pressure to create predictable shots that allowed their defence time to get set. It was the same recipe in their stunning 75-58 triumph over Perth, but coach Shawn Dennis was a frustrated man after the Crocs reverted to old habits against Illawarra and the Taipans. “You can’t cough the ball up 12 times in the first half,” he said after the loss in Cairns. “We didn’t handle their early pressure and physicality and turned it over, and that resulted in some cheap baskets for them. Our impatience on offence cost us dearly.” Opposition teams know Townsville have limited individual brilliance to create shots on the fly, so they are targeting their ability to score through ball movement. “We’ve talked a lot in recent weeks about teams having an early scout to slow us initially in our offence, and to be more patient and shift the ball,” Dennis said. “We fell into the trap of trying to attack too quickly. We were impatient, we didn’t get to the right spots and that’s exactly what happened against Illawarra. We had 21 turnovers against Illawarra and 16 tonight. “The last quarter we didn’t have any turnovers, and Cairns certainly didn’t change the way they were playing, and we outscored them 21-14 because of that.” THE WRAP Adelaide have ramped up their defence, conceding just 76ppg at 39 per cent on their current three-game winning streak, allowing them to control the glass and flow into offence, where their improved ball movement has regularly found the red-hot Johnson wide open. The Crocs squared the rebounding percentages last time they met, Omar Samhan pivotal with five offensive boards, and they will need Mitch Young, Luke Schenscher and Kay also contributing in that area to keep the game from becoming a track meet. The 36ers will try to peg Townsville’s offence to one side of the floor, so the ability of Mitch Norton and Jordair Jett to use ball screens to get into the lane and create openings for Steindl and Co will be important. At the other end, the Crocs’ ball-screen defence must keep Jerome Randle out of the paint in transition to avoid early rotations, and they must also intelligently select which players to leave open when the 36ers go to the Randle-Johnson pick-and-pop late in the shot clock.
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