R16 Preview: Adelaide 36ers vs Cairns Taipans

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 18 March 2022

Adelaide Entertainment Centre

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?
Adelaide 82 (Johnson 18, McCarron 14, Dech 13) d Cairns 71 (Zimmerman 21, Deng 12) d – Round 12, Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Cairns made a fast start in this one, but their sloppiness caught up with them, committing a staggering 22 turnovers against a 36ers defence that ranks last in forcing them. It was a tale of the Taipans’ woeful year, while for Adelaide it was their second win in three games, following on from their OT thriller over Melbourne to inject some hope into their season.  

What happened last start?

That hope died pretty quickly, however, the 36ers dropping five on the bounce since that day, including helping New Zealand off the bottom of the ladder last Saturday as CJ Bruton’s men wasted their rebounding dominance by shooting 39 per cent from the field, and allowing the Kiwis to hit 55 per cent in arguably Adelaide worst defensive effort of NBL22.

Cairns aren't fairing any better, having beaten only Brisbane twice in 13 contests since Christmas. Not only have the losses mounted, but the lack of cohesiveness has been depressing for Taipans fans, their offence a sight for sore eyes as they shot a dismal 35 per cent from the field against Sydney, while the Kings drained 12 triples at 42 per cent.

Who’s in form?

Tahj McCall – One shining light was the return to form from McCall. After averaging 8.5ppg at 25 per cent over a four-game stretch, his past two have delivered 18.5 points at 46 per cent, 6apg, 4.5rpg and 3spg, while reducing his turnovers from 4.5 to 2.5. For Cairns to win games, they need Tahj creating for himself and others without making careless mistakes.

Kai Sotto – It’s a stretch to find much recent form in the Sixers’ roster, but Sotto continues to give hope with his energy, athleticism and enthusiasm, his 14 points and 7 boards in 20 minutes against New Zealand keeping Adelaide in the game. With Stephen Zimmerman missing on Friday, the 36ers need their inconsistent giant to play big in the paint.

Who needs to be?

Mitch McCarron – So Mitch’s 6.7ppg at 32 per cent this season is not great reading for a man known as the money maker, but the past five games gone to a new level, and not in a good way. Not even his all-around contributions – 6.4rpg, 5.8apg and 2.2spg – can make up for a woefully bad 5.2ppg at 26 per cent and 2/16 from deep. Adelaide needs much better.

Adam Forde – Scott Machado hasn’t been given a chance to excel in his team’s offence, Forde rolling out a starting line-up against Sydney with non-shooters McCall, Keanu Pinder and Zimmerman surrounding their pass-first PG. Forde’s been dealt a very tough hand, but he’s not making the most of his cards, and needs to spread the floor better for his MVP.

Who’s statting up?

 - Machado has six teammates shooting 29 per cent or better from range, four of whom played against Sydney. Machado never had all four on court with him, and only played with three for 5:57. In that time the Taipans scored 100.8 points per 40 minutes at 63 per cent. Over the other 34:03 of the game they scored 72.3 points per 40 minutes at 32 per cent

 - Adelaide scored 64 points from the paint and free-throw line against NZ, with just 11 coming from elsewhere. Sotto, Hyrum Harris and Cam Bairstow scored 13 buckets at 59 per cent from the floor, while their teammates managed just 16 makes combined at 31 per cent

 - The 36ers are last in the NBL with just 7.3 made three-pointers per night. In the past three games, they’ve averaged only 6 hits at 22 per cent.

 - In four wins this season, Cairns have forced 16.5 turnovers and had two less cough-ups than their opposition. In 12 losses, they force 11.8 turnovers and have 42 more than their opponents

Who’s matching up?

Cam Bairstow v Keanu Pinder – While Nate Jawai will give some cover in Stephen Zimmerman’s absence, he is only capable of burst minutes, so Pinder will likely be manning the middle. His ability to switch or show on ball-screens will allow the Taipans to up the defensive pressure, and they’ve been at their best when forcing turnovers this season.

But Pinder must apply that heat and still cover the glass, as in Cairns’ past two wins he’s had 20 rebounds and 9 o-boards, while keeping Bairstow off the boards is a key on Friday. The Bear’s past five games have delivered just 9ppg and 6.8rpg, down from 14ppg and 10.7rpg in his previous six, and a return to form would go a long way towards an Adelaide W.

Who’s talking the talk?

Just when things looked to be turning for Adelaide, things got ugly again real quick.

After beating Melbourne and Cairns, the 36ers ran Sydney and the Phoenix all the way to the line, and the young outfit that had battled to overcome the loss of Isaac Humphries seemed to be finding their identity.

But disappointing losses to Perth and New Zealand have brought self-doubt roaring back.

“What you see is the stress level for our group at the moment,” coach CJ Bruton said.

“It can go at different times, we can all point a finger and look around , but right now it’s about staying together as a group, staying tight and understanding what we need to do on the next play.”

The loss of Todd Withers alongside Humphries, the unsuccessful hunt for an import and the absence of Bruton with COVID have created an unsettled line-up, but their coach isn’t allowing his team to use excuses.

“We've got to get through certain situations at certain times. We've lost Todd Withers and he's going to be gone for the next game,” he said.

“You’ve got to keep cracking on, and I said to our group it’s next man standing, we’re here to compete and we've got to play at an elite level every single day.

“The NBL is no slouch, and … there’s a responsibility for a level of play on both sides of the ball that has to happen consistently.”

Their cause hasn’t been helped by the inability of Mitch McCarron to make the defence pay for helping off him.

“Not good enough. Not good enough from myself, not good enough in executing and getting good shots and getting stops,” was McCarron’s summary after the loss to NZ.

“I'm not making open ones. I can’t point the finger at anyone else until I start knocking them down at a better clip, that’s on me.”

But his coach has his back, knowing the championship-winning point guard is learning along with the team he is leading, and that he’s always looking to do the little things that make the team better.

“For Macca, where he’s at, players go through this all the time,” Bruton said.

“There’s a lot growth in this space. We don’t have the United team he’s played on in the past, I stated that to him this season may be different to what you’ve had.

“But in saying that, there’s a leader in him and an expectation of how he wants to play and how he wants them to come together, and sometimes you don’t get that right every single game.

“When you grow together and you go through these tough patches we’re going through, it’s about understanding how we do it together, and then keeping the spark within the group to deliver every single day at practice, and he’s been great in that space.”

Cairns are fighting the same battle to achieve consistency, and they teased coach Adam Forde late in the game against Sydney after a pitiful opening.

“I think you could see it, I wish there was a fifth quarter,” he said.

“I can’t fault the effort. We need to play like that, everyone needs to play like that the entire game, and once we figure that and unlock that secret we’ll bottle that up and use it for the rest of the season.”

But Forde isn’t fooled, knowing his team has been showing glimpses all season, but never making the steps needed to turn that into permanent gains.

“We stuffed up a lot of (defensive) coverages, especially in that first half,” he said.

“I'm trying to keep it a simple playbook with what our key words are, how to switch up, how to switch down, where our drops coverage starts and finishes, how the big has to be the communicator.

“We still stuff that up ... (Sydney) shot very well in the first half, they shot well for the entire game, but that was on us. That was our fault.

“I'm not happy about that because we’re going to be doing the same film review about the same things we've been talking about for 12 games. It’s just costing us results.”

The Taipans have suffered a blow with Stephen Zimmerman out, but the reality is they’ve played their best basketball when pressing, switching, running and attacking the hoop, and the big Zimm’s absence makes them more versatile, provided they can replace his rebounding.

The more mobile line-up will also open up things for imports Scott Machado and Taj McCall, who must be performing to allow the Taipans’ role players to flourish.

McCall courageously played through injury last week, showing how desperate he is for the Snakes to turn things around.

“He’s such a warrior with that,” Forde said.

“The dude’s got one hand, you would have seen it with some of the passes where he tried to pass to the left side, it just didn’t have any weight behind it, but you can’t fault his effort and desire to win.”

The same can be said of Machado, who faces the tough challenge of Sunday Dech having not consistently found his best form since returning from injury.

However, without Zimm clogging the middle, and with Pinder as his screen-and-roll buddy, he may finally get the airborne passing target he’s missed since Space Cam took flight to the Rockets last season.

“We’re going to try and keep putting him in positions where he can excel, and we’re going to support him and give him everything he needs to bring his mojo back,” Forde said.

“He'll get there, I'm confident he’ll get there.”


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