R16 Preview: Melbourne United vs Sydney Kings

When: 3pm (AEDT), Sunday 2 May

John Cain Arena, Melbourne

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

The last time
Sydney 103 (Hunter 18, Martin 15, Louzada 14) d Melbourne 75 (Landale 18, McCarron 17, Ili 12) d, Round 10, Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

This Round 10 meeting was an old-fashioned shellacking, Sydney dominating the middle quarters 62-37 thanks to their pressure defence – which forced 15 turnovers while committing just 12 fouls for the game – and their speed and unselfishness in the open floor. Eight Kings scored 7 points or more, while the undermanned United had six players shoot 37 per cent or lower, and only one player shoot more than two free throws.

The now
Sydney had a mini-slump following that win, mostly caused by three losses to Perth, but happier times have returned with a four-game winning run catapulting Adam Forde’s men into third spot, their overtime triumph over the Hawks putting them two games clear of fifth spot with 10 to play. Following Sunday’s meeting, their next five games are against Adelaide, Brisbane and New Zealand, giving them the chance to lock in a playoff berth.

Perth’s loss to the Breakers leaves Melbourne two games clear atop the Hungry Jack’s NBL ladder, but with two of their following three games against the Wildcats, homecourt advantage isn’t locked away just yet. United pipped the Kings by a basket in the NBL Cup but then barely fired a shot in Sydney three weeks later, so while they responded to that embarrassment with a 10-game winning streak, this game shapes as unfinished business.

The stats

 - In Round 10 against United, Sydney dished out 26 assists to just 9 turnovers, with seven Kings dishing multiple dimes and no one committing more than two miscues

 - Melbourne gave up 27 points from turnovers in that loss to Sydney. Since then, in their 10-game winning run, they’ve allowed just 12.7ppg in that category

- In the first three games of their current win streak, Sydney averaged 95.7ppg at 51 per cent, while allowing just 85ppg at 43 per cent, and shooting 28 more free throws than their opponents

 - United average 79ppg against Sydney on 41 per cent from the field, 32 per cent from the arc and 11.5 free-throw attempts. Against other opponents those numbers are 87.1ppg at 46 per cent, 37 per cent and 15.9 foul shots

The key men

Jordy Hunter – When Jordy blocks at least one shot the Kings are 8-3. It’s about much more than the swats though, when Hunter is mentally on with his on-ball defence and help at the rim, Sydney’s aggressive defensive schemes work. When he’s not, they don’t. That job is made easier on Sunday thanks to the absence of Jock Landale, but with Jo Lual-Acuil averaging 17ppg, 8.7rpg and 2.7bpg in his past three, this shapes as a marquee match-up.

Mitch McCarron – In Melbourne’s five losses, sharing Mitch McCarron has dished just 2.6 dimes per game. When United win, he’s averaged 5.1 per night as the undisputed straw that stirs the drink. Of course, his job at the other end on Casper Ware will be just as important, but you can bet he’ll be sharing that with Shea Ili, Sam McDaniel and Yudai Baba as United use the absences of DJ Vasiljevic, Brad Newley and Didi Louzada to wear Casper down.

The quotes

It was the talking point on Wednesday night, as it so often has been around Melbourne United this season, that coach Dean Vickerman continued his fast-paced subbing regime, even with Chris Goulding white hot to open the game.

Just like powerful Euroleague clubs – where only four players in the entire competition average 30 minutes or more – United use their impressive depth to keep stars fresh throughout the game and throughout the season.

For Goulding, it’s a no-brainer.

“I could have stayed out there for 40 minutes and shot 25 shots and tried to go for whatever it is,” he said.

“I've done that. I'm past that point in my career. If we can just consistently win games, if we can consistently see guys step up into roles and contribute to us winning basketball games that’s what’s best going forward for this club.”

While DP Mason Peatling and former DP Sam McDaniel have excelled this season, no one has stepped up more than Jo Lual-Acuil, who destroyed Colton Iverson in Landale’s absence.

It continued an impressive run for the 27-year-old seven-footer, who has also been helping fill the significant hole left by Jack White.

After scoring in double figures just twice in 12 games through the middle of the season, he has done so six times in the past eight, and coach Vickerman puts that down to hard work.

“Jo coming in and playing 31 minutes and going 10-for-14, and doing a great job holding the centre position down against a beast in Iverson,” Vickerman said.

“He’s been able to get the extra individual workouts that are really important to him, and he just feels like when he gets those extra workouts he feels confident coming into games.

“He went through that period of the season where he had random injuries, random swelling, really had to manage his practice time and he hated it, he hated not practicing and he hated not working on his game, so over the past five weeks, six weeks, I think he’s had a really good rhythm about getting his workouts in and he’s walked into the game confident.

“The boys have been great giving the freedom to explore, to bring the ball up the floor and play one-on-one and then keep spacing the floor, because we know if there is a double team coming he’s willing to find people as well.”

On Sunday he matches up with another surprise-packet centre, Jordy Hunter, who has amassed 35 points, 21 rebounds and 4 blocks in his past 54 minutes of basketball.

Like his Melbourne counterpart, Sydney boss Adam Forde puts that down to an insatiable appetite for extras from both Hunter and his more experienced teammates.

“Everyone’s clearly on that Jordan Hunter bandwagon and rightly so,” Forde said.

“But I think the role and the impact Kicks has had with Jordy’s development (is big). I come downstairs during out vitamin session, and if Jordy’s not working with the coaches, him and Kicks are down the far end going one-on-one, just beating the crap out of each other, just going at it.

“Then afterwards he’ll do some shooting with Tom. Jordy’s been great, but I think we need to talk about how much his teammates get around him with that support and that guiding hand."

That has undoubtedly helped the Kings cover for one lost piece after another as the injury bug continues to bite – Brad Newley the latest to be sidelined – and it has them ready to battle the odds to end Melbourne’s winning run.

It’s a mouth-watering match-up, with Casper Ware likely to have to defend Chris Goulding at one end while facing United’s quadrella of defensive guards at the other.

While Lual-Acuil and Hunter go at it, Dave Barlow and Mason Peatling will have their hands full with Jarell Martin. And when Melbourne need a basket they’ll turn to Scotty Hopson, who will go head-to-head with the in-form Craig Moller.

After their own run of eight games in 24 days, Forde and Co were happy to get an eight-day break before trying to climb the NBL’s biggest mountain.

“We’re going to take two days off first, the boys definitely need it. We've got some sore bodies and guys who have played a lot of minutes,” Forde said after the hobbled the Hawks.

“We’ll spend the second half of the week preparing for Melbourne, a team who’s doing very well themselves at the moment, they're rolling and it’s always tough to beat them on their home court.”


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