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R17 Preview: Perth v Cairns

Who: Perth Wildcats v Cairns Taipans When: 9.30pm (AEDT), Monday 25 January Where: Perth Arena Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Cairns 71 (Craig 15, Loughton 13, Worthington 13) d Perth 61 (Beal 18, Prather 13, Knight 10), Round 14, Cairns Convention Centre THE MATCH-UP Nate Jawai v Matt Burston – It was like Jurassic Park the last time this pair matched up at Perth Arena, two giants locking horns in an old-fashioned battle of the big men. Jawai finished with 20 points and seven boards, Burston 15 and 10. Will the dinosaurs roam free again this time? THE STATS Taipans home games have an average total score of 156 points, compared to 171.6 on the road. Perth are 5-2 when more than 171.6 points are scored this season, but 3-4 when the total score is less than 156. THE STORY Cairns’ reputation as a dour team precedes them, yet while that is generally true when they play in the Far North, this season their road games have produced above the NBL average score. With a 1-10 road record it would be easy to say the Taipans have been like fish out of water in those high-octane contests, but last time they headed to Perth they had five players in double figure and almost escaped with a memorable victory. “We did enough to win the game on the road in a really tough spot. We had a game plan we wanted to come in with and I thought for 38 minutes we did a really good job,” coach Aaron Fearne said. “To hold them to eight offensive rebounds, we took care of the ball, did a really good job there, probably good enough to win it, but we didn’t because you’ve got to execute down the stretch and they did.” Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson’s superb play created a huge opening Casey Prather going to the basket, and the in-form small forward made the free throws to break Cairns’ hearts with a 91-90 win. Despite the result, the Taipans will take confidence from their ability to perform strongly at The Jungle - where Perth are 9-1 this season - and will feel positive after their get-out-of-jail home win over the Breakers. Fearne won’t let his team be too content though, his frontcourt dominated inside for large stretches of the game – outscored 42-22 in the paint on Saturday – something that won’t wash against Nate Jawai and Co. “They're a big strong group, they play big and when you play these guys you’ve got to really rebound at a high level and keep them off the offensive glass because it’s a possession game,” Fearne said of Perth. Cairns have done a standout job negating the Wildcats’ ability to generate open shots through their big men, keeping Jawai and Matt Knight to five assists while forcing 18 turnovers. That pair have 78 dimes and just 59 miscues against the rest of the league. The Taipans have double-teamed Jawai hard down low the past two games, but against the Hawks on Thursday he scored 18 points in a season-high 28 minutes to show he might be a tougher cover this time around. “There are not as many players around the world who are as big as him, can move like him, and when he’s in shape watch out,” Fearne said. THE WRAP After a gruelling win over the Breakers to keep their semi-finals hopes faintly alive, the Taipans must control the tempo to preserve their legs while still pushing for easy baskets before Perth’s vaunted defence gets set. Cairns will be encouraged by their 45 per cent perimeter shooting against NZ, especially given Mark Worthington and Markel Starks’ aggression at the rim has troubled the Wildcats this season. At the other end, Perth have nailed 21 triples at 47 per cent in their past two home games – Prather, Jermaine Beal, Jesse Wagstaff and Shawn Redhage hitting a combined 16-of-32 - making doubling the post fraught with danger. Just half a game separates Perth from first-placed Melbourne - who are in town on Friday - so the Wildcats will be desperate to harass the fatigued Taipans in the passing lanes, dominate them in the open court and set up a classic top-of-the-table showdown with United.
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