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R18 Preview: The Warm Up

The New Zealand Breakers and Cairns Taipans both have the chance to keep their NBL Finals hopes alive against a Jerome Randle-less Adelaide 36ers as we look ahead to Round 18 in The Warm Up. It's the penultimate round of the 2015/16 season and there remains six teams alive in the Finals race with six crucial matches to take place between Wednesday and Sunday. Melbourne United might currently sit on top having beaten the Perth Wildcats in overtime last Friday, but their last three games are against Illawarra, New Zealand and the Breakers again. So nothing is guaranteed with the Wildcats one game behind with two games to go against the bottom-placed Sydney Kings, and one at home against the Randle-less Sixers. The Hawks do look relatively safe in third at 15-10, but they have a tough finish against Melbourne, Townsville and Adelaide. The 36ers are now the fascinating case with the league's leading scorer Randle to miss the next two weeks after hurting his knee during Saturday's win at home to the Hawks. Adelaide does need to find at least one win, or possibly two, in their final four games to remain in fourth spot. And with them all tough against the Breakers, Taipans, Hawks and Wildcats, the Finals race is still up for grabs. New Zealand and Cairns played off in last year's Grand Final but by the end of Round 18 only one could alive in the Finals race this season. With the Breakers two games behind Adelaide and the Taipans three back and with both having four to play, neither can afford a slip up. Both take on the 36ers to start Round 18 and they are must-win for them before facing each other in an elimination contest on Sunday. With so much in the air and to be determined this week, it's not the time to switch off on the most exciting NBL season in recent memory. The massive week gets underway with a cracker in Adelaide as the 36ers host the Breakers on Wednesday night. Given what a win means for each, neither will leave anything on the table but how the Sixers perform minus Randle will be pivotal. While Randle has been a dominant presence in the 36ers winning seven of their last eight, they need to figure out a way to win without him. Ebi Ere has been huge the past four games averaging 21.5 points but Adam Gibson, Nathan Sobey, Lucas Walker, Mitch Creek and Brendan Teys will all need to take on more responsibility. The Breakers finally ended their six-game losing run over the Crocs on Friday. Now if they beat the Sixers on Wednesday they will improve to 13-12 and be just behind the 14-11 Adelaide. Then on Thursday night, it's another tantalising match up as the third placed Hawks host the league-leading United. A win for Melbourne would be another step towards the minor premiership but a win for Illawarra and they are in the hunt for a top two finish still. With Kirk Penney likely to return for the Hawks, expect plenty of shots being put up from either side. With Penney, Oscar Forman, Kevin Lisch, Chris Goulding, Stephen Holt and Daniel Kickert in the game, shooting won't be light on. But the inside battle between Majok Majok and Hakim Warrick up against AJ Ogilvy could be a deciding factor. It's then on to a double-header on Friday starting in Cairns with the Taipans facing a must-win battle with the 36ers. The Snakes must win their last three games against Adelaide, New Zealand and Townsville to be any chance of making the Finals. The Sixers will also have had one game two days previous to adjust to life without Randle. The second half of the double-header then sees the second placed Wildcats host the bottom placed Kings at Perth Arena. The 'Cats have won 19 of their last 20 over Sydney and need to keep that run going to be a chance of still claiming the minor premiership. Meanwhile the Kings head to Perth with nothing to lose in an attempt to end their losing streak at five. The Hawks then back up hosting Melbourne on Thursday by also playing host to the Crocs on Saturday. In the previous three meetings this season, Illawarra has beaten Townsville by a combined 70 points. But with Omar Samhan and Nick Kay doing well as bigs, Clint Steindl in career-best form and Jordair Jett delivering some big performances the Crocs will be looking for a vastly improved showing against the Finals bound Hawks. Last but not least is on Sunday when the Breakers host the Taipans. The Grand Final rematch could have plenty at stake if both teams have beaten Adelaide earlier in the round. That would mean they are still fighting for a Finals spot, if not there will be plenty of pride at stake anyway. ROUND 18 NBL FIXTURES (local times) WEDNESDAY Adelaide 36ers v New Zealand Breakers (Titanium Security Arena) – Fox Sports 3, 7pm THURSDAY Illawarra Hawks v Melbourne United (WIN Entertainment Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 7.30pm FRIDAY Cairns Taipans v Adelaide 36ers (Cairns Convention Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 6.30pm Perth Wildcats v Sydney Kings (Perth Arena) – Fox Sports 3, 6.30pm SATURDAY Illawarra Hawks v Townsville Crocodiles (WIN Entertainment Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 7.30pm SUNDAY New Zealand Breakers v Cairns Taipans (North Shore Events Centre) – Fox Sports 3 & 9GEM, 5pm
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