R19 Preview: Adelaide 36ers v Perth Wildcats

When: 3.00pm (AEST), Sunday 22 May

Where: Adelaide Entertainment Centre

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

The last time
Adelaide 83 (Johnson 28, Paul 20, Giddey 13) d Perth 68 (Mooney 18, Blanchfield 15, Wagstaff 11) – Round 19, Adelaide Entertainment Centre  

It was now six weeks ago when the old rivals Adelaide and Perth last met, and on that night at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, it was a night to remember for the 36ers as they took away the 15-point victory on their home floor.

It was the type of performance against their old foes that the Sixers threatened to deliver back at the NBL Cup when they were up by 26 points just before half-time, but in typical Perth fashion they fired back and broke their hearts. But this time on their home floor and having had a week's preparation since beating the Illawarra Hawks, the 36ers were determined to make a statement across four quarters and they did that.

The Sixers shot out of the blocks on fire racing to a 22-11 lead and they never did surrender the advantage but just as impressive as the offensive output, was the defensive effort. The 36ers held the Wildcats to just 68 points on 26/71 shooting from the field and 8/34 from deep while Sunday Dech was instrumental in holding Bryce Cotton to just the 10 points on 3/15 shooting.

Captain Daniel Johnson was at his unstoppable best delivering 28 points and eight rebounds on 11/14 shooting from the field and 4/6 from beyond the arc. His teenage point guard Josh Giddey was brilliant too with 13 points, 12 assists and six rebounds while going 3/6 from downtown with import Brandon Paul building in confidence with 20 points including going 5/12 from deep.

Keanu Pinder might have been the most exciting sign with 12 points, four rebounds and four blocks. His night was summed up in one play midway through the fourth term. He firstly flew from nowhere to secure an offensive rebound. He then backed down his opponent and then finished unconventionally with his left hand. And then up the other end he swatted away a Bryce Cotton floater. It was what he's been promising all season.

It wasn’t the Wildcats' night but they came in on a nine-game winning streak so it's hardly panic stations. John Mooney still had 18 points and 14 rebounds, Todd Blanchfield 15 points and Jesse Wagstaff 11.


The now

The oldest rivalry in the league resumes on Sunday in Adelaide with the Sixers determined to reward their home fans while the Wildcats simply need to win to stay in the race for top spot.

How each team reacts to the absence of some superstars gives this clash an extra sense of intrigue as well with the 36ers without Josh Giddey and Isaac Humphries for the rest of the season while the Wildcats will be without two-time MVP Bryce Cotton and potentially captain Jesse Wagstaff again.

The 36ers got a taste of what things were like minus their starting centre and point guard on Friday night against the Illawarra Hawks in their second last home game of the season. The Sixers had won their previous four matches at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre by double-figures, including against the Hawks and Wildcats, but Friday night was a game to forget with Illawarra taking full advantage of a lacklustre 36ers outfit.

The end result wasn’t too bad on the scoreboard with an 81-73 end result but coach Conner Henry had no trouble labelling it their worst performance of #NBL21. Making it more frustrating that the three best performers on the night were captains Daniel Dillon, Brendan Teys and Daniel Johnson who have a combined age of 99.

The 36ers now have one more home match to go this season and it's Sunday against the Wildcats and while there isn’t finals to shoot for, they simply must put in a better performance than Friday to reward their loyal fans who have continued to come out in impressive numbers all season long at the Entertainment Centre.

Seeing how the Wildcats handle life minus the likely MVP for a third NBL season Cotton is going to be a fascinating case study during Sunday's game too. Everything the 'Cats run offensively has Cotton as a centre point of it, but he was ruled out of the game after hurting a groin during Friday night's victory over the Cairns Taipans at RAC Arena.

That result locked in a top two finish once again for the Wildcats just days after they also secured a 35th consecutive NBL playoff appearance. But they are still locked in a race with Melbourne United for top position and home court advantage right through the playoffs.

A slip up in Adelaide on Sunday could be critical to Perth's hopes of top position with the Wildcats currently at 23-9, just behind Melbourne who is 24-7. If the teams finish on the same records, it will come down to percentage and right now the 'Cats are in front of United in that area and the teams do meet in the final round. So for Perth to keep their hopes up of claiming the regular season championship, Sunday's game in Adelaide is a must-win even minus Cotton.


The stats

- In that last meeting where Adelaide won 83-68, the Sixers snapped the nine-game winning streak of the Wildcats while hitting a season-high 16 three-pointers.

- The Wildcats shot a season best 57.6 per cent from the field in Friday's home win against Cairns while also putting up 14/31 three-pointers. When Perth has managed 11 or more threes this season, they are a perfect 13-0 record.

- The 'Cats secured a top two finish for the third straight season with their win over the Snakes on Friday night at RAC Arena. Perth has finished in a top two position more times than any other team in NBL history with Adelaide sitting second in that category with their most recent top two finishes coming in 2017 and 2018.


The key men

Brandon Paul – In his first couple of games against the Wildcats, he just showed plenty of good signs but he also looked tired when chasing around Bryce Cotton. That won't be the case on Sunday and he quite simply needs to be a huge offensive threat. He didn’t play well against the Hawks on Friday night and if the 36ers are to bounce back on Sunday, he needs to be switched on at both ends, needs to be aggressive and needs to look to attack the basket and then let his jump shots flow from there. He has all the talent to be a player for the Sixers to bank their future on, but it's up to him to now prove to the club he deserves that commitment.

John Mooney – Without Isaac Humphries out there for the 36ers and with the Sixers also needing to be mindful of Will Magnay, the Wildcats are going to have a significant advantage in terms of size with Mooney likely to become an even greater offensive focus with Bryce Cotton not playing. He is attempting to record his 21st double-double of the season and last time in Adelaide he had 18 points and 15 rebounds. His rebounding numbers have gone down since the arrival of Magnay, though, and he's looking to avoid a third straight game of not pulling in double-figure boards.


The quotes

Adelaide coach Conner Henry was as frustrated as anyone with the way Friday night's game against Illawarra panned out especially when he was hoping the extra chances provided with the absence of Isaac Humphries and Josh Giddey would be gratefully taken advantage of.

It turned out Daniel Dillon was the only one to do so and Henry now is looking for an improved all-round effort on Sunday against the Wildcats in their final home game of the season.

"The reality is this was our worst played game of the season. Our effort wasn’t acceptable by any means, the starters were very poor except for Dan Dillon who at the advanced age of 35 plays some quality minutes, pushes the pace and really has a high level of 'give a shit' at the end of the day. It was a disappointing loss outside of that," Henry said.

"Even when Ice was down with injury earlier in the season and we missed Giddey for a couple of games, we always felt like we still had enough talent and would keep putting up a good effort. We often would not get quite over the hump or faulter down the stretch, but they are no longer with us so we have the same squad and the effort needs to be there. 

"The sense of executing the system and the scout has to be there. We did that for the first five minutes or so before they started to pick us apart and then we made some adjustments to try and stop the bleeding. 

"But we weren’t able to and I look at the level of minutes, and again we all should just be able to play at a higher level of intensity no matter how many minutes you get. Minutes are earned and that's what we'll keep doing from here on out. 

"It's really the only thing we can do so whatever minutes that the lads get, they need to play hard during those minutes and good things will happen for everybody from there."

Sixers captain Daniel Dillon has been patiently waiting for more opportunities this season, but the 35-year-old showed that he still has plenty left in the tank with the 2008 championship winner delivering 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

He enjoyed that opportunity and is also now hoping for a better all-round team performance on Sunday against Perth.

"Obviously Giddey has been amazing for us throughout this season and we kind of have been running off him so I just tried to do what I could. I tried to push the intensity on offence and to get us into the offence pretty quickly, which seemed to work in some stretches," Dillon said.

"But we just played a little up and down. When we were lacking on defence we weren’t running as much, but I just tried to keep the intensity going. Unfortunately we got down at the end of the first quarter and we did try claw back at the end of the third, and start of the fourth but we couldn’t quite get over that hump. 

"Obviously our bench came in with Teysy, Mudronja and Jack, and they gave a lot of effort on the offensive and defensive end to give us a bit of a boost. But it's hard when you put yourselves in a hole and you are fighting uphill all game. You feel like you are wasting a lot of energy but credit to Illawarra for coming in and giving it everything."

Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson is impressed with the continued improvement of Will Magnay as he settles into the Perth system heading towards the playoffs after he had nine rebounds in 22 minutes during Friday's home win against the Taipans.

"The hard part is that you are coming into an established team and trying to find the rhythm and timing. I think he's been taking gradual steps along the way and I was really happy with a couple of rebounds he took there above the rim," Gleeson said.

"That was something that Tommy used to do back in his heyday, but that we probably lack in the team. He gives us a different element with his athleticism and speed, and we are still trying to work that into our system. The more games he can play with us the better he's going to be."

When the Wildcats run out onto the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on Sunday afternoon, they will be playing their sixth game in 11 days and will be without Bryce Cotton, but Gleeson is looking forward to how they handle the adversity.

"We just want to play the right way and it's fantastic that we are locked into the playoffs, and I think this win locks us into the top two. If you had have said that back in pre-season before the games started that you would get a top two position, we would have signed on straight away," Gleeson said.

"That's a fantastic effort from this group and now we want to build momentum and get in a bit of rhythm. We'll use these remaining four games to do that and we will be under some fatigue elements on Sunday, but that's how you get better and stronger, and how you get better."

Veteran Perth centre Tom Jervis was a late inclusion for the Wildcats this season but continues to play an important role as that back up big even with Magnay joining John Mooney in an imposing back court, and he is enjoying everything about his return from retirement to the NBL.

"I definitely am enjoying it. The role I'm playing within this group is different to what I had previously, but I'm really relishing the opportunity to work with Will and Mooney and Bair, and am enjoying it," Jervis said.

"It's easy to fit in with a team like this. It's kind of like riding a bike when you join the team again if you've already been in the team before because you know your position and what's expected of you. 

"It's a fair easy transition and when your number's called you just get ready to go. It was a bit bigger of a role in this game than it was previously, and it's just about guys stepping up. That's what makes championship teams."


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