R19 Preview: Adelaide 36ers vs Brisbane Bullets

When: 7.30pm (AEST), Monday 11 April 2022

Adelaide Entertainment Centre

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?
Brisbane 92 (Cadee 26, Franks 17, Patterson 14) d Adelaide 91 (Johnson 28, Dech 14, Harris 12, Withers 12) – Round 18, Nissan Arena, Brisbane

In a fun game of hoops, veterans Daniel Johnson and Jason Cadee got hot early, then  some emerging players made statements about their futures – Hyrum Harris, Tad Dufelmeier, Taane Samuel and Tom Digbeu – as both teams went back and forth. Ultimately a pair of Cadee threes and Adelaide’s trademark poor late-game execution decided the outcome.

What happened last start?

Adelaide gave the Kings everything they could handle for 24 minutes with an impressive defensively display and some aggressive O. But with an unbalanced line-up alongside him, Dufelmeier then put on a clinic of over-dribbling that would have brought the worst out of Conner Henry, the offence stalled, and the 36ers’ woeful shooting caught up with them.

Brisbane’s issues started much earlier than that, down 17 at quarter-time to the red-hot Hawks in an embarrassing final display of the season in front of their fans. Perhaps most disappointing was the late-game capitulation that saw a 17-point deficit with five minutes to play balloon out to a 31-point thrashing. Has the fight gone out of James Duncan’s team?

Who’s in form?

Hyrum Harris – CJ Bruton likened Harris to the legendary Mika Vukona and he hasn’t disappointed. In three games as a starter the Kiwi has averaged 11ppg at 54 per cent, 6 rebounds and 3.7 assists, while providing defensive aggression the 36ers have lacked at the four-spot. Since his first start, Adelaide are +16 with Harris on the floor and -10 without.

Tom Digbeu – Don’t stop the count, because Digbeu is making a run up the NBA draft board with 40 points at 56 per cent, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in his past 70 minutes. The young Spaniard is looking on another level with his long-stepping athleticism, getting to the rack at will and channelling Xavier Cooks with his ability to rebound and spark transition scores.

Who needs to be?

Sunday Dech – One victim of Digbeu’s precocious talent was Dech, who was shaken out of his shoes by the Next Star’s wicked crossover. He was also caught napping by Jason Cadee early in the teams’ Round 18 meeting, and Adelaide need their defensive guru guarding at a high level, and connecting from deep after a wayward 3/16 return in his past three outings.

Deng Deng – The energetic power forward’s minutes have been limited in the past two games, but Brisbane have been +4 in his 30 minutes and -34 in the other 50, and only Nathan Sobey has a better plus/minus for the Bullets this season. While coach Duncan is sharing the minutes around, if Brisbane want a W they need Deng as a key part of it.

Who’s statting up?

 - Adelaide are the NBL’s number one ranked offensive rebounding team, ripping in a whopping 32 per cent of available o-boards. In Round 18, they grabbed 18 o-boards against the Bullets at 40 per cent, but only converted that to 15 second chance points

 - The 36ers are the NBL’s worst shooting team, ranking ninth in field-goal percentage (41%) and three-point percentage (31%), and last in three-point makes (7.4) and effective field-goal percentage (47 per cent)

 - The Bullets are 8-2 when they score 90 points or more, but just 1-14 when they don’t

 - In Brisbane’s nine wins, Robert Franks has connected at 45 per cent from long range, compared to 36 per cent in losses. When ‘Robo’ hits three or more triples the Bullets are 7-7, compared to 2-9 when he doesn’t.

Who’s matching up?

Daniel Johnson v Robert Franks – There wouldn’t be many NBL fans not smiling at the sight of DJ back to his vintage best. The return to the centre spot has treated him well, averaging 23.3ppg at 58 per cent, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in three games starting alongside Hyrum Harris, who provides smart offensive reads and gives DJ great defensive coverage.

Johnson was unstoppable against Brisbane last round with 28 points on 7/12 inside and 2/4 outside, enjoying the Bullets’ small-ball line-ups. Franks had 17 points on 7/9 and 12 boards in that game, but every time he gets a match-up with Johnson he needs to be involved in the action, either picking-and-popping or testing DJ’s lateral movement on the drive.

Who’s talking the talk?

CJ Bruton has proven to be a master of staying positive during his first testing season as Adelaide coach, but watching Jason Cadee drop five trifectas in five minutes in Round 18 was almost too much to bear.

“We went over the scout beforehand and the boys know who Jason Cadee is and what he’s capable of doing,” Bruton said.

“I know he didn’t shoot the ball well against the Hawks but coming home, he used to play for the 36ers, he knows how to play this game.”

Those lapses captured the 36ers’ defensive malaise for much of the opening half, which saw them give up 51 points in the opening 20 minutes at an inexcusable 63 per cent, while giving up six offensive rebounds from just 13 Brisbane misses.

While Adelaide have had their struggles at times this season, they have played hard, rebounded extremely hard, and kept teams to 44 per cent from the field and 32 per cent from the arc. Bruton asked to see that Sixers team.

“I said to the boys at half-time, you can come back to the locker room with your head held high and know that you’ve given your all today, first to the floor, doing the little things, winning those areas,” Bruton said.

The message worked, the Bullets held to 42 per cent in the second half and Adelaide coming within a whisker of their eighth win thanks to the efforts of Hyrum Harris and Co.

“After half-time we came out really strong in that third and got up like we have in a lot of games this year,” Daniel Johnson said.

“Going into the fourth we played our arse off, looking after the ball, turnover count we won that, won the rebounding, took more shots than them, there’s a lot of positives there.”

Johnson seems relieved to have discovered his best, and is loving leading the young teammates coach Bruton is putting faith in.

“I'm just focusing on every week, keep that focus and be a leader, we've got an inexperienced group so that’s my job for the rest of the season, keep being consistent and just being someone they can rely on game in, game out,” Johnson said.

“We talk about not fracturing, just staying together and getting something out of it. They're all great guys, they're great people, I don’t think that’s going to happen, we’re going to play it out until the end.

“Guys are playing for contracts, but I think if we can how we’re a united group and we can play together, play the right way, play the way CJ wants us to play then hopefully we can get guys back next year that can help us, add some guys to that and hopefully build from here.”

Brisbane has the same challenge, but they had a horror night against the Hawks, thrashed by 31 as 12 Bullets got some burn.

“Obviously we’re trying to find some kind of spark with this group and push us in the right direction, and also other players that haven't had the opportunity throughout the season, we wanted to take a look at them and see what they had to offer,” coach Duncan said.

One positive was the 10-point, 4-rebound performance of Chinese giant Chuanxing Liu in just 12 minutes, along with some bone-crunching screens.

“He’s worked hard, he’s been in the weight room, he’s doing all the necessary things that we would want as a professional basketball player, it’s just sometimes with the match-ups throughout the course of the season it was pretty difficult for him,” Duncan said.

“Tonight we just wanted to give him a crack and see what he could do. For his minutes he was out there he was able to help us. There was a couple of times his man was left open, but he worked and played hard for us and that was one of the main things we wanted.”

Kiwi Taane Samuel has also showed some promise in the past two games, a key factor in the win over Adelaide with his physicality, the Bullets +7 in his 11 minutes.

“Taane’s anther talented young man who’s capable of doing things but is also learning to be a pro, not just on the court but off the court,” Duncan said.

“Everybody was able to see what he’s capable of, now we move onto next week and now there's a little bit more expectation and maybe a little bit more hunger by him to get another opportunity like that.

“When he stepped on the floor and started to perform well you could see with the bench, they were all up and about. They're pretty excited for him.”


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