R19 Preview: Brisbane Bullets vs Melbourne United

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 24 May

Nissan Arena, Brisbane

ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time
Melbourne 98 (Landale 23, Goulding 18, Baba 16) d Brisbane 89 (Sobey 30, Froling 15, Hodgson 13), Round 13, John Cain Arena

It was a dominant opening half from the home side, Jock Landale and Chris Goulding scoring 16 of Melbourne’s first 18 points as they raced to an 11-point quarter-time lead. Sam McDaniel would add 10 of his own in the second term as that advantage reached 18 by the main break. Nine quick Nathan Sobey point made this a ball game early in the second half as Brisbane closed within five on three occasions, but Melbourne had all the answers late.

The now
The Bullets didn’t have any answers to SE Melbourne on Saturday, producing their worst performance of an inconsistent season just when a W would have put them level on losses with the third-placed Phoenix. With a percentage of just 96.7, their playoff chances are now almost mathematical, but a surprise win over the ladder leaders would keep them within 1.5 games of fourth, with only one of their final five games against the top three teams.

That’s easier said than done, with Melbourne coming off a six-day break from their win in Wollongong. The run to the minor premiership looks good for United, with a five-day break before they face Sydney, then welcoming Cairns who will be playing their third game in five days. That all leads into their crunch game with Perth in Round 21, but Dean Vickerman’s men won’t be overlooking a Brisbane team that has scored at will against them this season.

The stats

 - The Bullets have averaged 93.7ppg at 48 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from the arc against Melbourne. The rest of the league has managed just 81ppg at 42 per cent and 34 per cent

 - In this season series, United have committed 8.3 turnovers per game to Brisbane’s 13.5, and have won points from turnovers a whopping 71-30

 - Melbourne have averaged 43 points from the three-point line against the Bullets at 40 per cent conversion. Against all other teams they average 28.2 points at 36 per cent

 - In Brisbane’s Round 8 win, they outscored United 69-52 from ‘ones and twos’ – shooting 59 per cent from two-point range – and won points in the paint 50-38

The key men

Nathan Sobey – Few teams have had the answers for Sobey-Wan Kenobi this season, and Melbourne certainly isn’t one of them. The latest Boomers addition has racked up 24.3ppg at 52 per cent from long range on Mitch McCarron and Co, adding 5.6rpg and 3apg for good measure. Interestingly, his quietest game was in the Round 8 win, when five Bullets scored 9 points or more, and given a tiring Sobey has managed just 16 points on 5-of-22 shooting in his past two games, he needs teammates to carry the load early so he can pick his moments.

Jock Landale – You can bet Jock has this date circled on his calendar, having averaged 20.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks on the Bullets, exploiting their defence in all areas. Critically, in Melbourne’s two wins he nailed 7-of-16 from long range as the Andrej Lemanis’ men covered the paint, but in their NBL Cup loss he managed just 1-of-9. How do Brisbane defend the big fella? Harry Froling is well out of form, Matt Hodgson and Tyrell Harrison lack the mobility, and Lamar Patterson lacks the size. Expect some double-teams.

The quotes

What does Brisbane’s loss to the Phoenix mean for their playoff chances?

“It makes it hard, no doubt,” coach Lemanis said.

But in true ‘Drej’ style, he wasn’t letting it get him down.

“What changes?” he asked rhetorically. “You come out and play your next game. As we've always said, 19 is the magic number probably – who the hell knows – which means 19-17.

“We've got six games left, we can get to 19-17 but it’s about the way that you play, everyone wants to come out and win, and we can’t get worried or stressed about that, that’s not going to make a difference to us.

“Our mentality needs to be good regardless of the situation, coming in with the right mind to play the right way.”

In terms of playing the right way, Saturday’s capitulation to Mitch Creek and Co was a head-scratcher. The Bullets had won three of their previous four, their only loss a tight one to the Wildcats in a high-quality game, before quitting meekly with so much to play for.

Yet Brisbane were second rate against SE Melbourne, their performance well summed up by Jason Cadee’s brain-fade in the shadows of half-time.

The Bullets had fought hard to bring the margin back to five, and had secured another stop with 33 seconds remaining in the half.

Yet instead of running a quality set to bring his team within a bucket, Cadee attempted a lazy one-handed cross-court pass through traffic, which Creek duly picked off and Kyle Adnam converted into a fast-break triple to steal back the momentum.

From there, Brisbane were outscored 27-5 over the next nine minutes in an embarrassing display in front of their loyal home fans.

“We never got in a position where we were exerting our will onto the game and putting ourselves in a position to be able to make positive plays, we were always on our back foot and reacting,” Lemanis said.

“They pretty much were allowed to do what they wanted to do and over time that starts to build its own momentum, as things get more and more difficult their confidence gets up, outs goes in the opposite direction and we were never really able to arrest it.”

In short, the NBL’s eighth-ranked defence continued to get exposed, while their usually quality offence faded badly with Nathan Sobey having a rare off-night under constant duress from the Phoenix.

“A lot of that comes back onto me, Drej mentioned about being passive, I wasn’t as aggressive as what I usually am and didn’t lead from the front, and that might have transferred over to the group,” Sobey said.

“I’ll take all that responsibility and we've got to be ready to go next game and I’ll definitely be ready to go.”

While few would doubt Sobey will turn things around – he’s enjoyed meeting and beating Melbourne’s array of defensive guards this season – Brisbane being able to hold United to a losing score is a far more unlikely proposition.

Ominously, for playoff-hungry Bullets fans, Jock Landale has averaged 21.5ppg on 27-of-33 from inside in his past four games, while Chris Goulding has scored 21.3ppg at 40 per cent from outside in his past three, including dropping 7-of-13 on the Hawks last Tuesday.

With playoffs looming, expect Melbourne to be exploiting that duo more and more, and Brisbane needs to find an answer.

“The two-man game with them is always going to be off the basketball or on the basketball and that does take time to work out,” coach Dean Vickerman said.

“I think they're starting to get a really good feel about how the coverage that they're seeing – am I getting top-blocked, what’s that mean? Is there an aggressive coverage in the on-ball or is there a re-screen? So I think those relationships are continuing to build within our team.

“In key moments you want to put your two best scoring talents together so we've got to continue to work out whether that results in Chris shooting a three, Jock shooting a three, a post-up for Jock.

“Those are all the things that down the stretch of this season, when you really need go-to plays, those two are going to be involved in it.”


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