R19 Preview: Tasmania JackJumpers vs Cairns Taipans

When: 7.30pm (AEST), Friday 8 April, 2022

Where: MyState Bank Arena, Hobart

Broadcast: ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sport NZ

Who won last time?

Tasmania 85 (Adams 20, Krslovic 13, McVeigh 13) d Cairns 69 (Zimmerman) – Round 15, Cairns Convention Centre

The Taipans led this by six late in the opening term, but that’s where the party ended. The red-hot JackJumpers unleashed a 39-13 run in 16 minutes bridging half-time as they dropped a devastating 9/13 from long range. Jack McVeigh, Josh Adams and former Snake Fabijan Krslovic all downed a trifecta of triples to cruise to victory in the Snakepit.

What happened last start?

The JackJumpers were anything but red hot last week, systematically taken apart by the Kings, whose lead passed 30 before half-time. It’s no secret that Tassie’s D is vulnerable to quick transition attacks and hitting the short roller in the half-court, but few had exposed it like Sydney did. How will Scott Roth’s men respond to make amends in front of their fans?

Cairns a month ago would have little chance of cracking Tasmania’s defence, but they have undergone a transformation, with the absence of hard-working but immobile centre Stephen Zimmerman opening up the keyway for the Taipans’ athletes. If they can limit turnovers while continuing to attack the hoop, they could pinch their fourth win on the trot.

Who’s in form?

Keanu Pinder – No one in the NBL had a better Round 18 than Pinder, who compiled 42 points at 72 per cent, 22 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks in 63 high-energy minutes, while registering a +23 in the 10-point win over NZ. In two meetings with Tassie, he’s had just 3 points and 7 rebounds, and will be keen to show them the new and improved Kez.

MiKyle McIntosh – While most JackJumpers weren’t on the same level as their Kings counterparts, McIntosh was strong with 17 points at 54 per cent, his team -1 in his 18 minutes and -19 in the other 22. In two meetings with Cairns he’s only had 4 points on 1/6 shooting, and his match-up with Pinder will be an intriguing battle of brawn v athleticism.

Who needs to be?

Scott Machado – When these teams last met, Machado was on struggle street, shooting 2/9 and unable to get teammates involved in the flow of the offence. He’s found form since then, averaging 14.4ppg and 7.8apg in his past five, and it’s crucial his passing can pick apart Tassie’s ball-screen defence without coughing up turnovers that deliver cheap points.

Tasmania’s bigs – Offensively, the recent officiating changes suit Cairns to a T, their long athletes now attacking the rim with ferocity and getting to the free-throw line. In the JJ's past five losses they’ve had just 7 blocks in total, and given up 65.6 points from ‘ones and twos’, up from 56.2 points over the rest of the season. Their bigs must be ready to wall up.

Who’s statting up?

 - Over their past five contests, Cairns have averaged 88.4ppg for a 4-1 record, compared to just 70.3ppg in their previous eight for a 1-7 return

 - In those four victories, the Taipans have averaged 27.5 free-throw attempts and just 21 three-point heaves. In their other 16 games this season, those numbers are 19.4 foul shots and 27.8 triples

 - In their past five losses, Tasmania have gifted opponents 27.4 free-throw attempts and 92ppg, compared to 19.7 foul shots and 76.5ppg over the rest of the season. Cairns had 30 free-throw attempts in their Round 3 win over the JJs, but just 14 in their Round 15 defeat

 - The JackJumpers are 9-2 when Jack McVeigh scores 12 points or more, compared to 4-9 on his quieter nights. They are 6-1 when Jack nails three or more triples

Who’s matching up?

Jack McVeigh v Majok Deng – There’s no question McVeigh is Tasmania’s barometer, his offensive game the perfect foil for Josh Magette. Sydney crowded him on the arc last week, and he was unable to utilise his patient back-down game. Tassie have only beaten NZ, Adelaide and Brisbane when McVeigh has struggled, so they need to keep their PF involved.

It’s no surprise Cairns’ resurgence has coincided with Deng finding form, scoring 14.5 points at 55 per cent and 7/13 from deep in their past four wins, while also averaging 6 rebounds, 2.5 o-boards and pinching 1.5 steals. He’s only had 9 shot attempts in two games against Tasmania, and could be the ideal option to mix between short-rolling and popping for treys.

Who’s talking the talk?

If you think Majok Deng looks happy balling out in Cairns' recent hot streak, you’re right, but you only know have the story.

“The last two months have been amazing for me outside of basketball, I got engaged, my son just came a couple of days ago. So off the court I'm winning, I'm super-blessed,” he said.

Add in some brilliant on-court form and Deng is enjoying plenty of winning, but it wasn’t so long ago the Taipans were losing week in, week out and coach Adam Forde had dragged him from the starting line-up.

“I think I got a little bit too comfortable and I was glad that Fordey got on me, because you need somebody to hold you accountable,” he said.

“We've got a couple of guys on the team that want to hold each other accountable and make sure we do the right things, he told me you’ve got to be better.”

There’s no question the Snakes lacked leadership for much of the season with Scott Machado sidelined, and Forde challenged Deng to fill that void.

“We look to him as one of the leaders of this group, so it’s not just my expectation of what Jook does on the court, there’s an expectation of what I want Jook to do off the court,” Forde said.

“He’s great with the locker room presence, but what’s been really cool is just watching him having the confidence with the group to hold them accountable, and also accept responsibility for his own (mistakes). He’s been amazing.”

So has Keanu Pinder, another once-streaky player like Deng, who this season has shown he can be a rock for his new side.

“He’s another guy we sat with at the start of the season and said this is what you’re elite at, there’s very few people in the league, let alone Australian players that can do what he does on the court,” Forde said.

“We all love the idea of shooting threes, we all want to shoot threes, but if you really want to set yourself apart as being elite in your position, let’s do that as much as you can.

“To Keanu’s credit he’s been amazingly responsive to that, there’s even times where I'm like test the waters, shoot the three, go for it, and he just rips it, gets to the rim and gets the 'and one'.”

Pinder has also been dominant in the post, not just scoring but finding teammates, and that will be critical against the undersized JackJumpers.

Coach Forde has worked wonders with his team’s offence in recent weeks, allowing them to play with the natural flair that is a feature of so many of this season’s roster.

“The message going into tonight’s game was if your guy is defending you and you see the back of his head, just cut and we’ll find you. (Pinder) ends up getting five assists because guys were cutting at the right time,” Forde said.

“The playmaking’s coming from the attention he’s receiving just because he’s become such a threat for us.”

Forde said his team is “enjoying their basketball, that’s probably what’s most fun”, but it was anything but fun for Tasmania last week against Sydney.

While Cairns is finishing on a high, JJs coach Scott Roth is wary his team doesn’t let one horror performance drag down their final weeks.

“This game does not define our season by any means, it’s just one of the games we end up playing, we've got four to go and we just move on and continue to build,” he said.

“I couldn’t care less about the finals or the final four teams, for me it’s just about the process, we regroup and we go and play the next game. When we play our 28th game we’ll be where we’re supposed to be.”

Coach Clint Steindl was more direct, calling out his team’s uncharacteristically poor effort last round.

“It was being able to get back in d-trans, they just ran us out of our own gym,” he said.

“You look at points in the paint and a lot of that started as them getting fast-break lay-ups, even when we’d score they'd just push it straight away.

“They were feeling comfortable and it was just a follow-on effect from there.”

That same lethargy would be deadly against the athletic Taipans, who will feed off those easy buckets to up their own pressure defence, and Steindl called on his team to “finish this thing off the right way”.

“I'm proud of the work that we've put in to be able to put ourselves in a spot like this, obviously disappointed in what we did today knowing what was on the line, disappointed for our fans that saw that, but we've got to move on,” he said.

“We can finish this season out the right way and mathematically maybe playoffs are still there, I don’t know what’s going to happen with everything else.

“But we've got to finish off this season the right way with the work that we've put in, and what we've shown in this league, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our club, to our fans down here.

“No one’s jumping off this ship just yet, season done or whatever, we need to finish this thing off the right way.”


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