R2 Preview: Cairns Taipans vs Melbourne United

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 25 January

Cairns Pop-up Arena

ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time
Melbourne 99 (Goulding 23, Trimble 19, Barlow 15) Cairns 83 (Oliver 19, Jawai 16, Deng 11, Newbill 11), Round 20, 2019/20, Melbourne Arena

Melbourne put on a three-point party as Chris Goulding buried five of his team’s 15 trifectas, five of which came in a devastating 31-16 final quarter that put the Taipans chances to bed. However, it was United’s pressure and Cairns’ sloppy execution – having already locked up third place – that fed Melbourne extra possessions, open-court scoring opportunities and ultimately a playoff-defining win in front of their vocal home crowd.

The now
Cairns’ crowd has been more than vocal in their new home, but the Snakes have only been able to convert that into one win from three home dates, making this meeting crucial for the home side. Coach Mike Kelly hasn’t got the defensive production he needs from Majok Deng and Nathan Jawai, Mirko Djeric has made just 4-of-14 triples in the two losses, and Scott Machado fouling out on Saturday proved a bridge too far for the Newbill-less Taipans.

United has only graced the hardwood once this season, and after a scrappy opening quarter in Adelaide they put the defensive pedal squarely to the floor. This is a line-up with serious length and athleticism, and the likes of Jack White, Jo Lual-Acuil, Shea Ili and Yudai Baba showed they can not only defend at a high level, but create scores going the other way too, and that will only make Chris Goulding, Scotty Hopson and Jock Landale more dangerous.

The stats
 - Last season, the Taipans were 4-11 when they allowed 90 or more points, compared to 13-3 when they didn’t. So far this season they are 0-2 when allowing that mark and 1-0 when they don’t

 - Cairns are allowing the second-most offensive boards while forcing the least amount of turnovers, leaving them -20 in the possession game across their opening three contests

 - In contrast, Melbourne were +16 in their only game against the 36ers, forcing 18 turnovers while allowing just 5 o-boards from 43 Adelaide misses

 - United’s bench scored 48 points at 57 per cent from the field in that game. Last season, the Melbourne bench averaged 27.1ppg at 45 per cent

The key men
Jock Landale – It certainly wasn’t a Cinderella start for Landale’s NBL career, a sub-par first half rewarded with a seat on the bench to start the second half, but as the game wore on his versatility started to shine through, accumulating 10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 o-boards, 3 assists and 3 blocks. How Cairns matches up on the Boomers starter is a tough question for Cairns coach Mike Kelly, with Cam Oliver the obvious choice, but Melbourne’s ability to cross-match him with Jack White could lead to the star Taipan doing a double shift while Landale gets an easier run at the defensive end.

Cam Oliver – Should we talk about that dunk? Would be rude not to. But of course, the story that will be forgotten in all that facial talk is the challenge Space Cam received from a red hot Jarell Martin early in the night, and the way Oliver responded with his splendid all-court game to finish with 27 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists and 2 steals. Whoever Melbourne throws on him had better have their crash-landing procedure down pat.

The quotes
Mirko Djeric isn’t one to shirk the issue, and he certainly didn’t do that after his side dropped their home date with the Kings on Saturday.

“They came with more energy than us and we didn’t stick to our game plan. We had a pretty simple game plan to follow and as a group I feel like we've let Mike and the coaching staff down with how we played,” he said.

“I just feel like they wanted it more. Obviously we kept coming back from those runs, but it’s very hard to come back in this league against great teams.

“We’ve all got to hold ourselves accountable, every one of us, from one-to-12. We don’t have much time, we've got tomorrow to recover and then we’ve got Melbourne United, who are another great team.”

Coach Kelly had praise for the brilliant Cam Oliver and the cameos of Jarrod Kenny and Mojave King, but he shared Djeric’s view.

“We haven't defended the way we need to defend to be a championship-level team, so it’s an issue. Until we fix it, it’s an issue,” he said.

“We need five guys working together out there, defending as a group, and when they all do that we’ll be able to move forward.”

With Scott Machado limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble, Oliver stepped up to fill the void with another remarkable display of energy and will to win, but Kenny and King aside he simply didn’t get enough help.

“Cam played with great energy and fire, he just seemed to be all over the place, even when he missed a three he was right there rebounding the ball. He gave great effort, so I was pretty happy with that, because he was matched up with some very good players,” Kelly said.

“I thought Cam was good (defensively), I thought he tried to do his job defensively, he had three blocked shots, he seemed to be contesting everything, rebounding, but as a group, that’s all I really care about.”

In contrast, when Melbourne stars Jock Landale and Chris Goulding were below their best in the season opener in Adelaide, United coach Dean Vickerman had a queue of players ready to pick up the slack, particularly at the defensive end.

After the 36ers had racked up 31 points in the opening 15 minutes, the likes of Mitch McCarron, Jack White, Shea Ili, Yudai Baba and Jo Lual-Acuil applied the clamps.

“We were started a little sluggish with our defence tonight, picked it up in the second period and I thought there was a group in the middle of the second period that played four or five minutes and held them to four points,” Vickerman said.

Four of that quintet then started the second half as Vickerman made it clear what sort of team United would be from day one this season.

“With this group, I really want to get to a point where everyone accepts a role, and if you start the game it doesn’t mean you're going to start after half-time or it doesn’t mean you're going to start the fourth quarter,” he said.

“I just wanted to send a message to the whole group, and we've done it in pre-season, that there is going to be groups that we put out on the floor that I think are really high-level defensively and they're going to wear some teams out.

“Then you bring in a Chris and a Jock and that can be quite deflating for another team after they’ve had to work so hard against a real defensive group.”


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