Hungry Jack's NBL
R20 Preview: Cairns Taipans vs Brisbane Bullets
When: 7.30pm (AEST), Wednesday 26 May
Where: Cairns Pop-Up Arena
Broadcast: ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch
The last time
Brisbane 96 (Sobey 25, Cadee 21, Drmic 14) d Cairns 87 (Jawai 20, Deng 18, King 13), Round 17, Cairns Pop-Up Arena
Having dropped four of their previous five heading into Cairns, the Bullets rediscovered some much-needed mojo this night. Apart from a series of ties in the opening term, the visitors led throughout, extending their advantage to 18 in the third term as Nathan Sobey sliced up the defence. Cairns surged back within five in the final term behind a dominant Nate Jawai, but Lamar Patterson, Jason Cadee and Matt Hodgson had the answers.
That victory sparked a run of three-from-four for Brisbane to put them within reach of the final four, but back-to-back meetings with the Melbourne teams showed they are a long way off the best outfits in the Hungry Jack’s NBL. They can still mathematically make the playoffs, but it would require them winning all five of their remaining games, with Sydney dropping at least two of their final four outings and Illawarra three of their remaining four.
For a moment there, after they defeated Adelaide and New Zealand in the space of nine days, it appeared the Snakes might climb past the Breakers and out of the wooden spoon position. However, seven straight losses since then, and the Kiwis winning two-of-three upon returning home put paid to that. While they really have little left to play for, beating big brother from the Queensland capital is always motivation enough for the Taipans.
- Brisbane lead the season series 3-0 and +31. Cairns have never been swept by their capital city counterparts in 14 seasons together in the NBL
- The Taipans have lost their past seven games by an average of 16.9 points, averaging just 77.7ppg in the process
- Cairns have averaged 90.7ppg in regulation in their three meetings with the Bullets. Against the rest of the NBL they’ve managed just 79.7ppg
- Brisbane have lost their past 10 games where they’ve given up 90 points on more. The last time they won leaking that many was 11 March
The key men
Scott Machado – It’s no secret Cairns have changed their offence to take a look at some of their younger talent, allowing them to assess their recruiting needs for the short off-season ahead. But if they are to pinch another W before NBL21 is over they’ll need a Machado special, and his past three games’ return of 15ppg and 7apg give promise his battle-worn legs still have it in them. Against Perth he nailed 4-of-7 from deep, and he got to the foul line six times on the Hawks – a combo of those two could be a winning one on Wednesday.
Lamar Patterson – In five wins since he returned to the Bullets, Patterson has shot 57 per cent from the field and 8-of-17 from the three-point line. In seven losses he’s connected at just 36 per cent from the floor and 8-of-29 from range. Once Vic Law went down, Brisbane were reliant on Lamar filling the void in his team’s dynamic duo, but the two-time NBL First Team star hasn’t been able to give Sobey consistent enough support. They need a big one from their laconic import to complete the Sunshine sweep and keep their season alive.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">@lamarpatterson13 put in work for the <a href="https://twitter.com/rorkprojects?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@rorkprojects</a> 'Play of the Game' even before hitting the game winner ? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBL21?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL21</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WEAREBNE?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WEAREBNE</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RORKPROJECTS?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RORKPROJECTS</a> <a href="https://t.co/mH4zRQzIWM">pic.twitter.com/mH4zRQzIWM</a></p>— Brisbane Bullets (@BrisbaneBullets) <a href="https://twitter.com/BrisbaneBullets/status/1395210352543944707?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 20, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Coach Mike Kelly wasn’t in the mood for niceties after his team’s horror third quarter in Wollongong wasted a golden chance for win number eight.
“I think we all feel like puking right now, truthfully,” he said.
“Losses don’t make you feel very good. This is a great group of guys, they play hard, they’ve stuck together and we’re not winning games. I like the group and the group likes each other, I think they're great guys, but everyone feels terrible.
“We talk about playing through next plays. I make a mistake and these guys have to cover for me. Scott makes a mistake and Tad has to cover for him and Nate has to cover for him.
“They're trying to do that but we haven't done it consistently enough, and if you're not winning games you don’t feel real good.”
Already stretched by the reduction to two imports, Cairns have been torn apart by injuries to key players and the departure of superstar Cam Oliver.
They’ve fought hard, but have lacked the depth to play the right way for 40 minutes at a time.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough to continue to play the same way throughout all the quarters,” Machado said.
“Sometimes one error just continued to carry on and we've got to let it go. It’s been a roller-coaster of a year, losing never feels good.
“We go out there trying to get wins, we go out there trying to compete as hard as we can, we definitely had a chance to win the game, we just didn’t capitalise.”
One huge positive against the Hawks was Machado absorbing all sorts of defensive pressure to record 17 points at 56 per cent, 9 assists and just 2 turnovers.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">? DON'T LEAVE YOUR MAN! <a href="https://t.co/4SfBO534Pe">pic.twitter.com/4SfBO534Pe</a></p>— Cairns Taipans (@CairnsTaipans) <a href="https://twitter.com/CairnsTaipans/status/1396378010844995585?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 23, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Against a lesser defence like Brisbane’s, that could easily be a match-winning performance.
“I thought Scott adjusted tonight as well as he has to any defence, as far as doubles and hard shows and getting the ball out of the screen quick and looking for guys,” Kelly said.
As usual, the Bullets will try to get the ball out of Machado’s hands with their disruptive defence and then make it hard for him to get it back.
In the first two meetings of the season, Machado exploded for 49 points and 16 assists, but in Round 17 he managed just 8 and 7, shooting 4-of-12 from the field.
Brisbane had some brief early success with their defence against Melbourne, but as so often has been the case, their lack of quality defenders and athletes meant as soon as their schemes broke down, so did their D.
“I thought we were good in that space early, we were able to get on the front foot and exert our will on the game a little bit,” coach Andrej Lemanis said.
“We were aggressive up the floor defensively, we sped them up a bit, and offensively that led to us moving the ball and creating opportunities to get to the rim, play off two feet, kick-out three balls, good stuff happened.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">.<a href="https://twitter.com/JasonCadee5?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JasonCadee5</a> finds his man!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WEAREBNE?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WEAREBNE</a> <a href="https://t.co/NcSTPNaINQ">pic.twitter.com/NcSTPNaINQ</a></p>— Brisbane Bullets (@BrisbaneBullets) <a href="https://twitter.com/BrisbaneBullets/status/1396767061511077894?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 24, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“Then I think some key moments where we started to take a few shortcuts, the pressure up the floor wasn’t as good, the disruption wasn’t as good, they got a bit of a comfort level.
“Drmic had done an amazing job on Goulding in the first quarter, right at the end we help in when we shouldn’t have and that gets him his first three-ball.”
The rest was history, United running up 99 points and Brisbane never pulling the deficit back into single figures after half-time.
The Bullets’ playoff hopes are almost history too, all they can do is win and hope other results go their way.
Given they have never swept Cairns – who even defeated the superstar-laden 2007 Bullets 122-119 thanks to 51 points from Martin Cattalini – the visitors should be expecting a fierce contest.
Lemanis knows their ability to do the little things one possession after another needs to be much-improved, especially with the power of Jawai and the shooting of Mirko Djeric, Majok Deng and Mojave King spaced around Machado.
“Just that consistency of application of what it is we’re doing, defensive intent, aggressiveness, willingness to bust through and make the appropriate plays at the defensive end, and the ball movement offensively,” he said.
“Cairns have shown the last couple of games they’ve been sitting in zone for 30 of the 40 minutes so we've got to be smart and diligent about that, we’ve got to move the ball and set great screens and make the right reads.”