R3 Preview: Brisbane Bullets v Cairns Taipans

When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 30 January

Where: Nissan Arena, Brisbane

Broadcast: SBS Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time
Brisbane 124 (Sobey 30, Gliddon 25, Singler 21) d Cairns 88 (Deng 20, Oliver 13, Krslovic 12), Round 20, 2019/20, Nissan Arena

What a remarkable game this was. The Brisbane Bullets had to win this by 33 points against the finals bounce Cairns Taipans in the final round to be any chance of reaching the playoffs. They got the job done in spectacular fashion as they turned the heat on the Snakes forcing 27 turnovers for 32 points. It wasn’t quite enough as Melbourne knocked them out the next day but it was quite the show.

The now
The Brisbane Bullets should be feeling good about themselves after recording their first win of #NBL21 on Tuesday against the Sydney Kings. They had lost their opening two matches on their home floor both against the undefeated Hawks, but on Tuesday they looked good in a 90-87 victory as they now attempt to build some momentum from that again at home against the Taipans on Saturday.

It's a fourth straight home game for the Bullets and slipping to 1-3 would mean they haven’t made the most of this early season opportunity. Going 2-2 after losing the opening two matches would be a good result and they will be hoping for similar performances from Nathan Sobey and Vic Law again to show the way. Sobey had 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds against Sydney, Law delivered 27 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and two assists. 

If they can continue that form and Matt Hodgson, Tyrell Harrison and Harry Froling deliver up front, Orlando Johnson keeps finding his groove and Anthony Drmic and Jason Cadee make good contributions, then it's a group that could prove a strong one.

What an opportunity the opening five games presented for a Cairns Taipans team that were the fairytale story of a season ago. Most of the group returned despite the loss of DJ Newbill, but they brought in Next Star Mojave King and Jordan Ngatai, and the rest of the group that went within one game of a Grand Final was back. To then start the season at home, it was a great chance and the Snakes won in Round 1 against the Sydney Kings, but they have now lost their past four.

The two losses against the Hawks were especially disappointing by a combined 36 points and now the Snakes hit the road for the first time in #NBL21 at 1-4 and they just can't afford to slip to 1-5 knowing that a significant stretch away from Cairns is in their future.

The Taipans can't ask for much more from superstar imports Cam Oliver and Scott Machado. They now need others to stand up and replacing Newbill's defensive presence and offensive output has proven more of a challenge than anyone might have expected. So it's up to others to stand up if they are to get back to winning on Saturday in Brisbane.

The stats
- By delivering 27 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in Tuesday's win over Sydney, Vic Law became the first Brisbane Bullets player to put up such numbers since Andre Moore in 1993. Law was two years of age at the time.

- By combining for 53 points on Tuesday against Sydney, Vic Law and Nathan Sobey became the first teammates in #NBL21 on the same team to score at least 25 points in a match.

- First quarters haven’t been fun for the Taipans so far this season. Across the opening five matches, they have been behind at quarter-time in each of them. Even more concerning from the 20 quarters the Snakes have played, they've only led at the end of one of them.

- The Taipans need to find their groove offensively. Right now they are the lowest scoring team in the league at 81.8 points a game while shooting at 41.4 per cent as a team. A season ago, they averaged 92.3 points and shot at 48.1 per cent.

The key men
Vic Law – He was signed virtually as a replacement for Lamar Patterson who had been in contention to be called the best player in the league over his past two seasons with the Bullets. So the pressure was on Law to be a difference maker in that forward role for the Bullets but he's shown that he is a tremendous all-round talent who can score, bring his teammates into the game and also play good defence. That forward spot that he fills presents a real chance for the Bullets to have a big advantage in against the Taipans.

Everyone but Oliver and Machado – Obviously for the Taipans to succeed this season they need big things from Cam Oliver and Scott Machado. But Oliver has started the season well and then Machado is having to deal with the opposition throwing all their defensive focus onto him. What the Taipans need is the support cast to now stand up or they just are not going to win games. They need another playmaker and shot creator. Nate Jawai needs to give Oliver a chop out inside. Majok Deng, Kouat Noi and Mojave King must be aggressive offensively. How the support cast goes will determine how the Snakes go.

The quotes
Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis had no question what Vic Law was capable of coming into the season, but like all imports across the league, a short preparation was always going to make a fast start challenging.

But based on what he saw from Law against the Kings on Tuesday, he couldn’t be happier with him.

"We always knew Vic was a great player and that it was always just going to take him a little time too to find his feet within the group, and us to understand him and for him to understand the league as well," Lemanis said. 

"It was great to see him shoot at such a great percentage and I thought he took good shots, and took his time. The team also did a good job of utilising him and putting him in good positions to be successful so that was good. 

"One of the most pleasing things is that he plays defence, he cares about defence, he rebounds, he wants big assignments and he's a good teammate. That's really the Holy Grail once you get good players who are also good teammates. Then you've got a chance to actually be decent as a team."

Then there is Nathan Sobey who has started this season brilliantly for the Bullets and his 23.0 points a game has him on track to average the most points for a Brisbane player in the 40-minute era.

For Lemanis, it's about much more than just the scoring punch though.

"He was a great example again of when we talk about the improvement and the growth within the group over the course of a couple of weeks since the season started," Lemanis said.

"Even last week in those situations I think we settled for three-point shots because we weren’t quite sure what else to do so it basically becomes the dagger ball or anything. But in this game we showed better poise and composure, spacing on the floor and getting to a point where we could get Sobes downhill and he made the effort to get to the rim. 

"He made some big plays at the rim and then there were times when he made a nice read after the defence did a decent job, and continued to keep hold of the ball and made an intelligent play rather than forcing something. It was gradual improvement again in the group overall and that was reflected in the way Sobes approached it particularly in the second half."

Taipans coach Mike Kelly was happy enough with the start against the Hawks on Thursday, but once the turnovers started to mount, that’s when he noticed the Hawks start to get rolling.

"We just have to take care of the ball better offensively. I go back to that first quarter because they started to establish themselves right at the end there when we turned the ball over a few times, and gave them some good looks and they knocked them down," Kelly said.

"Transition points come easily for the opposition when you turn the ball over so we just have to take care of the ball. We end up with 13 turnovers which is too many in a grinding game like that when you're not shooting well. We need to take care of the ball."

Panic is the last thing that's going to be happening with Kelly and the Snakes, though, as they look to shake off winning just one of the opening five games at home to come down to Brisbane and win their first road game of the season.

"I'm getting old now and I've played with a lot of teams that were good and a lot of teams that were bad, and I've coached with a lot of teams that were good and bad," Kelly said.

"I've never seen panic help so we're not going to panic. We're going to try and get better before playing against a really good team down in Brisbane so we're not going to panic. We chose this group of players because we believe in them in both their character and their playing ability. 

"So if we're panicking we chose the wrong guys and I don’t think that's the case. We're going to stick together and let people outside of our group panic for us. We are going to try and get better and try to go get those Brisbane Bullets."


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