R3 Preview: Melbourne United vs Sydney Kings

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 16 December, 2021

John Cain Arena, Melbourne

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won the last time?
Sydney 79
(Adams 15, Hunter 12, Martin 12) d Melbourne 74 (Lual-Acuil 12, Agada 11, Okwera 10) - Round 1, Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

The Kings controlled this contest until midway through the third term when Melbourne upped the defensive ante and almost pinched it. Sydney struggled with the pressure of Shea Ili and Co, while United shot 25 per cent from the arc and shot themselves in the foot.

What happened last start?

Round 2 was one of the most incredible NBL rounds in memory, both Melbourne and the Kings involved in early-season classics. As they did in Round 1, Dean Vickerman’s men let the horse bolt, giving up a double-digit lead before grinding their way back. United fixed their outside shooting woes and got quality contributions from Matthew Dellavedova and Caleb Agada, a promising sign with partner-in-crime Chris Goulding back this week.

Sydney entered the NSW derby without their starting backcourt but received strong performances from Shaun Bruce, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and Angus Glover to give the Hawks all they could handle before coming up short. Xavier Cooks and Jarell Martin provided plenty of punch, but ultimately their sloppiness with the ball was a key factor, the Kings still finding the balance between their high-paced unselfish style and ball security.

Who’s in form?

Matthew Dellavedova – Round 2 of #NBL22 will long be remembered as when Mitch Creek posterised Matthew Dellavedova, but it might also be the moment Delly got going. While playing his usual tough D, distributing the ball and attacking the hoop, the Boomers legend racked up 19 points, nine boards, five dimes and three steals in a brilliant display.

Angus Glover – How incredible it was to see the ultra-intense Glover out there doing his think at Qudos Bank Arena last Saturday after returning from more knee surgery? His statline of 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes was impressive enough, as was his defence, but it was the second-quarter steal and jam that signalled that Glover is back.

Who needs to be?

Chris Goulding – Tracey Thorn might say United missed Goulding like the deserts miss the rain, shooting just 38 per cent from the field across their opening two games, including a 35 per cent stinker against Sydney. The bad news is CG43 shot just 8/30 from range against the Kings last season, and they need him connecting to draw defenders from the paint.

Xavier Cooks – While a 14-point, 11-rebound, five o-board, five-assist game reads well for most players, Sydney need Cooks at an elite level, and his 4/9 connection from two-point range, 6/11 from the foul line and 4 turnovers weren’t quite up to that standard. To beat Melbourne, the Kings need ‘X’ dominating the d-boards, attacking the cup and converting.

Who’s statting up?

 - Since midway through the third term against Melbourne in Round 1, the Kings have coughed up 27 turnovers in 55 minutes and gifted opponents 34 points from turnovers

 - Sydney ranks first in the NBL in assists (18.0), with frontcourt phenom Cooks remarkably ranked second (5.5) behind only Josh Magette

 - United led the NBL last season in field-goal percentage (47%) and three-point shooting (37%). So far this season they are shooting 38 per cent from the field and 33 per cent from deep

 - Melbourne were +12 with Jo Lual-Acuil on the floor against the Phoenix, and -20 in his 14:22 on the bench. To date they are -22 with Ariel Hukporti on the court

Who’s matching up?

Jarell Martin v Jo Lual-Acuil – Big Jo fought an incredible Throwdown battle with big Zhou, adding 17 points at 50 per cent, seven blocks and four assists. Importantly, after a 4/13 opener against the Kings in Round 1, Jo converted at 50 per cent both inside and out.

Martin was smooth and efficient in that game, but lowered his colours to Duop Reath last Saturday, shooting 1/5 from deep and coughing up 4 miscues. With Mason Peatling out, and Jack White not yet back, it will be intriguing to see the match-ups both coaches deploy.

Who’s talking the talk?


That’s how last season’s rookie sensation DJ Vasiljevic announced his ahead-of-schedule return for Thursday’s capital city clash with Melbourne.

And it’s a welcome tonic for the Kings, with starting point guard Jaylen Adams still sidelined with an ankle injury, and sharp-shooting two-man RJ Hunter in doubt.

The reality for Sydney is, while they’ve shown plenty defensively, and glimpses on offence, they’ve spoon-fed opposition scores with some self-inflicted wounds.

“No one cares about our excuses, who we have, who we don’t, we've got to come out and compete and win,” coach Chase Buford said after his team fell to Illawarra.

“Points off turnovers we got outscored by 19, we give them again some easy points at the end of the game. If we handle our own stuff a little bit better we probably have a chance to win.”

It was the same story against Melbourne in Round 1, only back then their defence held firm.

“I think we were just sloppy with the ball in the fourth quarter, we weren’t really taking care of it, weren’t getting great shots, weren’t executing,” Buford said.

“Credit to Melbourne, they sped us up down the stretch.”

The Kings aren't only team welcoming back a star sophomore from an Achilles injury, with Jack White making his first appearance in a United uniform since early April, but sadly not until Sunday.

For a United team uncharacteristically sitting eighth in defensive rating, White’s early inclusion alongside Shea Ili and Delly will be a huge bonus, but Brad Newley, Dave Barlow and Co will have to step up on Thursday to stunt the Kings.

“Shea and Delly are two elite defenders and I think at times Newley showed some really positive things defensively as well,” coach Dean Vickerman said.

“If we get Caleb (Agada) going and bring Jack White back in, this team can be a really good defensive team.”

While the offence has also struggled, the return of Chris Goulding will make a huge impact there.

“We’re not going to bring him back to play limited minutes, we’re going to bring him back to play,” Vickerman said.

Against Sydney in Round 1, United managed just 74 points at 35 per cent, shooting a horrid 7/28 from deep.

“They do a good job of making you shoot some semi-contested threes,” Vickerman said.

“Some people might look at those and say those are really good shots, but when we took a bunch of them – five or six in a row – and missed them all, we had to change our theory and either go into the post or put our feet in the paint and we didn’t make that adjustment quick enough.

“There was a lot of shooting and missing, and when you don’t have that shooting it clogs the floor up.

“When we need a bucket we certainly got to (Goulding) to create an advantage for us, whether he shoots it or whether he draws a lot of attention that others get open.”

The Kings also struggled offensively in that Round 1 clash.

“The ball was sticky for us tonight, we just didn’t quite move it the way want to move it, we didn’t run the way we want to run,” coach Buford said.

But they got key contributions from Makur Maker and Biwali Bayles off the bench that brought energy to their running game, and they’ll be going deep again in Thursday’s rematch.

“They were terrific, I thought both of them at different moments of the game helped turn the tide for us,” Buford said.

“MK in the first half, he had a couple of offensive rebound put-backs, I think he got a three in the corner and it gave us a little momentum.

“Biwali had a lay-up and a three late when they were close, just really, really big plays, and composure.

“I pulled him aside when he went back out there and said we need a really solid last stint here from you kid, come in and be smart and solid and take care of the ball and he did those things.

“We like to play fast and really, really guard, and if you want to play the way we want to play it’s hard to play 30-plus minutes night in, night out, so we’re going to need our bench.”


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