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R4 Preview: Melbourne v Perth

A top of the table clash headlines a big Thursday night of basketball, as Melbourne United fight to maintain their winning streak against the Perth Wildcats. For those numerically orientated, every game has a magic number and for this match it is 29. The last 29 teams that have started a season undefeated after five games (as Melbourne are at present) have all gone on to make the NBL Finals, while 29 is the current number of years the Wildcats have qualified. Melbourne will still remain on top of the ladder even if they drop this game but the opportunity to create a gap on the rest of the field will be incentive enough. To do it against the most consistent team in the competition's history will provide extra motivation. While consistency is a hallmark of Wildcats basketball, last week was not a good example of that. A massive home loss to Townsville after having a winning lead was very out of character, but to then go to the Illawarra and out shoot the red hot Hawks was also unusual. As the ladder stands right now, Perth (2nd) have already beaten 3rd (Adelaide 36ers), 4th(New Zealand Breakers) and 5th(Illawarra Hawks) so it is hard to suggest they are anything but headed for an unprecedented 30th straight trip to the finals. Even with the well-documented injuries to Damian Martin, Casey Prather and a collection of battered and bruised bodies they throw out there, the effort remains first class and they must be respected. Some critics have suggested Melbourne have had a soft start with a vast majority of their games at home and have had a roster that has been injury free, until this week. Import forward Hakim Warrick will be missing with a groin strain, putting a fair bit of pressure on youngster Majok Majok. Majok is leading the League in rebounding at present and couldn’t be more impressive in his first NBL season. However, he will be tested against the Wildcats frontline that is, year after year, the best rebounding team in the business and already have 30 more boards than their opponents in their first four games. Traditionally this fixture has been about Offense vs Defense, but the way the Wildcats posted a League-high 106 last week was impressive so they may choose to go head-to-head with Melbourne’s outrageous weaponry but that is unlikely. Expect a close to the basket, inside the paint battle where the Perth big guys will look to dominate. There is no shortage of quality in this match with Stephen Holt vs Jermaine Beal an example. Both are in the top ten for scoring and assists and both have a deadly perimeter game but can drive to the basket with ease.  Melbourne must be aware of Jesse Wagstaff who has made more threes than any other Wildcat this year despite coming off the bench, while scoring machine Chris Goulding will be the number one job for Jarrod Kenny to curb after a season high 26-points last week against Cairns. Fast Facts

NUMBER ONE - Even though this is a game between the two top teams, Melbourne will remain on top of the ladder even if they lose this game. United will be 5-1 with a loss (83.3%) while Perth will be 4-1 with a win (80.0%)

NEW BEST - The Wildcats scored 106 points last week at Illawarra which is the most ever scored by a Trevor Gleeson coached team in 156 games of 40-minute basketball.

BATTLE OF THE BEST - Melbourne are yet to lose at home (0-4) this year while Perth are yet to lose on the road. (0-2).

NEW HIGH - Perth scored just 63 on Friday and posted 106 on Sunday. That 43-point improvement was the best increase between games over a weekend in Wildcats history. The previous best was 39 with 114 points at Eastside and then scored 153 at Tigers the next day in 1987.

MISSING MARTIN - Damien Martin has missed 44 games through injury in his career, which has affected six of his nine NBL seasons.

BOARD BUSTER - Majok Majok is leading the League in rebounding at 11.2 per game. He is on track to be the second Australian player to ever average double figure rebounds in his rookie season. The only other local player to do that was Luke Schenscher with Adelaide in 2009 who averaged 10.8 per game (but he had already completed two stints in the NBA before he played in the NBL.)

 
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