Hungry Jack's NBL
R4 Preview: SE Melbourne Phoenix v Adelaide 36ers
When: 3pm (AEDT), Sunday 27 October
Where: Melbourne Arena
Broadcast: Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand
The last time
Adelaide 90 (Brooks 21, Cattalini 20, Maher 11, Mee 11) d SE Melbourne 62 (Wheeler 12, Ronaldson 11), Grand Final Game 2, 1998, Melbourne Park
The 36ers began what would be a five-year domination of Brian Goorjian-coached teams with a brutal title-clinching shellacking on SE Melbourne’s home court, forcing 26 turnovers and holding their hosts to just 62 points in 48 minutes on a horrid 30 per cent shooting. Kevin Brooks and Martin Cattalini were the offensive stars for the champs, while Anthony Drmic’s brother Frank finished with 8 points and 11 boards for the conquered.
This battle between a pair of 3-1 teams is big. The winner stays alongside Sydney and Perth as this season’s early leaders, while the loser drops back towards the pack with a tough run coming up. Five of SE Melbourne’s next seven games are against last season’s finalists, while Adelaide face the 2018/19 playoff quartet in sixth of their next eight outings.
The game promises a number of intriguing match-ups, Mitch Creek’s first meeting with the team he served with passion for eight years undoubtedly the highlight, but the Ben Madgen-Ramone Moore shooting guard battle pits two wily mid-rangers head-to-head, while John Roberson and Jerome Randle going at it could well be worth the price of admission.
- There have been nine games so far this NBL season with at least one team scoring over 100 points, and six of those have involved Adelaide or SE Melbourne
- The Phoenix shot 30-of-59 from long range in their opening two games, but just 18-of-65 in their past two. Adelaide have taken a total of 81 triple attempts in four games, making 27
- The 36ers have taken 124 free throws in their four games, while SE Melbourne have been to the charity stripe 73 times in theirs
- In those past two outings, SE Melbourne have forced 14 turnovers and scored 18 just points from turnovers, while Adelaide have forced 36 miscues in their three-game winning streak and converted them into 49 points
John Roberson v Jerome Randle – From chocolates to boiled lollies? Not quite, but the early-season myth that was Roberson’s shooting was brought back to earth by the ‘Cats, and while he is a quality veteran who picks and chooses his spots, have no doubt the Phoenix will run some early sets to get their superstar open looks and make Adelaide adjust.
One of those adjustments will likely be getting Kevin White’s chest in Roberson’s grill, the 36ers sure to use the denial set that was so effective on Aaron Brooks last round. At the other end, Roberson’s job on Randle is just as important, and he’ll be hoping for some help from Creek as Adelaide’s pint-sized pull-up King snakes his way of a myriad of picks.
Mitch Creek v Daniel Johnson – On Friday night SE Melbourne used the Creek Freak as a floating defender, but coach Simon Mitchell admitted that didn’t really work. As one of the NBL’s best defenders, expect Creek to be matched up on the Johnson, the league’s best offensive big man of the ‘naughties’ and the man most dangerous when screening ‘Rome.
Not only is Johnson averaging 20.5ppg at 52 per cent, in the past three games he’s dished out 8 assists, showing he can hurt rotating defences in a number of ways. Defensively, coach Joey Wright will want DJ matched up with Dane Pineau or Keith Benson, but expect the Phoenix to swing Jaye Crockett into the game early to stretch Johnson away from the hoop.
It could be described as a slow build. Usually, as a sporting team, that’s a good thing signifying improvement, but for the SE Melbourne Phoenix it’s quite the opposite.
In the four games of their Hungry Jack’s NBL existence, they’ve conceded 88, 93, 102 and 110 points as the leaks in their defence have grown.
Not only are they giving up more points than in the opening rounds, they're forcing less mistakes and generating fewer points from their D.
“We’re not ahead of ourselves,” coach Simon Mitchell said post-game in Perth.
“I think we’ve been pretty honest with each other about where we need to make improvements. Right now we’re a poor defensive team, we own that.”
After their opening two games Mitchell revealed he had been pleasantly surprised by his team’s defensive output, but added an asterisk that much improvement was still needed, and he has been proven prophetic with Illawarra and Perth both raising their bat since.
“It’s an area that was my primary concern before we even signed a player,” he said.
“As an expansion team, building that chemistry and trust at the defensive end was always going to be something when you cobble a team together of 13 individuals, many of whom had never played together before, and that’s going to be a work in progress throughout the course of the season for us.
“Luckily for us we’ve been shooting the ball well enough to this point that it’s masked a little bit of our deficiencies, but we’re working hard on it and we’ll continue to make improvements on it.”
The Phoenix have missed an incredible 47 three-point shots in the past two games, their caroms often acting as outlet passes for players like Aaron Brooks, Todd Blanchfield, Bryce Cotton and Terrico White.
Of course, the proverbial hit the fan on Friday night in The Jungle when their half-court offence also got bogged down by the best defence in the business over the past decade.
Where star import John Roberson had bailed them out of dry patches in earlier games, he was busy trying to extricate Damian Martin from his shorts and simply didn’t find a way to be effective.
“What I said to him was we need you to be a vocal leader when things aren't going right for you,” Mitchell revealed.
“How do you make others on your team better, don’t take all the pressure on yourself. I thought tonight he went a bit insular.”
One man who rarely goes insular is Randle, and while the 36ers have been their blistering best in transition, they’ve also been getting it down in the half-court to pile on three straight Ws.
“It’s great for me to have someone to be able to go get a bucket when you need a bucket, that makes it easier for me,” coach Joey Wright said earlier in the season.
He was proven right against Cairns on Friday night, Randle scoring 11 points in nine minutes across three-quarter-time as Adelaide blew the game open.
“I thought Jerome was big tonight and that’s why we brought him here, that’s what we want from him,” Wright said.
Where Randle was able to turn the corner on Cairns’ big men after ball-screens – something he can do to most frontcourters in the league – on Sunday he faces a far tougher challenge, with old mate Mitch Creek likely to be on the other side of that action.
While Creek presents his trademark matter-of-fact assessment of playing his former team, he is a proud man, as are the likes of Randle and Daniel Johnson, so this shapes as a battle to savour.
“I spent a lot of time with those guys. I spent all eight years with someone like Daniel Johnson, I obviously had a lot to do with Joey, we had a very, very close relationship as well,” Creek said.
“That’s all good and fine but at the end of the day it’s a basketball game. It’s not a cuddling session and catch up for coffee and biscuits, we've got to go out and do our job and they’ve got to go out and do theirs.”