Hungry Jack's NBL
R6 Preview: New Zealand Breakers v Melbourne United
When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 7 November
Where: Spark Arena, Auckland
Broadcast: Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand
The last time
Melbourne 104 (Long 27, Goulding 24, Trimble 24) d New Zealand 98 (Ashley 24, Hopson 17, Webster 17), Round 4, Melbourne Arena
New Zealand led this one by 11 just four minutes with Corey Webster, Scotty Hopson and RJ Hampton getting loose and Brandon Ashley cashing in. That lead was 12 points two minutes into the second stanza but Melo Trimble scored eight of the next 10 points to turn the game. The contest see-sawed in the second half as Shawn Long came to the fore, and a Mitch McCarron-inspired 25-12 run in the final nine minutes sealed the deal for United.
That was Melbourne’s desperately-needed first win, but impressive Ws over the Phoenix and Sydney in Round 5 now have them just one game behind fourth place, and a pair of triumphs over NZ and Adelaide this week will likely put them inside the top four. While Dean Vickerman teams are known for their D, this year’s reincarnation is doing it with the O, giving up the league’s third most points but sitting second at the offensive end.
Statistically, New Zealand’s defence has been impressive, ranked second in the NBL in defensive rating and defensive field-goal percentage, but they have been unable to get the job done when the game’s on the line. Take away their blowout win over Illawarra, and the Breakers have been conceding a tight 41.6 points in first halves, but allowing an unhealthy 47.4 after the main break, putting all sorts of pressure on their offence down the stretch.
- The Breakers are 1-5 in second halves this season, with a points differential of -46 in those five, an average of -9.2 points per 20 minutes.
- In three of New Zealand’s four losses they have shot at over 50 per cent from two-point range and above 35 per cent from three
- United rank second in the NBL in offensive rating, effective field-goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, points per game and third in three-point makes and accuracy
- Melbourne have averaged 107ppg in their three triumphs, with Chris Goulding, Shawn Long and Trimble combining for 70.7ppg, which is 66 per cent of their team’s score
Brandon Ashley v Shawn Long – This contest was a belter back in Round 4, the MVP candidate Long against the man who effectively replaced him at the Breakers. Ashley clinically punished his counterpart’s pick-and-roll defence early on, scoring 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the opening 22 minutes as he teamed brilliantly with Webster.
United changed up their defensive schemes more after intermission to protect Long, and then gave their big man more of the rock to let him get some payback. The result was Ashley in foul trouble for most of the second half – spending just 10:31 on court – Long accumulating 17 points and 7 boards after the break and Melbourne getting the win.
Corey Webster v Chris Goulding – It’s the Breaker who averaged 22.8ppg at the World Cup, dropping a casual 55 per cent from long range, then ran up 19 points and 8 dimes on Memphis, against the United stalwart who stunned Team USA with 19 points and then owned Sacramento with 25 on 7-of-10 from long range. It doesn’t get much better than this.
While this pair probably won’t spend a lot of time guarding each other, their ‘battle’ is important given both can create scores out of nothing when the offence has stalled. Goulding has had just one game scoring below 17 points, and one with less the three made triples. Webster started a little slowly as the Breakers fitted their pieces together, but since taking over more playmaking duties has averaged 19.5ppg and 6.5apg in four outings.
It was nine games into the 1997 NBL season and things weren’t looking good for the Melbourne Tigers at 3-9, coming off hidings from Canberra and Townsville and back-to-back Ls at the hands of Sydney.
The previous season’s runners-up appeared to have slipped so badly that long-time and highly-respected Herald-Sun basketball writer Chris Appleby penned a lengthy opinion piece calling for Lindsay Gaze to step down as Tigers coach.
The rest, of course, is history. Injury-hampered import Jarvis Lang made way for an athlete by the name of Marcus Timmons and Melbourne won 20 of their final 23 games to claim the title.
While no one was calling for Dean Vickerman’s resignation after United’s slow start to this season, his team was heading into dangerous waters.
The 1997 Tigers were 2-5 after seven games, while the 1999 Adelaide 36ers and 2000 Perth Wildcats were both 3-4. Since then, no NBL team has won the championship after being in negative territory seven games in.
Following last round’s pair of stirring wins in Round 5, Melbourne also sit 3-4 but suddenly with a head of steam, looking like a team with purpose.
They’ve received more good news, with championship import Casey Prather a strong chance to make his season’s debut on Thursday following knee surgery.
Two seasons ago he made his return from injury against Perth and had 14 points in 17 minutes, and his coach has fingers crossed for more of the same.
“Right now he’s got a ticket, he’s going, and we expect him to see some kind of minutes if everything goes well over there,” Vickerman said.
“He gassed himself out in three minutes or four minutes (against Perth), and then he did it again. That’s the hope for him that he can play some shirt bursts but do it at a high level.”
A fit Prather will give United speed and daring in the open floor, something Vickerman’s been searching for since his team’s Round 1 loss to SE Melbourne.
“We were trying to play a faster pace in the pre-season but we were one foot in, one foot out tonight, we didn’t really push the pace,” he said.
The combination of injured stars and three ensuing clashes with the more methodical styles of Perth and Cairns didn’t allow United to unleash their Tall Blacks-inspired running game.
But their three wins have told a different story, with fellow high-speed teams in the Breakers, Phoenix and Kings effectively letting the dogs out.
Melbourne have averaged 107ppg in those contests, taking 80 field goals and 27.7 free throws per game, up from 71 and 17.5 in their four losses.
That’s come from them pushing the pace and attacking the rim off the bounce – they rank second in scoring but second last in assists – and getting up-and-in defensively.
That started against New Zealand two weeks ago, and it was Mitch McCarron’s defence that really got United flowing.
“He ignited our pace in the second half,” Vickerman said.
“I thought he really pushed it aggressively and attacked the rim, and we felt there was an advantage there in the first half we didn’t use enough with attacking them and getting two feet in the paint.”
While Long and Goulding had huge nights, and Trimble was important in the first half, it was McCarron’s energy that got the home team over the hump in a game the Breakers led for more than 30 minutes.
For New Zealand, it was another case of the one that got away.
“I don’t like making excuses, but fatigue did kick in, we missed maybe a guy or two in the fourth quarter,” coach Dan Shamir said.
“It always gets tough in the fourth quarter, and we have to get better looks and stops and we didn’t, we have to play better in those moments.”
That’s become a common refrain for Breakers coaches and players.
“We've just got to find a way to close down the stretch, get some good offensive possessions and put together some stops,” Scotty Hopson said that night.
His short-term injury replacement Glen Rice Jr is en route to provide relief, with the Breaker desperate for some shot-making down the stretch.
“At the end of the day it comes down to executing the game plan,” Brandon Ashley said after last week’s loss to Perth where they were -15 in the possession game.
“I feel like we did a decent job of that, we’ve just got to figure out the small things to help us get these wins because we’ve been in every game we’ve lost this season.”
But Shamir feels his team is leaving “everything on the floor” with Hopson, Finn Delany and Rob Loe sidelined, and it’s only a matter of time before they are rewarded in crunch time.
“This is not fun, because we are counting losses, but in the big picture we need to survive this period of the season where we have a lot of guys out and get better, and we are,” he said.
“We’re playing tough teams and we’re playing them well, it’s not an excuse and we can’t be happy because we lose, but we’ve got to keep doing the right things, and in this business good things start happening to you.”