R6 Preview: Sydney Kings vs Adelaide 36ers

When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Sunday 21 February

John Cain Arena, Melbourne

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

The last time
Sydney 94 (Ware 27, Martin 23, Vasiljevic 15) d Adelaide 75 (Johnson 21, Dech 13, Giddey 11, Mudronja 11), Round 4, Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Things didn’t look good for Sydney walking into this Round 4 clash – without four players and having lost three of four games to open the season – but they looked a lot better walking out. The Kings unveiled a new defensive approach which completely nullified Adelaide’s interior game, then executed superbly at the offensive end for a dominant win.  

The now
Just when things seemed on the up, with Didi Louzada back and Daniel Kickert due to return this week, star import Jarell Martin is expected to be sidelined for up to a month. It will force another change in the way the Kings play at both ends, but expect their guards to be up-and-in to test out Adelaide’s lack of backcourt depth, and the likes of Louzada, Brad Newley and DJ Vasiljevic to attack in the open floor, after they failed to capitalise in that area against the Hawks.

The 36ers bounced back from that defeat by destroying the Bullets in Brisbane, but two nights later their roller-coaster season continued as Nathan Sobey and Co repaid the favour in Adelaide. While it’s still early in the season, a pattern is emerging with the 36ers’ inability to solve the puzzle when opponents adjust in the rematch, especially when it comes to getting Isaac Humphries good looks close to the basket.

The stats

 - In the first game of their four back-to-backs, the 36ers have averaged 50 points in the paint on 55 per cent shooting from two-point range. In the return games, those numbers are 35.5 and 46 per cent

 - Adelaide outscored the Kings 67-50 from two-pointers and free throws in the first meeting, but lost that count 48-52 in the rematch, accounting for 21 of the 24-point turnaround

 - Sydney have launched 65 three-pointers in two games against the Sixers, accounting for 47 per cent of their field-goal attempts

 - The Kings lead opponents 74-27 on fast break points this season, however they were beaten 0-2 in that category against Illawarra last week

The key men

Isaac Humphries – In Adelaide, ‘L’ stands for both a loss and a lack of shots for Humphries, and they generally coincide. In defeat, big Ice is taking just 8.3 field-goal attempts and scoring 11 points per game. In wins those numbers skyrocket to 15 shots and 22ppg. Interestingly, there is no such discrepancy for Daniel Johnson, who averages 20.6 and 21.8 points in Ws and Ls, and his perimeter passing game could be the key to finding Humphries looks when the offence is bogged down.

Shaun Bruce – Coach Adam Forde has lifted some of Casper Ware’s workload and put it in the capable hands of Bruce, who has dished out 21 assists in the past three games – with just 7 turnovers – to help deliver two crucial wins and almost pip the hot Hawks. Bruce’s aggression on both sides of the ball will be crucial in unsettling the classy Josh Giddey, disrupting Adelaide’s offence and getting his teammates open-floor scoring opportunities, where they are arguably the best in the league.

The quotes

It seemed like another down moment in an incredibly tough start to the season for Sydney.

The Kings had been on the road for a month, dropped two of their first three games, watched as the injury bug continued to bite key players, and were now 17 points behind Adelaide early in the fourth quarter.

With 7087 rabid 36ers supporters baying for blood, and Isaac Humphries proving an immovable force inside, it could easily have run down the proverbial leg for Adam Forde’s men, but they made a stand.

“In that fourth quarter we didn’t give up, we showed that fight that we have and that’s something to build on for the next game,” point guard Casper Ware said.

The next eight minutes saw the Kings bring the defensive heat and play offence without a conscience as they charged back within three points, an approach that has held them in good stead since.

“(We) found ourselves down 17 in the fourth, and then we just started trying to full-court press, a 14-2 run we made it a ball game, but unfortunately we just ran out of legs,” Forde said.

The Kings had been monstered by Humphries, Cam Oliver and to an extent Tyrell Harrison inside in the early stages of NBL21.

It took until the final term in Adelaide to click that defending the paint in the post-Bogut era had to be done a little differently, but come the rematch two nights later they were ready to do it as a team, not rely on a big fella in the middle.

“They sat in deep on our bigs and took our post game away, then they blew up our pick-and-roll coverage,” 36ers coach Connor Henry said.

“We quite frankly couldn't throw out of that and couldn't find the easy pass to counter that.”

For Henry, it highlighted what he already knew, that while his big-man combo of Humphries and Daniel Johnson is the best in the league, if his team plays slow-ball then other teams can starve them of interior touches.

“We need to get out in the open floor and run some, get some easier baskets,” he said.

“Right now, offensively when we push the pace and we get it through hands our offence is pretty efficient and it’s free flowing.”

They did that in Brisbane to open Round 5, grabbing 73 per cent of their defensive boards and scoring 17 points from turnovers en route to a 15-point win.

But fast forward to the return date in Adelaide and they were dominated in the effort areas, managed just 6 points from turnovers and were smashed by 19 points.

“I thought we’d come out and match their intensity, which we didn’t, they played harder and faster than we did,” Henry said.

“We gave up 15 offensive rebounds, 11 in the first half, automatically we’re on our heels. Shots are going up and we’ve got three guys on our team ball-watching and a couple of guys underneath fighting for their lives, holding and scratching and clawing.”

They’d better fix it against the Kings, who will be smarting after another slow start cost them a win against Illawarra in the NSW derby.

“That first half wasn’t great again,” Forde said.

“We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole to start. I can’t fault the guys for stepping up (but) why do we have to wait until we have a double-digit deficit or our backs against the wall to shift that momentum? We’ve got to be better from the start.”

A Sydney win will move them ahead of the 36ers, something that seemed most unlikely three weeks ago, and would confirm that Henry’s men had wasted their friendly early draw.

“The record is what it is, I wish we were a couple more wins higher, but we’re not,” Henry said.

“These first nine games have been gruelling in the sense that our first six games were in 15 days, that took a lot, and we've had a couple of games in a couple of weeks which has helped us get back some of that fatigue.

“We’ll take it, it’s not the best but we’re in the mix with everybody else with a long way to go.”



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