R7 Preview: Adelaide 36ers vs Perth Wildcats

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Tuesday 18 January 2022

Adelaide Entertainment Centre

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?
Perth 85
(Law 37, Cotton 16, Travers 15) d Adelaide 73 (Johnson 22, Bairstow 15, Hannahs 10) - Round 1, RAC Arena, Perth

Vic Law won last time, announcing his arrival in the wild west with a withering 37-point display in front of almost 12,000 new fans. Adelaide led by two in the shadows of three-quarter-time, but a 21-6 run across the final break broke the visitors’ resistance.

What happened last start?

The 36ers’ last game – a 26-point hiding in Cairns – was 31 days ago, and their fans have obviously forgotten with a big crowd expected on Tuesday night. Adelaide had no answers for the Snakes’ aggression and ball movement, thoroughly beaten in the open court and half-court as they fell 40 points behind, before adding a smidgeon of respectability late.

Perth showed a heap of grit in Cairns on New Year's Eve, recovering from an 18-point deficit in the opening term, thanks to 19 second-quarter points from Bryce Cotton. The MVP scored all of his 29 in the middle periods, leaving the 'Cats to get it done without Bryce scoring in the final 10 minutes, their defence locking down the Snakes and Law draining nine crucial points.

Who’s in form?

Dusty Hannahs – After a shaky start, Hannahs’ game-winner in Hobart has sparked a run of form, knocking in 45 points at 65 per cent in the past two games, the Sixers +15 with their shooter on the floor, compared to -28 in his 28 minutes on the bench. Given Sunday Dech’s defensive importance, Hannahs may move to the bench, can he be a sparkplug sixth man?

Vic Law – Thanks to his 32-point mauling of Tassie and 37 on Adelaide, Law sits third in NBL scoring with 23ppg at 52 per cent and 18/37 from range. He scored 28 points from ‘ones and twos’ against Adelaide last time, creating headaches for how they will defend him. Do they again start with Daniel Johnson, or do they get funky and give Todd Withers the job?

Who needs to be?

Daniel Johnson – DJ often saves his best for his home-town team, averaging 20.1ppg in his past 10 meetings, including 22 points in a dominant inside display in Round 1. With Luke Travers out, the 36ers must involve Johnson possession after possession to make Law work hard at the defensive end, and tempt the Wildcats to send help and open up shooters.

Majok Majok – In 40.5 minutes per game, Cam Bairstow and Isaac Humphries combine for 20.8ppg, 12.6rpg, 5.2orpg, 2.0apg and 1.6bpg, even without Ice finding anything like last season’s form yet. In Round 1, they pulled in seven o-boards between them as Adelaide grabbed 38 per cent at that end, so Majok and Hodgson need to get down and dirty on the d-boards.

Who’s statting up?

 - Perth held the Taipans to 12 points on 3/19 shooting in the final term on NYE – with 11 attempts from outside – and forced five turnovers. Perth are undefeated in fourth quarters, allowing only 15.3 points

 - In their sole loss to Brisbane, the Wildcats gave up 33 points from the arc at 39 per cent. In their five wins they’ve conceded just 16.8 points from outside at 23 per cent

 - The 36ers hit 3/21 from the arc Round 1 in Perth. In wins they’ve scored 31.5 points from triples at 43 per cent, compared to 14 points at 23 per cent in their three losses

 - In that Round 1 game, Daniel Johnson scored 19 points from ‘ones and twos’ at 85 per cent from two-point range. His teammates managed just 46 per cent from inside the arc

Who’s matching up?

Sunday Dech v Bryce Cotton – How much game time can we expect from Dech in his first game of the season? Coach Bruton will be hoping for plenty, as his unassuming two-guard is one of the league’s best match-ups for the MVP, who shot just 38 per cent against the 36ers last season, including a wayward 9/33 from long range.

The pair’s battles date back to some legendary Wildcats training sessions, and ahead of his first game of NBL22 Dech said: “I have played against him for a lot of years now and kind of know his game. That doesn’t make him any easier to guard.”

Who’s talking the talk?

In his column for 36ers fans, Adelaide guard Sunday Dech revealed his first encounter with new coach CJ Bruton when seeking a spot on the Bullets’ roster.

“CJ and I have a relationship that goes back to 2018 when I first came back from college and worked out for him in Brisbane for the Bullets,” Dech wrote.

“For anyone that knows him, the common denominator is that MAN HE CAN TALK!

“Here I am trialing for a spot on the Bullets being all serious and no nonsense, whilst their assistant coach is trash talking me and trying to place bets in shooting drills.”

Now, just imagine how much post-training trash talk went on between Bruton and Vic Law when he was a Bullets import. One of the NBL’s all-time clutch shooters and an import straight off some quality burn in the NBA bubble.

So really, it was no surprise that when Law made his Wildcats debut against Bruton’s new team, he poured in 37 points.

“Vic Law told me he was going to do that,” Bruton said.

“He told me in the pre-season after we shut him down and he didn’t get very many looks, he was very upset, that’s Vic Law.”

The 36ers had great success crowding Law at the Blitz, and while the temptation was to do it again, Bruton realised the Wildcats would be ready, and chose to put more defensive eggs in the Bryce Cotton basket.

The result on that front was excellent, the MVP shooting just 4/15 and cutting a frustrated figure at times.

“Bryce worked hard, we did a good job on him and I thought we did a good job on most of their players,” Bruton said.

Of course, with one minute left in the third term Adelaide trailed by just three points, despite Law having 25 points. His teammates had just 38 points at 39 per cent, the strategy was holding firm.

Nek minute. Law then scored Perth next seven points to unleash the 21-6 run that put the game beyond the visitors’ reach. Vic proved a nightmare, scoring nine points from long range, 12 from mid-range and 14 from close range to take whatever the defence gave him.

While Adelaide’s defensive struggles with Law were the talking point in Round 1, the real story was their late-game offence, or lack thereof.

After scoring 61 points in the opening 29 minutes, they managed only 12 in the final 11.

Why? Their five final-quarter turnovers were the biggest reason, gifting the Wildcats 10 extra shot attempts as they also got leaky on the defensive glass.

Turnovers were a huge issue last start in Cairns too, coughing the ball up 20 times as they were smacked 16-4 on fast break points.

The tale of Adelaide’s season has been concentration – too many turnovers, giving up key o-boards, slow starts, and at-times horrific transition defence – at that reared its ugly head again in the Far North.

“We didn’t come out with the intensity that it takes to be successful in the NBL,” Bruton said.

“Early we didn’t match that, we didn’t play with the physicality they did, we didn’t get up-and-in as the game unfolded we threw the ball over, which led to transition points.

“The sprint back, we were caught in between are we guarding our man, are we getting back?”

No team punishes those mental errors better than Perth, who used their own storied resilience to mount an incredible comeback in Cairns.

“I felt like we played as poor as we could have possibly played, but we knew if we chip away and play the way that we’re supposed to, particularly at the defensive end, our offence would take care of itself,” Cotton said.

“It was a collective effort, I had some spurts where I made some good plays, Fraze did a hell of a job on the defensive end getting some great steals, Jook, Jesse, we all played our part.

“I think that’s a good learning lesson for us ... we’ve just got to do a better job of not playing in spurts.”

The Wildcats were hoping to have a full line-up on deck following their 19-day lay-off, but instead enter the Adelaide Entertainment Centre without Travers, Kyle Zunic and quite possibly Todd Blanchfield.

With coach Scott Morrison also trying to work Mitch Norton, Michael Frazier and Matt Hodgson back into the rotations, he has his hands full finding combinations that work.

“I like to think that everyone plays well together when they play the right way,” he said.

“In our practices I try to mix up our line-ups so guys can get a chance to play with different people and get a feel for what guys like to do and not do on the court together, but I think we have a pretty good chemistry.

“It doesn’t really matter who I put out there, they play hard, they play as a team and that’s been the two main reasons for our success so far.”


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