R8 Preview: Adelaide 36ers vs Melbourne United

When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 22 January 2022

Adelaide Entertainment Centre

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?
Melbourne 102 (Hopson 19, Landale 19, Lual-Acuil 16) d Adelaide 80 (Crocker 27, Johnson 18, Paul 14), Round 21 2021, Adelaide Entertainment Centre

With Adelaide’s season in the dustbin and United gearing up for their championship run, this final-round contest was anything but, Scotty Hopson and Jock Landale the stars, and Melbourne’s bench dominant to the tune of 44-8 as their team won every quarter.

What happened last start?

There was no romp for United last round, outlasting Illawarra in a game that started as an incredible spectacle, but ended in a physical grind as two outstanding teams locked in defensively. Melbourne’s shooting was wayward (32% on threes, 44% on twos, 60% on ones), but they once again manhandled an opponent into submission in the fourth term.

Adelaide didn’t wait until the final stanza, punching Perth with a 29-13 opening term to make a mockery of their 31-day break between games. The 36ers led by as many as 28 in the second term, but the COVID lay-off took its toll as the Wildcats narrowed that gap to eight with 3:37 to play. As he had all game, Cam Bairstow stood tall and sealed the deal.

Who’s in form?

Cam Bairstow – The Bear has been a quiet achiever off the bench this season, but with Isaac Humphries limited he grabbed his opportunity to start with both hands, with 19 points in 24 minutes at 67 per cent, 10 rebounds, 4 o-boards, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Bairstow has hit 5/9 from deep in three Adelaide wins, compared to 1/8 in three defeats.

Caleb Agada – The Nigerian might have had an off-shooting night in Wollongong, but he still contributed 15 rebounds, 4 o-boards, 2 steals and just 1 turnover in 30 minutes, while playing a major role in the shutdown of Tyler Harvey. Remarkably, United are +105 with their import guard on the floor and -20 with him benched. Next in line is Delly with +74.

Who needs to be?

Sunday Dech – Coach Bruton has his work cut out matching Melbourne’s perimeter trio of Delly, CG43 and Agada, and choosing where to send Dech? United are yet to lose with CG43, who is nailing 4 triples at 41 per cent, so he could be the man. Dech was aggressive offensively in his return game, and Bruton needs him making Goulding work on D.

Jo Lual-Acuil – Bairstow and Daniel Johnson hit 5/10 from long range in the win over the Wildcats, punishing Perth’s sagging big men. Reath and Harry Froling nailed 6/10 against United last round, so Jo and Co must balance rim protection with showing a hand. With Humphries out, Lual-Acuil has a serious length advantage and needs to go to work inside.

Who’s statting up?

 - The 36ers average 10.7 three-pointers at 41 per cent in wins, compared to 4.7 at 23 per cent in defeat

 - In their past two games, Melbourne have leaked 13.5 triples at 39 per cent, after giving up just 7.7 at 27 per cent in their opening six contests

 - Adelaide grabbed a whopping 42 per cent of available o-boards against Perth, winning second chance points 22-13. In their three wins they lead that stat 51-21, while in three losses they are 37-37

 - Melbourne have forced opponents into 367 missed field goals this season but allowed just 72 o-boards (19.6%). In their six-game winning streak they’ve allowed just 7 second chance points per night

Who’s matching up?

Mitch McCarron v Matthew Dellavedova – Has there been a better backcourt match-up on paper all season? United’s title-winning point guard, who was the ultimate do-it-all floor general for the champs, taking on the do it-all leader his former team replaced him with, and Delly’s 33-point, 9-assist, 7-triple outburst against the Hawks showed exactly why.

McCarron was his aggressive best against Perth, leading the slowdown of Bryce Cotton while delivering 10 points, 12 boards, 8 assists and a ridiculous +30. His early attack set the tone, and he needs to similarly put Melbourne’s D on the backfoot. Meanwhile the job of disrupting Delly – who has a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio – is of vital importance.

Who’s talking the talk?

Dean Vickerman didn’t need to watch Mitch McCarron’s masterpiece against Perth to know how good he is. But of course he did.

“Against Perth he was the most influential player on the floor,” Vickerman said.

“He is a quality player, and he is going to get defensive rebounds and push it at pace and make others better.”

And so the Melbourne boss has given his team a very simple task ahead of Saturday night’s match-up in Adelaide.

“We are going to try and make him as uncomfortable as possible,” he said.

“It is a good match-up. (Dellavedova) will go and guard different guys and Shea Ili, Caleb, we have multiple people to throw at him.

“He is certainly a major area of focus for us defensively.”

Money Making Mitch toyed with a triple-double against the Cats, bursting with energy after 31 days on the sidelines.

“It was amazing to get back on the floor. Sitting in a house when you’re not sick at all is frustrating in the middle of the season,” McCarron said.

“You sit out for a month and you realise, ‘Man this sucks’. When you’re used to going everyday and playing, you get that competitive edge every morning and then you sit in your house for a couple of weeks – or you get a couple of trainings in and then you’re back in isolation – the best part about this job is going at it every day and working to get to a goal as a group.

“We got to see everyone enjoy that tonight.”

Anyone who knows McCarron understands the true professional he is, and he speaks no word of a lie that he’ll treat his former team like any other game.

“Obviously I've got a lot of great relationships back at United, I had an incredible three years there,” he said.

“It will be great to see those guys and see how they’ve progressed in their lives and have chats, but at the end of the day whoever comes into our gym we’re trying to get a win.

“It happens to be Melbourne United and they're on a roll, I think it’s six in a row now, so we've got to be ready.”

McCarron must be ready for a red-hot Delly, who do not surprise coach Vickerman with his offensive masterclass in Wollongong.

“You go through the number of years he was a 40 per cent shooter in the NBA and the way he shot it in college, it’s been there a lot of his career,” Vickerman said.

“We see him work on it every day, we know how hard he worked even in the last couple of weeks when we didn’t play so many games. It’s great to see hard work rewarded with the performance he put in today, and that was a special one.”

Dellavedova was quick to praise a Melbourne unit that has quickly gelled into a formidable, team-first outfit.

“It’s just about trying to get open for a look,” he said.

“I think especially in that second quarter, out in transition our bigs did a really good job of running the floor and I just trailed in for a couple of threes, and Caleb and Shili found me for a couple.”

While Delly stole the headlines, Melbourne took care of the ball, continuing their lockdown D and defensive rebounding dominance to spark that deadly transition game.

“It’s been all different people. Shea Ili, Brad Newley came up with big rebounds, Mason Peatling the other night and tonight Caleb Agada came up with big rebounds," Vickerman said.

“For your off-guard to get 15 rebounds in a game, which he’s done double-figure rebounds a number of times, it’s been one of our strengths as a group.

“Having Jack White, probably his best game since returning from injury. He just attacks the glass, and sometimes he doesn’t get it but he tips it to others and it’s a weapon for us.”

White needs to be a defensive weapon on Daniel Johnson, Lual-Acuil must extend against Bairstow, Dellavedova and Ili need to subdue McCarron, and together they must execute against Adelaide’s pick-and-roll game.

At the other end, can Johnson keep White and Peatling off the o-boards? Can Bairstow defend Lual-Acuil inside? Can Todd Withers match Agada’s intensity? And can Sunday Dech put on a two-way performance on Chris Goulding in just his second game back?

“His energy is contagious and he always believe in himself. I told him he was going to pinch-hit for us in this game, but he did more than pinch-hit,” coach Bruton said after the win over Perth.

“For someone who hasn’t played a game for us this year, he showed everyone his ability to impact the game not only at the defensive end but also offensively.”


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