R8 Preview: Brisbane Bullets vs Sydney Kings

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 21 January 2022

Nissan Arena, Brisbane

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?
Sydney 83 (Martin 28, Ware 14, Kickert 10) d Brisbane 82 (Sobey 22, Johnson 17, Patterson 15), Round 21, 2021, Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

In a classic, see-sawing east-coast contest, Sydney’s possession game dominance and Jarell Martin proved the difference, the mercurial import big dropping 28 points at 61 per cent, including 3/5 from range, to outdo Nathan Sobey’s 22-point, 8-board, 8-dime performance.

What happened last start?

There was no see-saw in Brisbane last Saturday, the Bullets a team possessed after their loss to the Breakers, streaking to a 25-point lead at quarter-time as Sobey and Patterson owned the offence and their energetic defence held the Phoenix to 2/18 shooting in the first term.

Sydney also had a quality opening 10 minutes against NZ on Sunday, but it’s the other end of the game causing all sorts of concern. In yet another final-quarter meltdown, the Kings managed just 1 point in the final five minutes as they shot 0/9 and coughed up 3 turnovers.

Who’s in form?

Xavier Cooks – On current form we could almost tattoo Cooks’ name into this category, averaging 15.6ppg, 10.4rpg, 3.8 o-boards and 1.8 blocks in his past five contests. He had 19 points on 8/11 shooting against New Zealand, and creates a match-up nightmare for Bullets boss James Duncan. If Robert Franks goes to Martin, who is capable of defending Cooks?

Brisbane’s passing game – The Bullets dished a remarkable 8 dimes in last week’s opening period and had 14 by half-time, as they start to again resemble the Lemanis-coached version. Sobey, Patterson and Jason Cadee all rank in the NBL top 10 – where no other team has more than one rep – the terrific trio combining for 13.7apg in the past three outings.

Who needs to be?

Jason Cadee – The perennial Best Sixth Man contender had a game-high plus/minus of +24 against the Phoenix – the next highest was +13 – as he produced his orchestrating best. In Brisbane’s three wins Cadee has shot 6/12 from the arc, dished 16 dimes to just 4 turnovers and is +33. In three losses, Cadee is 0/8 from deep, has 8 assists to 6 miscues and is -30.

Chase Buford – In a year of disruption, Sydney have arguably copped the worst hand so far, but Buford admitted that seven rounds in the team’s late-game offensive impotence is squarely on him. Under physical pressure, the Kings have not shown they have simple sets in their repertoire that get Martin or Cooks the ball in dangerous spots to make the D react.

Who’s statting up?

 - In losses, Sydney have averaged just 14.6 points in the final quarter, making only 4.8 field goals at 28 per cent and turning the ball over 4.2 times in the last 10 minutes

 - In those fourth terms, Martin and Cooks have shot 48 per cent, but only averaged 4.6 attempts between them. In Sydney’s past two wins, that duo have averaged 8 attempts in the final period, connecting at 69 per cent

 - In wins, Brisbane average 97.7ppg, 11.3 triples at 40 per cent, 20 assists and 12 turnovers. In losses, that shrinks to 75.7ppg, 6.7 treys at 23 per cent, 13.7 dimes and 18.7 cough-ups

 - Defensively, the Bullets give up 84.7ppg at 42 per cent in losses, compared to 90ppg at 41 per cent in wins, highlighting their swings have been on their offence

Who’s matching up?

Robert Franks v Jarell Martin – Two of the most versatile bigs the NBL has seen go head-to-head in a brilliant battle. Franks ranks 4th in scoring (19ppg), 3rd in rebounds (9.7), 6th in o-boards (3.3) and 15th in three-point percentage (41%). Martin sits 5th in rebounds (8.8) but his 43 per cent shooting and 29 per cent outside shooting have limited him to 14.9ppg.

Martin averaged 22ppg at 48 per cent in three games leading into a quiet night against NZ, however, and will need Franks’ full defensive attention. If that is case, does Tyrell Harrison dare Cooks to shoot? Do the Bullets go small? Or will we see some zone? At the other end, expect the X-man to be taking Franks head on, as he did successfully with Duop Reath.

Who’s talking the talk?

Everyone in the NBL world knows what Chase Buford’s post-game message to his team was last Sunday.

“That we should be embarrassed by the way we finished the game,” he revealed in the press conference.

“Similar to Illawarra the other night. I thought we played well for about 30-35 minutes, was able to guard them pretty well, then obviously 16-1 in the last five minutes isn’t a recipe to win any games.”

Scoring 74 points in 35 minutes showed the Kings have plenty of avenues to the hoop, they just don’t know how to find them when the grind is on.

“I thought the ball got a little stagnant for us. We were hesitant on our decision making which when people are switching you can’t do,” Buford said.

“It’s something we've got to work on, it’s cost us in three or four of our losses so far... I’ll raise my hand, that’s on me first, I've got to get us the right looks.

“But we’ve got to make quick decisions with the basketball, we can’t get sticky and hesitant with the game on the line, we’ve got to play with confidence and go on the attack and we definitely haven't done that very well in fourth quarters in the last few games.”

In reality, the ball is going to get stagnated late in games with the high level of physicality in this year’s competition.

Sydney seem to be moving the ball reactively in hope of finding a scoring option, not with the purpose needed to find their most dangerous options. This was highlighted by the red-hot Xavier Cooks being starved of touches late.

“I thought we did a good job of getting it to him at times,” Buford said.

“Versus switches we've got to make quick decisions, if we can get the ball to him behind their coverage we’ll be better off.

“We probably could have done it more down the stretch if we’re honest with ourselves, but we didn’t make the plays, we tightened up and the ball got sticky.”

There were lots of other small factors that helped trigger New Zealand’s 18-1 run, including some cheap turnovers and some overly-opportunistic forays to the offensive glass.

“We’ve done a better job taking care of the ball the last few games, but tonight we made some really poor decision with the basketball and it cost us,” Buford added.

“They were playing off stops which allows you to run and puts your defence under pressure, we were probably chasing the offensive rebounds too hard a couple of times and they had numbers against us.”

And then there was a lack of desperation at their own defensive end.

“I just think it was us not getting the hits we needed to down the stretch, just some 50-50 balls they outcompeted us for, that’s what it came down to,” Buford said.

All that adds up to a desperate Kings team walking into Nissan Arena, a recipe that worked very well for Brisbane last week as they ambushed the Phoenix 31-6 in the opening term, and led by as many as 31 in the final stanza.

“We played the right way. The guys took the challenge to step on the floor and just play the right way, to bring more energy, being more effort, all the things we've been talking about,” coach James Duncan said.

“We understand we have the pieces to compete and win some of these games, now it’s a challenge for us to win another game and another game and that’s a big challenge for us right now, it’s been win one, lose one, or lose one, win one.”

For veteran Jason Cadee, his team’s full buy-in to the “little things” in last week’s first half is the template for success.

“We've got to be consistent, and it’s not even consistent like Sobes having 25, Lamar having 20, it’s not even that, it’s just doing little things,” he said.

“Taking care of the ball, rebounding, and if we can do that stuff consistently, which we’re trying to get to, I think we can string together games.”

They haven't achieved that consistently so far this season, beating top four teams in Perth, Illawarra and SE Melbourne, while falling to the bottom two in Tasmania and New Zealand.

“There’s a way to play basketball, and when we play the right way we will have success,” Duncan said.

“It’s nice to beat some of these top teams, but we’ve got to take care of business, especially when we’re at home and we have an opportunity to get on a bit of a streak now.”


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