Hungry Jack's NBL
R8 Preview: Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats
When: 8pm (AEDT), Saturday 23 November
Where: Cairns Convention Centre
Broadcast: ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand
The last time
Cairns 99 (Deng 22, Oliver 22, Machado 18) d Perth 76 (Kay 15, White 15, Cotton 14), Round 3, RAC Arena
Sometimes it just comes down to hitting shots, and that’s what the Taipans did brilliantly in Round 3 as they tamed The Jungle, while Perth couldn’t throw the proverbial beachball into the ocean and soon found their heads below the surface. Cairns high percentages came from their composed, Scott Machado-led execution, which allowed them to dominate the paint. While the ‘Cats owned the o-boards, the more they shot, the more they seemed to miss.
While that was a bad night for Perth, they’ve won six of eight games since – including four road wins – and sit 1.5 games clear in second place. With Melbourne surging, however, they can ill-afford a slip-up against the Snakes, who are 4-5 against the Cats over the past three seasons, compared to a lowly 16-40 against the rest of the league.
While Cairns enjoyed the highs of their extraordinary performance across the Nullarbor, they dropped three of their following four and gave up 95ppg in the process. The Taipan train got back on track last week with an impressive demolition of Brisbane, and if they can win their third straight match-up with Perth they could be within a game of fourth place.
- Perth shot 14-of-37 (38 per cent) inside the key last time against Cairns, who replied with 24-of-36 (67 per cent) inside the paint
- The Wildcats shot 3-of-15 from between the key and three-point line in that game, compared to the Taipans’ 1-of-4
- Over the season, Perth are shooting 54 per cent in the paint – from where they take the second-fewest shots in the NBL - and a lowly 34 per cent from mid-range, from where they take the second-most attempts
- Cairns have the league’s highest conversion rate at the hoop (68%), but shoot the lowest percentage from mid-range (29%)
Cam Oliver v Nick Kay – In their last meeting, Kay’s 5 rebounds all came at the defensive end. The Boomers standout failed to grab a d-board for the first time since March 2017, and Perth only pulled in 59 per cent of boards at that end. With Oliver and Majok Deng nailing 7-of-11 from deep, the Wildcats’ bigs were stretched and their team’s ability to rebound and run greatly diminished. That’s something Trevor Gleeson and Co must fix ahead of Saturday.
Scott Machado v Damian Martin – Machado was the man in Round 3, 18 points at 70 per cent – 4-of-6 from distance – 7 assists, 5 rebounds and +26 in 28:37. While Martin did his best to swing things back his team’s way with 4 o-boards, 2 steals and just 1 turnover to be a huge factor in the possession game, he couldn’t consistently disrupt the ice-cool Machado.
NBL fans everywhere marvelled at the Taipans’ stunning 99-76 win in Perth in Round 3, but what everyone really wanted to know was how it happened.
“How it happened?” ‘Cats coach Trevor Gleeson echoed.
“Full credit to Cairns. Cairns played great basketball out there, got after it defensively, crashed the glass, got out and ran, they were really engaged with each other and making the extra pass.
“That’s all the stuff that we pride ourselves on, and I thought they were at a different level to what we played tonight.”
Skipper Damian Martin agreed with that assessment.
“Their ball movement in the second half in comparison to ours. Ours was more one pass and a shot, which was a decent shot for our shooters who are capable of making but for whatever reason they weren’t dropping at our end.
“Then they were going down the other end, moving the ball well, getting it to an open guy, and credit to them they shot really well, but it was their willingness to cut hard, move the ball, screen hard and play for each other.”
That Taipan performance came after three straight losses, and came in response to coach Mike Kelly changing his starting line-up.
Following three Ls from four games, and a lackadaisical home performance against the Hawks, Kelly made the changes again last week and his team responded by spectacularly dismantling Brisbane.
“We talked all week about doing the little things well and keeping that going every possession, fighting through every possession and these guys did that great,” he said.
“They were playing the right way both offensively and defensively and that was what I was pleased about.”
The biggest change, literally and figuratively, was Nate Jawai moving back into the starting group, and he responded with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 o-boards and 3 assists.
“I don’t know that he really cares about starting or not, obviously he came out with a little bit of fire in his belly,” Kelly said.
“He is a leader of this basketball team and we have high expectations of him... he’s set the bar pretty high, now we've got to hold him to that standard.”
In Cairns’ wins, Jawai is +23, in losses he is -45 and that can be explained almost entirely by one factor. In those three Ws he’s coughed up a total of 2 turnovers, while in six defeats he’s thrown it away 18 times. Expect plenty of double teams from Perth.
That’s symbolic of his team as a whole, with the Taipans averaging 7 turnovers when they prevail but a shambolic 16.8 in defeat.
“It’s been a problem for us to take care of the ball so we had a real focus this week on executing, and that leads to taking care of the ball I think,” Kelly said.
“We've had a number of guys scoring double figures or close to double figures. but it’s the things like the lower turnovers or a better job boxing out.”
If they can be strong in the possession game there is a golden chance to down a depleted Perth team, with Terrico White ruled out of this clash.
But the 2019 Grand Final MVP went down in the third term against New Zealand last week and his teammates clinically shut the gate, outscoring the Kiwis 29-22 from that point.
Their ability to move the ball was exceptional, playing inside-out, a stark contrast to their one-out efforts against Cairns last time around.
Shooting guard Bryce Cotton said his team has confidence they can cover a man down, as they did for much of last season, even if it means changing their offensive emphasis a little, something that will be important against a Taipans defence that wants them to fire from mid-range.
“Obviously missing a player like Terrico is a big void to fill and I don’t think you can fill that void, but other guys did a great job of stepping up when opportunity came, Clint (Steindl) came in and had some big minutes,” he said.
“We still wanted to attack, no matter who’s on the floor you attack, because I think the past couple of games we relied on the jumpshot too much. But we did a good job of getting into the paint which led to us eventually get a lot of open looks from the three.”
The big challenge in White’s absence is stopping rookie sensation Kouat Noi, the Taipans small forward outstanding last week with 20 points, 10 boards, 5 triples and a game-high +22 in 30 minutes as he grows his understanding of the pro game.
“It’s been really good to see him (grow), he’s moving that ball on and it’s coming back to him, and tonight it got back to him and he knocked it down,” Kelly said.
“The effort areas are always good with him, but now also seeing the unselfishness and getting payback when it came back to him was big time for him tonight.”