R8 Preview: Melbourne United v Brisbane Bullets

When: 3pm (AEDT), Sunday 24 November

Where: Melbourne Arena

Broadcast: SBS Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand

The last time

Brisbane 95 (Hodgson 17, Gliddon 16, Cadee 14) Melbourne 86 (Ware 29, McCarron 12, Moller 11), Round 12, 2018/19, Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre

Melbourne had their noses in front for much of this game despite an uncharacteristic 7-of-26 night from distance, but a Bullets burst late in the third term gave them the ascendency, sparked by Cam Gliddon and Jason Cadee who combined for 30 points, 11 assists and 7-of-12 triples. Not even 29 points from Casper Ware – who embraced Brisbane’s plan to run him off the arc by shooting on 7-of-9 from inside – was enough for United to breach the gap.

The now

The perception may be that Brisbane are in struggle town, but a win Sunday will put them equal-third with United. The Bullets won last season’s series 3-1, scoring 94ppg as they embraced Melbourne’s invitation to run and gun. Brisbane got the balance between pace, ball movement and aggression right against Adelaide on Friday, but do they take a different approach against a Melbourne team with a need for speed and serious perimeter threats?

United are all about putting points on the board. Remarkably, they’ve conceded 97.6ppg at 48 per cent in their past five outings and won them all. Notably, after giving up 25.8 free-throw attempts in their first eight games, they allowed just 15 FTA against Adelaide and SE Melbourne to create for more run-out opportunities. Most notably, they’ve got to the line 26.2 times per game in their win streak, putting foul heat on key opposition players.

The stats

- Brisbane are 1-4 when the combined game score is above 175 points, compared to 4-1 when the score is below that mark

- Melbourne are 6-0 when the combined game score is above 190 points, but 0-4 when it doesn’t reach that mark

- In Bullets wins, they’ve given up just 7 three-pointers at 28 per cent. In defeats, those numbers rise to 11.8 at 42 per cent

- In wins, United average 26 free-throw attempts, compared to 17.5 charity shots in losses

The match-ups

Shea Ili v Jason Cadee – Ili was quite simply sensational against SE Melbourne last week, blanketing John Roberson with a tireless defensive display, then showing off the size of his Wilsons by draining 4-of-6 trifectas when the Phoenix dared him. When the dust settled, Melbourne were +10 in Ili’s 22 minutes and -9 in the other 18, the Tall Blacks’ point guard scoring 16 points, drawing 5 fouls and dishing 4 dimes while not turning the ball over once.

He’s got another huge task on Sunday in quietening Cadee, who was +12 in 24 minutes against Adelaide before joining the growing list of players sent packing for a pair of inauspicious offences. In the past five games, Brisbane are +44 with Cadee on court and -38 with their now-starting point guard enjoying pine time. Cadee has an 8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in Bullets wins, so Ili needs to get in his shorts and force some mistakes.

Shawn Long v Will Magnay – He’s a beast, that guy. Who are we talking about, Long or Magnay? Both, obviously. Everyone knows about Long, who leads Melbourne in o-boards, d-boards, blocks and field goals, while sitting second in points, free-throw attempts and field-goal percentage. In his past two games against Brisbane he’s averaged 23ppg, 8rpg, 2.5bpg while shooting 52 per cent from the field and 4-of-6 from deep. Stop him if you can.

Matt Hodgson will get first crack at that, but the beast of the east who has Brisbane talking is Magnay, who’s averaged 10ppg and 5.5rpg in a tick over 20 minutes in his past two games, getting to the foul line 18 times and showing little regard for rims. The big test for big Will is going to be Long’s ability to hit the J, but at the other end, Mr Double Double’s tendency to get lost when helping on penetration could open up some Magnay rim rockers.

The quotes

It was undoubtedly the moment of the press conference, as Brisbane trio Andrej Lemanis, Lamar Patterson and EJ Singler dissected their thrilling win over Adelaide.

Coach Lemanis was asked whether the speculation about the national team coaching job had been a distraction for his team.

As ‘Drej responded that he didn’t believe it had been, he looked across to his players for affirmation.

“I’m American anyway,” Patterson laughed.

“You don’t care,” Lemanis laughed in retort.

Patterson then glanced at Singler and said, “Actually, we’re both American”.

It was a humorous end to a tough week for the Bullets and their boss – the most successful coach in Boomers history – after a horror loss to Cairns last round.

“If you lose you lose, but it’s the way you go about your business,” Lemanis said.

“So we had some stuff that we were dealing with there and I thought we had a good response during the week.”

Lemanis’ response was to throw EJ Singler and Jason Cadee – clearly his two leading plus/minus guys – into the starting line-up. One journalist declared Singler’s elevation a masterstroke, much to Lemanis’ amusement.

“I'm not sure it’s a masterstroke, but I appreciate you saying that,” he laughed.

“I think EJ’s impact has been positive for us when he’s come in, and it was just a thought that. We could use that at the start of the game, just his energy, what he does defensively, the heat he puts on the rim, keeps rebounds alive.

“We also started Jase tonight as well, made a couple of changes, and that’s the thing I'm most pleased about, is just the acceptance of that from the group – Taylor Braun coming to me and saying if it’s for the good of the group start me off the bench, no problems, I just want to win.

“Glids stayed really positive and into the game tonight even though he’s had a diminished role … that sort of commitment to the team is impressive.”

And for an American who “doesn’t care”, Singler’s commitment to the team is ultra-impressive.

“I just wanted to come in and make simple plays and contribute anyway I could,” he said after his 20-points, 6-assist, 5-rebound performance.

“The way I can impact this game the most with this team is just be upbeat, never giving up, energy plays defensively, whether that’s crashing the glass, getting a defensive stop, diving after a ball, I think that’s where I come into play.

“Collectively, that’s where our mindset as a team needs to be, and I think the sky’s the limit for us if we can just have that intent.”

They’ll need to take that up another notch against Melbourne, who are playing with intensity, speed and aggression at both ends.

Last week against the Phoenix, they adjusted to the ease with which penetrating players have been drawing whistles in recent weeks, and they're sure to test to Brisbane’s interior defence, which gave up 64 points in the paint against Adelaide and 64 per cent shooting from two-point range.

“We felt the game was being blown in a way that you got rewarded for being aggressive and attacking paint,” coach Dean Vickerman said.

“We were able to make the change, get our feet in the paint, play with a fair bit of pace after we got some stops, we got our rewards.

“It’s something that both sides of the ball, trying to limit them to low free throws is important for this team, and for us we wanted to get 25 free throws today and we were right on that mark.”


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