Hungry Jack's NBL
R8 Preview: Perth Wildcats vs SE Melbourne Phoenix
When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Wednesday 3 March
Where: State Basketball Centre, Melbourne
Broadcast: ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch
The last time
SE Melbourne 96 (Sykes 24, Creek 18, Te Rangi 16) d Perth 71 (Mooney 19, Cotton 15, Wagstaff 11), Round 5, State Basketball Centre, Melbourne
This Valentine’s Day massacre was most unexpected, coming just three days after Perth had delivered a 31-point smackdown of the Phoenix. But rather than get angry, Simon Mitchell’s men got even, scoring at will inside and with efficiency outside as Keifer Sykes had an offensive field day, and showed his defensive value by leading a shutdown of the MVP, Bryce Cotton. A John Mooney double-double was the lone shining light for the Cats.
Perth have gone 3-0 since that forgettable day, with the supporting cast now actually providing some consistent support for Cotton and Mooney. The Wildcats have shown they can win in multiple ways, racking up 113 in a shoot-out win over Sydney, then locking Cairns down to just 69 points while lighting it up from long range to move into second position, their Cotton-led offence currently as unselfish as any in the competition.
SE Melbourne have won three of their past four, not scoring below 93 points in that stretch while only once giving up more than 83, finding the balance between aggressive offence and bringing a tough defensive mindset that was absent last season. With their next three games against Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, we will know if the Phoenix are for real if they can continue their current dime-dishing pace against the NBL’s best defences.
- The Wildcats and Phoenix are 2-2 in their season series, with one win at home and one away each. The games have been decided by an average of 17.8 points, with just one single-figure margin
- The winning team has averaged 95.5ppg in this season series, while the loser has managed 77.8ppg
- The winning teams has averaged 50.5 points in the paint, compared to 35.5 for the vanquished
- In the past four games SE Melbourne have averaged 25.3 assists and 10.8 turnovers, while in their past three Perth have averaged 21 assists and 9.3 turnovers
The key men
Todd Blanchfield – After a slow start in red, Vinnie has delivered 14.8ppg at 49 per cent from the field in the past five games, to give Perth that desperately needed third scorer. Most impressively, he has hit 16-of-22 from inside the arc during that stretch, to give a new element to the Perth offence, his penetration creating 2.4apg after managing just 3 assists in the opening three games. With Cotton sure to get plenty of attention, Blanchfield could hold the key.
Kyle Adnam – The Hawks targeted Adnam and he responded with a maturity that has the Jack Jumpers wanting to bite. While his 13 assists and 2 turnovers were impressive enough, his control and understanding of the subtle Phoenix offence was superb. Yet while the Hawks have been struggling defensively, Perth have not, and the attention Kyle will receive from Mitch Norton, Kevin White and Co is sure to be another great test of his development.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="de">The. Pretzell. Wetzell.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ILLatSEM?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ILLatSEM</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBLCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBLCup</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBL21?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL21</a> <a href="https://t.co/iW0KP3ebj3">pic.twitter.com/iW0KP3ebj3</a></p>— The NBL (@NBL) <a href="https://twitter.com/NBL/status/1365862749943726080?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 28, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
It’s not every day, or indeed many days, that someone holds Bryce Cotton to 15 points on 37 per cent shooting, but Keifer Sykes and the Phoenix did it in Round 5.
“He’s pretty good isn’t he. I’ve never seen Bryce Cotton look tired, ever, until tonight, and I think that’s maybe the highest compliment I can pay Keifer,” coach Simon Mitchell said.
“Keifer’s efforts on both sides of the ball tonight were excellent, I think he’s the best defender in the league.”
The problem for SE Melbourne is when the teams meet for the fifth and final time this season on Wednesday, Keifer will be in his street clothes, alongside another elite defender in Adam Gibson.
“It’s not just about me, it’s not just about Bryce, we’ve got a great team and people are going to continue to see it,” Sykes said after his MVP shutdown.
He was right. That night their defensive performance, which held the Cats to just 71 points and 9 offensive rebounds, started at the other end of the floor.
“I thought our mindset coming into the game was pretty good, we learnt our lessons from the last game, from a coaching staff standpoint and from a players standpoint,” Mitchell said.
“I thought the brand of basketball we played was much more positive, we attacked the 1-2-2 a little more, I still feel like we can be better against that again.”
Their aggressive mindset made them almost impossible to defend as they racked up 96 points on 69 per cent shooting from inside and 11-of-27 from outside, and remarkably they have six players averaging in double figures.
“If you go back to the Illawarra game we have five guys with 15 points, and tonight we had five guys in double figures and a couple of guys with 8 points. That’s us at our best,” Mitchell said.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">No fans didn’t stop Keifer Sykes from putting on a show today. He notched up 24 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists, including this alley-oop facial jam and helped the Phoenix crush the Wildcats 96-71 <a href="https://t.co/T2fHyqyVkq">pic.twitter.com/T2fHyqyVkq</a></p>— AussieHoopla (@aussiehoopla) <a href="https://twitter.com/aussiehoopla/status/1360857009361481729?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 14, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Yet while that will be important again, they are still going to have to find a way to stop Cotton without Sykes and Gibson.
They got a trial run at it last week against the Hawks and passed with flying colours, holding the sharp-shooting duo of Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup to 21 combined points on 9-of-26 from the field.
“It dawned on me as we were breaking to go into the game, I’ve Dane Pineau, Adam Gibson and Keifer Sykes still sitting there and I'm thinking, ‘Bloody hell, that’s three pretty good defensive players’,” Mitchell said post-game.
“With guys of that calibre and firepower in the backcourt, you’ve got to just keep throwing guys at them, and I was wondering to myself whether we had enough ammunition defensively.
"I guess it turned out the guys stepped up and we did so that was great … we targeted (Harvey and Jessup) from the standpoint that they're very, very important players to the Illawarra team."
Cotton can expect the same treatment on Wednesday, especially after his non-Mooney supporting cast shot at just 34 per cent last time around against the Phoenix.
Things have changed in Catland, however, with their trademark team basketball returning, and in their rout of Cairns that supporting cast nailed 49 points at 50 per cent.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">The DEEP three is good from Sherv! <a href="https://t.co/q8ERgoSQ83">pic.twitter.com/q8ERgoSQ83</a></p>— Perth Wildcats (@PerthWildcats) <a href="https://twitter.com/PerthWildcats/status/1365238549419679744?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 26, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“We’ve had great input from the bench, I don’t know what they scored but I thought the bench was just providing energy and they’ve done that the last three or four games,” coach Trevor Gleeson said.
“You get into seven, eight games you start to understand your role and we talked about our role individually and how important that is for our team success.
“We don’t need all rockstars out there but we certainly need guys to play their role, and I thought the guys off the bench did a great job of keeping the energy out there and nailing what we’re supposed to do.”