R9 Preview: Perth Wildcats vs Adelaide 36ers

When: 4.30pm (AEDT), Sunday 14 March

John Cain Arena, Melbourne

SBS Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time
Perth 94 (Kay 23, Plumlee 14, Steindl 14) d Adelaide 79 (Johnson 18, McVeigh 16, Froling 11), Round 20, 2019/20, RAC Arena, Perth

No Bryce? Still nice. That was the case for Perth last time they met the 36ers, with the MVP resting they tuned up for their championship charge with 94 points at 57 per cent, while Adelaide limped to the end of the Joey Wright era by scoring 79 at 38 per cent. Offensive rebounding kept the Sixers in the contest for a while, but Nick Kay and Miles Plumlee went 13-of-21 from inside as Perth owned the paint and claimed the W.

The now
Beating Perth in The Jungle is tough, and that’s what the 36ers must do next week on the back-end of a road double. But as the NBL Cup has shown – as did the 2019 NBL Grand Final – clipping the Cats in Melbourne is very difficult too. Trevor Gleeson’s men have executed expertly to go 6-1 over the past four weeks, including a clever adjustment on the o-glass to sure up their defensive transition late in the tournament.

Coming into Thursday’s game, Adelaide had averaged just 76.3 in the previous four games, but with five days break coach Connor Henry tweaked the offence to get the spacing, player and ball movement they must rely on without Isaac Humphries in the middle, the result being 104 points against the leaky Bullets. Now if they can just find some defensive answers, particularly on the three-point and free-throw lines.

The stats

 - Adelaide have leaked 94 points or more in five of their seven NBL Cup games, allowing 13.4 triples at 43 per cent and 20.8 free-throw attempts, and being outscored by 18.4ppg on ‘ones and threes’

 - In four NBL Cup games where they’ve scored 81 of less, the 36ers have had 54 assists and 57 turnovers. In the three games scoring 89 or more, they’ve had 62 dimes and 22 miscues

 - In their past two games, Perth have had 19 more assists than their opponents and 13 less turnovers, winning points from turnovers 35-11

 - The Wildcats grabbed 38 per cent of offensive rebounds against Brisbane and SE Melbourne but conceded 93.5ppg. Against Illawarra and NZ they collected just 17 per cent of o-boards and gave up only 72.5ppg

The key men

Jack McVeigh – Once might have been a fluke, twice a hot spell, but McVeigh has now been a legit offensive target four games on the bounce, averaging 17ppg at 57 per cent from the field and 8-of-12 from the arc. Jack has also complemented his impressive perimeter work with 8 o-boards and 7 assists, while committing just 1 solitary turnover.

After averaging 6.3ppg at 42 per cent in his opening 12 games, McVeigh is now a genuine problem for opposition sides. For Perth, the power forward spot has been a defensive problem at times, with Mitch Creek and Vic Law averaging 21.7ppg at 66 per cent from two-range in three of their four losses, drawing 13 fouls in the process.

John Mooney – Corey Williams’ favourite rookie has exploded onto the professional scene, his past six games delivering 19ppg at 64 per cent from deep, 12rpg, 9.2 d-boards and 2.8apg to allow Cats’ fans to quite fairly say Nick who? However, in games where Mooney picks up three or more fouls Perth’s record is 3-3, compared to 5-1 on his less-whistled days.

With Adelaide playing small and Daniel Johnson on the menu, this shapes as Mooney’s biggest defensive test. DJ has been spinning his best tracks in the past two games, averaging 29.5ppg at 54 per cent, including 18-of-32 from two-point range, driven by his face-up game and offensive rebounding, where he’s grabbed 8 o-boards and converted them to 12 points.

The quotes

At the start of the season you could see how good Josh Giddey could be, now we’re starting to see how good he is.

“Gids is doing great, every day and every week you're seeing him continue to get stronger,” coach Henry said.

“You're seeing the game continue to slow down for him, for an 18-year-old at the beginning of the season the game was going pretty fast and he was kind of frantic at times.

“You're not seeing that now, his numbers are always consistent, it’s not like he hasn’t arrived, I think he’s arrived.”

His past three games have delivered 43 points, 28 assists, 19 rebounds and just 6 turnovers, which have been offset by 5 steals, with his poise, patience and passing reminiscent of Steve Smith in his Michigan State days.

“I know I have the trust of coach and my teammates to handle the ball and run the show,” Giddey said.

“It’s good playing with guys like DJ and Sunday and Crock because they take a lot of pressure off me on the offensive and defensive ends.”

There’s going to be plenty of pressure on in Sunday’s NBL Cup curtain-closer, with Mitch Norton sure to be in Giddey’s skin, knowing that under quality pressure the rookie can still sometimes revert to head-down dribbling that takes his team out of offensive flow.

“He’s been fantastic for us, I think he got on the floor six or seven times throughout the game,” Tom Jervis said of Norton after the Cats downed NZ.

“He’s really taken up that spot that Damo left open, he was doing that previously but he’s taken it to another level. We’re glad he’s on our team doing all those little hard things for us … they're the things that really take you over the line when it counts.”

The arrival of Brandon Paul couldn’t have come at a better time for the 36ers as they prepare to defend Bryce Cotton.

While there is no doubt Sunday Dech is a leading contender of Best Defensive Player, he has played 105 of a possible 120 minutes the past three games – defending the likes of Scott Machado, Nathan Sobey, Justinian Jessup and Tyler Harvey – and needs help on the MVP.

Of course, he has stood incredibly tall in that stretch, averaging 13.7 points at 50 per cent from the three-point line in tandem with his defensive efforts.

“Church has worked tirelessly on his shooting,” coach Henry said.

“We know he’s an elite defender, he’s getting better in all facets of the game and Church is a winner, every day, he hates to lose, he works his tail off, so it’s been great to see that development in him.”

Where the 36ers really need development is in their defence. They’ve been leaking points from distance, but in overcompensating against Brisbane gave up an unheard of 77 per cent two-point shooting to Brisbane, who made 27-of-35 inside the arc.

“What’s disappointing for us is we didn’t execute our scout in the fourth period on both ends, I felt, which was the ball game,” Henry said.

“We got switched off on certain guys who weren’t supposed to be guarding certain players which led to a lot of very easy points for them.”

That won’t cut the mustard against Perth, the NBL’s number one team for assists and offensive rating, who know their counters and unfailingly find holes in the opposition defence over the course of a game.

“From the word go it was a slog really, and I think we broke the shackles in the third quarter and I think the third quarter won it for us,” coach Trevor Gleeson said after the New Zealand win.

“There was a lot of physicality out there to start the game, we had to get the feel of the game and get into our counters which I thought we did when the game got going.”

And while Cotton, Mooney and Todd Blanchfield have been super-consistent, another weapon is re-emerging with Clint Steindl hitting 12 points in 16 minutes of Friday, an ominous sign for the rest of the NBL.

“The last couple of practices he was he was red hot, he was just the old Clint, flying off screens and reading (the defence), he was not hampered with any injuries at all,” Gleeson said.

“He was really good and hopefully this little patch now he’ll get on a bit of a roll and we know what he can do when he gets on a roll.”


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