R9 Preview: Sydney Kings v Melbourne United

When: 3pm (AEDT), Sunday 1 December

Where: Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

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

The last time

Melbourne 107 (Trimble 27, Goulding 22, Long 20) d Sydney 104 (Ware 34, Bruce 14, Kickert 13), Round 5, Melbourne Arena

Melbourne jumped to an early eight-point lead on the back of Chris Goulding and David Barlow, the King led by 11 in the shadows of half-time thanks to Jae’Sean Tate, their bench and Melbourne over=playing the lanes on D. That advantage was six with seven minutes to play, but Goulding, Shawn Long and Melo Trimble scored all 18 of United’s points in an 18-11 run that pinched the lead and ultimately the game from the clutches of a red-hot Casper Ware.

The now

Melbourne couldn’t produce a great escape on Friday in the Far North though, and that was mainly due to being smashed in the effort areas through the middle quarters, the Taipans 40 per cent offensive rebounding a tale of the tape. Cairns’ willingness to switch and slide ball-screens and hand-offs grinded United’s offence to a halt, not gifting the space the Kings did in Round 5 that allowed them to land 14 triples and shoot 26 free throws.

Sydney are 4-0 since that loss, and indeed 13-1 over the past 10 months against every team bar United, against whom they are 1-3 in that span. The Kings leaked 107 points and 26 free throws against Melbourne in Round 5, but have allowed just 82.6ppg and 15.5 FTA against other opponents this season. The tenets of their struggles facing Melbourne is their inability to shut down United’s three-point game without getting taking Bogut out of help position.

The stats

- In Melbourne’s past four games against the Kings they’ve hit 11.8 three-pointers at 39 per cent. Across all other games in the Andrew Bogut era Sydney have conceded 8 triples at 32 per cent

- United’s bench scores the second-fewest points of any reserve unit, while their opponent’s second unit score the third most. However, in the past two games Melbourne have won bench scoring 63-39

- Sydney’s defensive rating is 102.1, best in the league. Second best is Brisbane at 114.5. Melbourne is seventh at 117.4, compared with last season’s second at 109.2

- The Kings are 1-6 against Melbourne the past two seasons. In their sole victory they were +7 in the possession game and forced 16 turnovers. In the other six they are -25 and have forced an average of 8.3 turnovers

The match-ups

Andrew Bogut v Shawn Long – Last time they met Long made an emphatic statement with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists, exploiting the space Bogut offered. Sydney tried stunning him quickly with help D but it made little difference as Long went 6-of-7 inside the key against the league’s best interior defence.

Don’t be surprised if the Kings go to Bogut far more offensively this time around to test Long’s penchant for fouling and dampen his aggression at the other end. The Bogey Man finished with 4 points on 4 FGA that game, and he’s averaged 7.2ppg at 43 per cent in six losses to Melbourne, compared to 15 points at 54 per cent in his only win.

Casper Ware v Melo Trimble – Is this the best match-up in the competition? Quite possibly. Trimble averaged 29ppg and 5.8apg on 17-of-29 from deep against Ware last season, who responded with 27.8ppg and 4.3apg while nailing 22-of-41 from the arc, as the pair treated fans of the Hungry Jack’s NBL to a quartet of breathtaking one-on-one battles.

New locations, same rivalry in 2019/20. Melo dropped 27 points and 5 dimes in their first meeting this season, and Casper piled on 34 points at 47 per cent while getting to the foul line 13 times. Ware hit 13 in the final term, including a late go-ahead three, while Trimble scored 10 down the stretch including the game-sealing free throw. Bring this match-up on!

The quotes

It was at Melbourne Arena in Round 5 that we first saw a chink in Will Weaver’s impressive armour.

When a shove in the back of Jae’Sean Tate, which would have been called an unsportsmanlike foul in similar circumstances this season, went unwhistled Weaver lost the plot and gave Australian basketball fans his best Bobby Knight impersonation.

The result was a rightful ejection and the Kings went on to record their one and only loss for the season so far.

Last week in Melbourne, the threat of defeat by a fast-finishing Phoenix perhaps exposed another Weaver weakness.

“I credit their ability to do what’s working, which is just come up and hammer the guy that’s guarding the ball,” he said post-game.

“A little lean or a little movement, that’s not an illegal screen in this league and that’s very hard to guard, as the Kings experienced last year when Melbourne did it to them, we experienced a little bit tonight.”

In a nutshell, SE Melbourne had their offensive planning awry in the first half, but when they adjusted, and moved their high ball-screen closer to half-way to open up three-point shots, the Kings had no answer and leaked 49 points.

It’s the same ploy Melbourne started using late last season to exploit Bogut’s sagging defence and open up trifectas, and it worked again in Round 7 as they scored 107 points on 14 trifectas, including nine from the top of the arc.

While Weaver’s public response was to blame the referees, behind the scenes he and his staff will be working on solutions.

Against the Phoenix they briefly tried using a help defender to stun the ball-carrier, once pulled Bogut out of the hole to provide a fake show, but ended up with their star centre on the bench as they tried to adjust.

That’s something they can ill-afford against United, who have dominated the possession game against Sydney in recent times.

Yet while Melbourne have found the way to challenge the Kings’ league-best defence, coach Dean Vickerman is fully aware of how hard executing that plan is, and how good his perimeter crew of Melo Trimble, Shea Ili, Chris Goulding and Mitch McCarron are to pull it off.

“I thought Melo stood up tonight, Casper kept coming at him,” Vickerman said after the Round 5 win.

“He stood up and made shots at the other end and made plays there. Chris was active all night, seeking good shots and Mitch was Mitch, he was +10, he was doing a bit of everything, defending at a high level.”

They can now add Casey Prather to the mix, their star small forward with 11 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes on return on Friday night in Cairns.

But that game was a classic tale of talent not being enough, with the Taipans playing at a higher-level of intensity than their more-fancied rivals.

Melbourne will be hoping it’s a case of lesson learned, because anything but a committed four-quarter display won’t get the job done at Qudos Bank Arena against a Kings team that has added emerging star Xavier Cooks.

“Right now we’re the only team that’s beat them, but they haven't lost a game at home. They're very close to full strength and have just recruited another guy as well,” Vickerman said.

“We’ve got Shea Ili and Alex Pledger to come back into our line-up, and we know how much Shea has given us in a defensive match-up with a Casper or a Machado, so we’ve got to cover that with other people right now.

“But we go in there, we know what Sydney’s defence is going to allow and you’re going to have to make shots against them. We shot 40 threes last time against them. If you screen well you're going to get some open looks and we've got to knock them down.”


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