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Semi-Finals Preview: The Warm Up

A star-studded Swisse NBL Finals Series tips-off Thursday night at Hisense Arena fresh off the momentum built on the NBL MVP & Awards Dinner on Wednesday evening. The NBL's night of nights was both a celebration of the successful season and the perfect lead in to the Finals that begins on Thursday with Melbourne United taking on New Zealand Breakers in Game 1 of their semi-final battle at Hisense Arena. With a crowd of 10,000 expected for that clash, a crowd of more than 12,000 is then likely to be on hand on Friday night at Perth Arena as the other semi-final series gets underway with the Perth Wildcats taking on the Illawarra Hawks. As evidenced by the players honoured on Wednesday night, it's going to be a stacked Swisse NBL Finals Series with 11 of the top 15 players from MVP voting taking part including winner Kevin Lisch and runner-up Chris Goulding. On top of that, eight of the 10 players named in the All-NBL Teams will be on the floor during the Finals, meaning it's set to be one of the most exciting NBL Finals Series in many season. It all gets underway on Thursday night with Melbourne hosting New Zealand. Game 1 is at Hisense Arena before switching to Vector Arena on Saturday and then if required, back to Hisense Arena next Friday. The two teams played twice only last week with New Zealand winning both to secure their place in the Finals, but things go up another level now with everything on the line. Prior to last week, United beat the Breakers by a point in a controversial thriller at Hisense Arena with New Zealand then winning two weeks later at home by 11 points. With the back courts of Chris Goulding and Stephen Holt up against Cedric Jackson and Corey Webster, three men Tom Abercrombie and Todd Blanchfield doing battle, and big men Mika Vukona, Tai Wesley, Alex Pledger and Charles Jackson facing Daniel Kickert, Hakim Warrick and Majok Majok, there are exciting match ups all over the floor to watch. Both clubs had their full teams on hand on Wednesday night at the Awards Dinner where United's Warrick won the Best Sixth Man award while Goulding and Kickert were named to the All First Team and Holt to the All Second Team. Goulding also finished second in MVP voting, Holt 14th and Kickert 15th. Meanwhile, Webster from the Breakers was named to the All-Second Team while Cedric Jackson finished sixth in MVP voting and Webster ninth. Then on Friday night, it's on to Perth Arena for a tantalising match up for Game 1 between the Wildcats and Hawks. Game 2 then takes place at WIN Entertainment Centre on Sunday with Game 3 to be back at Perth Arena if needed next Friday. The storyline writes itself with Lisch returning to Perth now a two-time MVP winner to try to beat his former Wildcats team with the help of 2010 Championship-winning coach Rob Beveridge. Then you factor in the 'Cats dominance over the Hawks that has seen them winning their last 22 games at home dating back to November 5, 2005. And this season, the Wildcats have won all four meetings with Lisch and Beveridge yet to beat their old team. There is also a distinct clash in styles with Perth looking to take advantage of its dominance inside with Nate Jawai, Tom Jervis and Matt Knight. Illawarra will look to shoot and score quickly with the likes of Lisch, Kirk Penney, Cody Ellis, Oscar Forman, Rhys Martin, Tim Coenraad and Jarrad Weeks. It was a night to remember on Wednesday for the Hawks with Lisch winning the MVP making him a two-time winner after taking out the award as a Wildcat in 2012. Lisch was also named the Best Defensive Player for the first time while he and AJ Ogilvy were named to the All-NBL First Team, and Penney to the All-NBL Second Team. As well as Lisch finishing first in MVP voting, Penney finished fourth and Ogilvy fifth. The Wildcats also had players polling well in MVP voting with Casey Prather finishing seventh, Knight 11th and Jermaine Beal 12th. Knight was also named to the All-NBL First Team. Wildcats captain Damian Martin will play his 200th game with Perth also in Friday's Game 1 as if he didn’t need any extra incentive of taking on his former teammate Lisch in what is set to be a pivotal match up. With Lisch taking Martin's Defensive Player of the Year award he's owned the last five years and taking a second MVP, Martin won't be short on motivation. Martin's vice-captain Greg Hire also reaches 150 games in Friday's Game 1 while Knight notches 200 NBL appearances in Sunday's Game 2 in Wollongong. The biggest milestone of all also takes place Sunday as Hawks' sharpshooting veteran Oscar Forman plays NBL game No. 450. NBL SEMI-FINAL FIXTURES (local times) THURSDAY GAME 1 – Melbourne United v New Zealand Breakers (Hisense Arena) – Fox Sports 3, 7.30pm FRIDAY GAME 1 – Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks (Perth Arena) – Fox Sports 3, 6.30pm SATURDAY GAME 2 – New Zealand Breakers v Melbourne United (Vector Arena) – Fox Sports 3, 7.30pm SUNDAY GAME 2 – Illawarra Hawks v Perth Wildcats (WIN Entertainment Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 3pm FRIDAY FEBRUARY 26 (if required) GAME 3 – Melbourne United v New Zealand Breakers (Hisense Arena) – Fox Sports 3, 7.30pm GAME 3 – Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks (Perth Arena) – Fox Sports 3, 6.30pm
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