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ANALYSIS

Studs and Duds: Round 13

At the conclusion of each round, NBL Media’s Liam Santamaria lets us know who made the grade and who deserves a little shade.

 

STUDS

Sydney Kings

After Jaylen Adams delivered the Kings a fifth straight victory on Sunday, head coach Chase Buford was asked about the game-winning play.

“With that final shot,” veteran reporter Matt McQuade asked, “was it an easy decision to put the ball in Jaylen’s hands and tell him to go make a play?”

Buford’s response was as simple as the play call: “Yes.”

That’s just how things are rolling for Sydney right now as they notched up yet another thrilling win.

This is a team, remember, that was having all kinds of trouble earlier in the season with the process of closing out games. These guys were 3-6 midway through Round 8, due to numerous fourth-quarter fade-outs, and were staring down the brink of a disastrous start to the season.

It’s all good, though, as Adams has put an end to all that. His pick-and-roll playmaking has significantly improved their half-court execution – particularly in crunch time – and, when combined with their consistent defensive efforts, all of that has helped them get over the hump.

“We’re learning how to execute down the stretch. We’re learning what a good shot down the stretch looks like,” Buford added in his exchange with McQuade.

“We’ve always been a good defensive team, so we’ll hang our hat on getting some stops. We’re growing in those moments.”

Someone else who is balling out right now is Xavier Cooks, who is getting better week after week for the purple and gold. Cooks scored a career-high 25 points in that win over Adelaide, while also pulling down 10 boards and swatting a couple of shots. He’s an absolute beast.

 

South East Melbourne Phoenix

The Phoenix have been treading water a bit recently, as they dealt with a bunch of COVID disruptions, but this week’s win over Perth was a big one.

With both sides contesting that game at full strength, albeit as part of Perth’s extended road trip, Simon Mitchell’s squad will take a lot of confidence from grabbing that win.

It was set up by a terrific defensive performance in the opening half, where SEM kept the league’s leading bucket-getter scoreless and limited the league’s number one offence to just 31 points.

Keeping a lid on Bryce Cotton is never a one-person job but Phoenix guard Izayah Le’Afa deserves great credit nonetheless as he was brilliant on the MVP. Cotton shook loose after the break, of course, but Le’Afa’s work early set the tone for his team in a really important game.

Down the stretch it was Best Sixth Man candidate Kyle Adnam who steered the Phoenix to victory, scoring 13 of his game-high 24 points in the final quarter. That man is never afraid of the moment.

 

Illawarra Hawks

More than half of the league played multiple games this round but the Hawks were the only squad to go 2-0. It’s a good thing too, as those games against Adelaide and New Zealand really were must-win contests for this team.

With that in mind, big ups to Antonius Cleveland for his impact in a big moment against the Sixers. With the Hawks leading by just a single basket early in the fourth, it was Cleveland (8 points, 5 boards, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 3 steals) who went to another level and provided the spark. The athletic wing’s energy was unbelievable during that stretch as he made a series of winning plays at both ends of the floor.

Shout-out also to Isaac White for the punch he provided off the bench. His 14 points were big-time and his pressure up the floor was also important, while his energy postgame really was the icing on the cake.

The Hawks then built off that win by taking care of the Breakers, securing their first 2-0 round of the season.

All of that sets the scene for a massive clash with South East Melbourne this round. It’s the type of road game that Brian Goorjian believes will ultimately decide his team’s fate.

“We’ve put ourselves in a position where if we don’t get a few of these, we’re not going to make the playoffs,” the Hawks coach said.

“You look at that four – Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and the Phoenix – and it’s like man, where we are and where we sit now, if we don’t win those games we’re not making the playoffs.

“We understand the challenge, we’re getting better, and the Phoenix know what’s at stake as well… we’ve got to beat a few of these good teams to get there.”

 

Melbourne United

Speaking of good teams, it was a case of ‘no JLA, no problems’ for United this week as they got the job done on the road.

Led by Chris Goulding’s 21 points (scored on just 9 field goal attempts), the ladder leaders won their fourth game in a row and their second straight by over 15 points.

 

CJ Bruton (Adelaide 36ers)

Much love to the legend for the courage he’s shown this week to publicly share the health challenges he’s dealt with in recent years.

Sharing his story to help advance medical research, the 36ers coach revealed how he privately battled a cancer scare and currently receives regular check-ups to stay on top of the issue.

It’s all part of Adelaide’s efforts to raise $20,000 by the end of this week to assist in finding cures, discovering new treatments and improving patient care across South Australia.

“The Hospital Research Foundation Group plays a big part in keeping people alive and keeping dreams alive,” Bruton stated.

“I’m asking kindly from my heart to donate, because medical research has definitely saved my life and played a big part in helping my family.”

To join the #SixersFight and contribute to their efforts, head to hospitalresearch.org.au/36ers and pledge your support.

 

The Rim Rockers (Leaguewide)

Speaking of contributions, shout out to all the high-flyers who threw it down over the past four weeks.

Raising money to help fight prostate cancer, the NBL and Sportsbet raised a massive $111,000 over the course of the highly successful Dunkuary campaign.

Thanks to Jo Lual-Acuil (11 dunks), Xavier Cooks (9), Antonius Cleveland (9) and all the other dunkers, half of that cash will go directly to Australian Prostate Cancer, which is a charity of the aforementioned Hospital Research Foundation Group.

The other half? One lucky fan will have a chance to shoot for it this Saturday night.

 

DUDS

Brisbane Bullets

The Bullets split their road-home double in Round 14 but, unfortunately, that loss in the tropics lands them in the duds.

For whatever reason, the Bullets just didn’t bring the juice against Cairns, giving up an 8-0 start and the fourth highest opening quarter score (32) of the season. They then lacked the requisite ball and player movement in the second half to get over the top, with their head coach calling them out for their “selfish play” after the game.

To their credit, the Bullets flipped that script in their win over Tassie as they shared the ball and equalled their season-high tally for assists. That was an excellent way to respond but it doesn’t change the fact: for a team scratching and clawing to keep their playoff hopes alive, that loss to the Snakes was a costly one.

 

Stephen Zimmerman (Cairns Taipans)

While we’re on the Taipans, there’s a chance that Big Zimm is at their practice facility right now, getting some reps at the line.

The Cairns centre went a combined 4-of-9 from the stripe across Round 14, taking his season-long clip to an ugly 42 percent.

“Free throws are killing me right now,” Zimmerman admitted to the Cairns Post.

“Personally, it hurts missing free throws. That’s some extra points I’m leaving off the board, easy ones.”

Maybe teammate Majok Deng can give him some tips? His little KD shimmy has seen him shoot over 90 percent from the stripe this season.

 

Tasmania JackJumpers

The beautiful thing about the JackJumpers is they will always give one hundred percent. Always! No matter who is in the line-up or who they’re battling against, Scott Roth’s group plays hard, plays together and competes.

The problem right now is that Will Magnay is on the sidelines. The big fella is a crucial element of their defence as he’s an elite rim protector and the only real shot-changing presence they have on the roster.

In fact, here are the numbers… with ‘Two-Way’ in the line-up, the Jackies are 6-5 this season and have held teams to a miserly 76.9 points per game. Unsurprisingly, those numbers go the other way in his absence, with Tassie now 1-4 without Magnay while allowing a much higher 85.6 points per game.

That right there was the issue this week as the Ants dropped back-to-back games and slipped to 7-9.

“Our guys showed a tremendous amount of grit to keep fighting, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Roth stated to the media.

“Our defence has been very porous over the past couple of games.”

If nothing else, that was great use of the word ‘porous’, don’t you think?

 

Michael Frazier II (Perth Wildcats)

It’s been a rough few weeks for Perth’s out-of-form import and the pressure continues to mount after another quiet performance.

Frazier found a few spots to contribute in the loss to SEM, putting up 10 and 4, but delivered a donut a couple of days later in Tassie, along with 3 boards, 3 dimes and 3 turnovers.

“He didn’t have his best game,” Wildcats coach Scott Morrison said.

“I thought he took a positive step in our last game. He gave us some good things defensively tonight but didn’t show up in the scoresheet.

“Everyone’s going to point to a couple of bad turnovers that he had but I think he’s improving.”

According to @nblfacts, Frazier’s playing time on Monday (17:43) represented the most minutes for a scoreless Perth import across the past twenty seasons.

“He’s under a lot of pressure,” Morrison added.

“Every time I get a microphone in front of me someone’s asking me about Mike and are we replacing him and are we making any moves… He has our full support, we believe in him and he’s going to help us try to get a win next week.”

 

The views on this page are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBL, its Clubs or partners.

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