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ANALYSIS

Studs and Duds: Round 17

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

The Kings are the headliners this week after conquering the Jungle to claim their ninth straight win.

Chase Buford’s men have been seriously impressive throughout this streak, but man, they took it to a whole new level this week. The Kings completely dominated proceedings right from the tip, belting the Wildcats like they were walking onstage at the Oscars.

It was record-breaking stuff and everyone contributed. Jaylen Adams was brilliant with 20 points and 8 assists but he was just one of five guys with 15-or-more points, with Ian Clark (19), Jarell Martin (16), Dejan Vasiljevic (16) and Makur Maker (15 points, 9 rebounds) all reaching that mark. Maker’s performance was particularly impressive as he turned in his best game as a pro.

Oh, and shout-out to Wani Swaka Lo Buluk as well. The former Wildcat played a team-high 32 minutes in his first trip back to Perth and, with help from his friends, played a key role in making life tough for Bryce Cotton.

 

Tasmania JackJumpers

The shoe still fits for the NBL’s Cinderella squad.

Faced with the challenge of a tough double-header, the JackJumpers went into both Perth and Brisbane and got the job done.

Scott Roth’s men just play so darn hard! It’s not just their effort that’s impressive either, it’s also their focus. Roth has his squad switched on to the game plan, their individual roles and what they’re trying to achieve, possession after possession. The result is a high-level of concentration and a real ‘next play’ mentality that’s been a huge part of their success.

All of that was on display throughout Round 17 as the JackJumpers put their hard hats on and ground out a couple of dubs.

“It’s been a heck of a weekend for this crew,” Roth reflected.

“To go on the road and win two games. It wasn’t pretty, it was just gritty. Just two outstanding, gritty wins.”

Speaking of gritty, shout-out to Fabijan Krslovic for the way he set the tone in the Jungle and also to Josh Magette for the masterful way he controlled the tempo.

And just quietly, how about the consistent excellence of Jack McVeigh? Getting him more involved has been massive for the Jackies. McVeigh has scored in double-digits in 11 of Tassie’s past 13 games, with the Ants claiming victory in 9 of those contests. Finding ways to get him more touches – a problem they started to solve back in late January – was a turning point for their year.

 

Illawarra Hawks

It was a case of no Goorj, no problems for the Hawks this week as they toppled the defending champs on the road.

With assistant coach Jacob Jackomas patrolling the sidelines, the Hawks played with an energy that overwhelmed United.

As usual, Antonius Cleveland was the leader of the pack. Nobody across the entire league is playing harder than ‘AC’ right now and he filled the box score again, posting 20 points, 7 boards, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and one rim-rocking alley-oop dunk.

Tyler Harvey (19 points) continued to roll while Duop Reath got after it again, putting up 15 and 5 with 2 dimes, 3 steals and 4 blocked shots.

That’s now three wins in a row for the Hawks, with the last two claimed by sizable margins. It’s all coming together for these guys at the perfect time of the year.

 

Adelaide 36ers

Here are the nominees for best performance by a non-playoff contender….

Adelaide 36ers.

That’s it. That’s the list because, unlike Cairns (vs SEM) and Brisbane (vs TAS), CJ Bruton’s squad stepped out this week and played the role of spoilers to perfection.

Operating without Cam Bairstow (ankle), the Sixers thoroughly outplayed the Phoenix, posting their highest score of the season and delivering a body blow to SEM’s finals aspirations.

Daniel Johnson (22 and 10) was all class while energetic Kiwi Hyrum Harris was outstanding in his first career start, notching up a career-high 11 points, to go with 6 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks.

Hats off to the Sixers for a really impressive win.

 

Anthony Drmic and Robert Franks (Brisbane Bullets)

The Bullets may have split their Round 17 double in remarkable fashion, but these two guys played well right across the two games.

Franks was a beast against New Zealand, putting up 31 and 12, and then battled through early foul trouble to have 21 and 12 in the loss to the Ants. 

Drmic, meanwhile, continued his own terrific form, scoring 35 points across the weekend.

Of course, what we’ll always remember is the miraculous finish to that game against the Breakers. Down 7 with less than 20 seconds remaining, back-to-back triples from Franks and Krebs set the scene for this extraordinary sequence of events…

 

DUDS

Perth Wildcats

Outworked, outexecuted and outplayed.

That was the reality for the Wildcats across Round 17 as they went down to both Tassie and Sydney in disappointing fashion.

Stepping on floor amidst the drama of an attempted import change, the ‘Cats just didn’t bring the juice in either of their games. On Thursday, Tassie monstered them on the glass and troubled them with their tough, gritty defensive play. Unfortunately, that lack of toughness was evident again on Saturday, when Sydney came into the Jungle and blasted them off the floor.

“I think our team needs to realise that perhaps we’re not as talented as some people would like to think, or that our record stated before this weekend.,” Perth coach Scott Morrison said.

“We have to approach the game like we’re the underdogs… we’ve really been outworked and outexecuted four games straight, we just got lucky to win a couple of them.”

One thing that’s worth mentioning is that the ‘Cats were without Mitch Norton, who is unquestionably their toughest dude and most impactful defender. That said, they’ve won without Norton before. In fact, Perth were 5-1 without their point guard, coming into the round.

“We still have enough in the room to win,” Morrison added.

“But not if we’re loose and not executing the game plan and not giving our best effort for the whole time.”

The wash-up from the weekend is that John Brown III ain’t walking through that door. They needed him. They wanted him. But it’s not going to happen. The question is: can they re-establish their identity and get it done without him?

 

South East Melbourne Phoenix

One team not getting it done at the moment is the Phoenix.

Sure, they got a win in the Tropics, but the effort from that squad in Adelaide – in a vitally important clash – was just not at the level.

It was odd too… ‘cos there’s just so much to play for right now. I mean, look at Illawarra. Look at Tassie. With a spot in the postseason up for grabs, those squads are giving maximum effort right now. Unfortunately for the Phoenix, that kind of tenacity just wasn’t on display against the 36ers.

“We got outmanned,” head coach Simon Mitchell said.

“(We had) everything to play for and, physically, we didn’t get the job done.”

There appears to be some tightness creeping into this squad. I mean, this is a team that entered the season with genuine championship aspirations and, as the late-season pressure is ramping up, they seem to be getting the wobbles.

From Mitchell’s perspective, it’s all about their approach to the game.

“It’s endeavour,” he added.

“Fighting for positions on the floor, fighting for every square inch, fighting to box out and giving up your body, your flesh, giving up some bone on every possession.”

They certainly didn’t do that on Sunday and, despite banking some wins early on, a bunch of recent losses has left them in a dog fight for the finals.

“I challenge the boys and myself to be up for that (fight),” club captain Kyle Adnam said.

“That’s where we’ve got to hang our hats. After that we can let talent and our structures prevail but, as a baseline, that’s where it has to begin.”

 

New Zealand Breakers

Trust me, it doesn’t feel good. Nothing about dropping the Breakers in the duds, at this point of another gruelling season, feels good.

But c’mon… you’ve got to close that game out!

The positive is that their entire team, especially Will McDowell-White, will learn from that experience.

The other issue, of course, is the defence. Or rather, lack of it. Game after game after game.

“We struggled defensively. It’s every game,” head coach Dan Shamir reflected after going down to Cairns.

“We couldn’t keep the Taipans off the free throw line. We were complaining a lot, but we were also fouling a lot.”

It’s been another epically tough year for the Breakers and I, like many, really want to see them finish it on a high. If they ramp up their D, they might be able to get that done.

 

Melbourne United

Finally, these guys don’t appear in the duds very often, but they do this week, after lacking their usual edge against the Hawks.

Dean Vickerman’s men have built their success this season off a hard-nosed, defensive approach, but they didn’t meet their own standard in that regard on Sunday.

They were loose with the rock, gave up way too many transition buckets and, in the half court, were on the back-foot in their rotations.

“What happened today can’t happen again,” import guard Caleb Agada said.

“They can’t want it more than us. They can’t fall on loose balls more than us. It was their game and we handed it to them and that’s not the characteristics of a championship team. We have to be better.”

 

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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