Hungry Jack's NBL
The Run Home: Each Team’s Chance of Making the Finals
By Liam Santamaria
There are only four rounds remaining in the NBL22 regular season and the race to the Hungry Jack’s NBL Finals has reached fever pitch.
With a tick over 75 percent of the regular season in the books, it’s going to be a hectic run home as we play 32 games across the schedule’s final 25 days.
The question is: who will make the top four?
While nine of the league’s ten teams remain ‘mathematical’ chances, the reality is that six teams are now genuinely in the hunt; Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Illawarra, South East Melbourne and Tasmania.
It’s worth noting that no team under the current finals format – in a 28-game season – has ever won 16 games and not qualified for the finals.
This season, however, a 16-14 record probably won’t be enough. That’s because each of the bottom four teams have already amassed 13 losses or more and there is no runaway leader at the top. As a result, 18 wins will likely lock you in while it’s looking more and more like the only way to feel safe is to reach 17 wins with a healthy percentage.
So, as we enter the final phase of the regular season, here’s a look at where each team currently stands in the race for the postseason.
1st – MELBOURNE UNITED
Remaining games: vs Illawarra, @ Perth, @ SEM, @ Cairns, vs Brisbane, vs Cairns, @ Tasmania
State of play: United have dropped a couple recently but there’s no real cause for concern about their prospects. With their almighty percentage, last year’s champs are just a couple of wins away from locking in a finals spot. From there, they’ll turn their attention to securing homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
Key game/s: Starting on Saturday, United play three games in six days against playoff contending teams.
What chance are Melbourne of making their fifth straight trip to the finals? Lock ‘em in, Eddie.
2nd – SYDNEY KINGS
Remaining games: @ Tasmania, @ Adelaide, @ NZ (in Bendigo), @ Illawarra, vs Adelaide, @ Cairns, vs Illawarra
State of play: The Kings are the hottest team in the league right now so, realistically, it’s a matter of when, not if, they’re going to lock in their spot.
Sydney’s percentage isn’t particularly flash, so they’ll want to avoid ties, but four of their remaining seven games are against the league’s bottom three sides. All in all, the purple and gold are looking pretty good for a top two finish.
Key game/s: This week’s clash with Tassie is big, as are the remaining two legs of the Freeway Series.
Are the Kings going back to the playoffs? Yessir, I believe they are.
3rd – PERTH WILDCATS
Remaining games: vs Melbourne, vs NZ, vs Adelaide, vs Cairns, vs Illawarra, vs SEM
State of play: Everything was going along smoothly for the ‘Cats until last week, when their attempted roster change fell over and they dropped back-to-back games at home. It’s not getting any easier this round, either, with the ladder-leaders coming into town.
That said, all of their remaining games are at home, so they’re still looking good for a top four finish. Also, they’re the Wildcats, so… yeah.
Key game/s: This week’s clash with Melbourne is massive but taking care of the three bottom teams over the next few rounds will be just as important.
What chance are the Wildcats of qualifying for the postseason for the… wait for it… 36th consecutive season? In my best Simply Red voice: “If you don’t know me by now…”
4th – ILLAWARRA HAWKS
Remaining games: vs Brisbane, @ Melbourne, @ Brisbane, vs Sydney, @ Perth, @ Sydney
State of play: The Hawks have been playing like a finals team over the past few weeks which has put them in a great position to get back to the playoffs. There’s still plenty of work to do, though, with four of their remaining games against the current top three.
If they can hold on… get this… Brian Goorjian will secure a top four finish in the NBL for the twenty-second consecutive time.
Key game/s: As long as Tassie and SEM keep nipping at their heels, all of them are crucial.
So… what chance are the Hawks of flying into the finals? If they continue their current level of play, they’ll make it. If they dip… well, geez, things will get wild down the stretch.
5th – SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX
Remaining games: @ Cairns, vs Melbourne, @ NZ (in Bendigo), vs Tasmania, vs Adelaide, @ Perth
State of play: The Phoenix were in a great position just a couple of weeks ago. At the conclusion of Round 13, last year’s semi-finalists had just beaten the Wildcats and were sitting second on the ladder with a 10-5 record. They improved that to 11-5 with a win in their next game but have since dropped five of their last six to go tumbling out of the four.
Key game/s: After losing last Sunday in Adelaide, every game is huge from this moment on.
Can the Phoenix turn things around and squeeze their way in? It would take an almighty turnaround in form, but they’ve certainly got the talent to get it done. Who knows, maybe it will all come down to that final game in the Jungle.
6th – TASMANIA JACKJUMPERS
Remaining games: @ Adelaide, vs Sydney, vs Cairns, @ NZ (in Hobart), @ SEM, vs Melbourne
State of play: Okay, so how can the JackJumpers make this happen?
Firstly, they’re going to have to boost their percentage. A massive ten of their twelve wins this season have been by 10 points or less so, without a huge rise in their percentage, they’re not likely to win any tie-breaking situations.
With that in mind, they’re just going to have to pile up the wins. Scott Roth knows that, which is why he’s doing a masterful job right now of keeping his players focused. Roth is like the 90s sitcom dad of the NBL… just listen to that man, Jackies, and follow his lead.
Key game/s: Every game is a playoff game for Tassie from this point on.
Can they do it? Can they really do it? It’s unlikely from here, but in the immortal words of an NBA champion….
7th – BRISBANE BULLETS
Remaining games: @ Illawarra, vs Adelaide, vs Illawarra, @ Adelaide, @ Melbourne, @ Cairns
State of play: Let’s be clear: the Bullets ain’t making the finals. That said, they are still a mathematical chance of qualifying. It would take a miracle but if Brisbane went undefeated the rest of the way and one of Perth, Sydney or Illawarra didn’t win another game, there’s the tiniest of chances that James Duncan’s squad could sneak in. Of course, this is the real world so, yeah, that’s not happening.
That said, Brisbane could throw the finals race wide open if they knock off the Hawks once – or even twice – over the next ten days.
Key game/s: One more loss will make it mathematically impossible for the Bullets to make the finals.
So, you’re telling me there’s a chance? Not really… but sure.
8th – ADELAIDE 36ERS
Remaining games: vs Tasmania, @ Brisbane, vs Sydney, vs Brisbane, @ Perth, @ Sydney, vs SEM, @ NZ (in Hobart)
State of play: An (incredibly unlikely) undefeated run home would take the 36ers to 15 wins which, in all reality, won’t be enough this year to get in. They can, however, inflict some more damage on the genuine playoff contenders. Last week’s win over the Phoenix was a gut punch to Simon Mitchell’s crew and a victory over Tassie on Friday would be a similar burn for the Ants.
Key game/s: Remember those wins over Perth and Melbourne in January? Man, they were fun.
Do you believe in miracles? Yeah, but not this one.
9th – CAIRNS TAIPANS
Remaining games: vs SEM, @ NZ (in Hobart), @ Tasmania, vs Melbourne, @ Perth, @ Melbourne, vs Sydney, vs Brisbane
State of play: Like Adelaide, if the Taipans enter some kind of bizarro world and win all their remaining games, the max they can get to is 15 wins. Unfortunately, that’s not going to get it done.
The question is: can they help shape the finals by pulling off an upset or two?
Key game/s: A win on Saturday night would almost put a fork in the Phoenix.
What have you got against bizarro worlds? Nothing, I love them. Leave me alone.
10th – NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Remaining games: vs Cairns (in Hobart), @ Perth, vs SEM (in Bendigo), vs Sydney (in Bendigo), vs Tasmania (in Hobart), vs Adelaide (in Hobart)
State of play: Entering Round 18, the Breakers are the only team that’s mathematically out of contention for the finals. Sorry to bear the bad news.
Key game/s: Revenge against the Taipans would be a fun place to start.
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