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United fine tune preparations with strong Cairns win

Melbourne United continued to fine tune preparations for the NBL21 season-opener next Sunday with Chris Goulding spearheading an impressive 97-81 pre-season victory over Cairns Taipans on New Year's Eve.

United's season begins against the South East Melbourne Phoenix next Sunday while the Taipans have an extra six days before opening up in Brisbane in a Sunshine Stoush against the Bullets, and Melbourne did look a week ahead in their preparations.

The two teams were semi finalists in the NBL a season ago and met on Thursday night to close out 2020 at Cairns Pop-up Arena and will do it all again to ring in 2021 on Saturday as the season continues to close in.

It wasn’t a night without encouraging signs for the Snakes either especially in the form of NBA prospects Mojave King and Kouat Noi who combined for 38 points, but it was a smooth looking Melbourne machine just 10 days out from the season opener.

There was plenty for United to be excited about and they didn’t even have an import out there with Scotty Hopson not suiting up and with them still yet to fill that second slot.

Chris Goulding knocked down three triples on his way to a team-high 17 points for the game while Shea Ili shared ball carrying duties with Mitch McCarron and produced 15 points and four steals.

McCarron played well too for 14 points and five assists on 5/7 shooting but that was only the start of the Melbourne players who offered glimpses into what lies ahead.

Jock Landale is another with an expected NBA future and in 23 minutes, he produced 11 points and eight rebounds for Melbourne with his strong inside-outside game on show.

Japanese signing Yudai Baba was exciting for United too and even found himself getting above the rim on a couple of occasions on his way to 11 points. Dave Barlow added 10 points as well, Jo Lual-Acuil eight to go with four rebounds and Jack White six points, six boards, four steals and two assists.

Melbourne had an impressive shooting night going 52 per cent from the field and hit 12/26 at 46 per cent from downtown. Cairns didn’t shoot too bad but weren’t quite up with United while 20 turnovers for 26 Melbourne points from the Snakes is something they'll need to clean up for the season opener.

Next Star Mojave King was scintillating for the Taipans, though, showing why there are such high expectations on him heading towards the 2021 NBA Draft. 

In his first hit out against real NBL opposition, in 20 minutes of court time he was an excitement machine both around the basket and with his shooting for 21 points and two rebounds. He shot 3/6 as well from downtown.

Kouat Noi was tremendous as well for Cairns with 17 points, three rebounds and two steals while Cam Oliver produced 11 points and four boards, and Scott Machado seven points and six assists.

Former New Zealand Breaker Jordan Ngatai hit some shots for the Snakes for seven points and two assists too while Majok Deng added six points and six rebounds, and Fabijan Krslovic six points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists in a strong all-round showing.

Both teams do it all again in Cairns on Saturday before Melbourne gears up for their opener against the Phoenix while the Taipans host the Adelaide 36ers in two more hit outs on January 7 and 9.

NBL PRE-SEASON

MELBOURNE UNITED 97 (Goulding 17, Ili 15, McCarron 14) 

CAIRNS TAIPANS 81 (King 21, Noi 17, Oliver 11)

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