Liam Santamaria’s Round 15 NBL Studs and Duds

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


Adelaide 36ers

That must’ve felt good for the 36ers.

In a terrific result all-round for the club, the Sixers beat up on Melbourne on Saturday night in front of a record home crowd.

Joey Wright’s men were the aggressors against United as they notched up a 32-point opening quarter, eventually running away with a 14-point win.

“Right from the jump we were anticipating and dictating,” Wright commented postgame.

“We did a great job energy-wise, forcing eight turnovers in that first quarter, and that gave us the opportunity to get out on the break a little bit and get some things happening.

“I was really pleased with the effort.”

The Sixers were led by Jerome Randle (23 points), Eric Griffin (21 & 11) and Daniel Johnson (19) but received positive contributions right across the roster as they thoroughly outplayed last year’s Grand Finalists.

“This was one game where I could feel that everybody was locked in,” Randle shared.

“I felt it – the energy, the talk. Everybody just came out like, ‘We’re not losing this game’. That’s how we have to go into every single game.”

The 36ers have now won three of their last four and if they topple the Taipans this week, they’ll have exactly the same record as Cairns as we enter the final stretch of the regular season.

Brisbane Bullets

Run for cover, the Bullets are running hot!

Notching up their second-straight W with an impressive showing across the ditch, the Bullets have now won three of their past four games and are one win (over Illawarra) away from returning to .500 for the first time since late November.

In fact, that’s why this column has dropped a little late today: I’m back on island time.

What impressed about Brisbane this week was the way they went about their business. There was an urgency and intensity to their play that, when combined with their chemistry and smarts, makes them extremely tough to beat.

The Bullets got after it defensively, got work done on the glass, moved the ball beautifully and, to put it simply, just grabbed that game by the scruff of the neck.

“That’s the Brisbane Bullets right there,” Lamar Patterson said.

“Just being able to show our versatility and depth. We know our backs are against the wall a little bit as we’re trying to make this last push. I’m proud of my guys.”

The Bullets had 8 guys score 8 or more points against NZ, including Cam Gliddon who exploded for 11 of his equal season-high 14 points in the final quarter to seal the win.

“We’ve got a lot of experienced guys, a lot of guys who have played a whole lot of basketball,” Patterson added.

“We know we’re not going to get anxious out there, we’re just going to stay level-headed and try to get more wins.”

For the record, the Bullets play five of their remaining seven games at home we’re they’ve currently won twice as many games as they’ve lost.

Sydney Kings

The Kings took care of business on their home floor on Saturday against an opponent who had battled through a tough game less than 48 hours earlier.

The Taipans are tough, don’t get me wrong, but given the schedule, Sydney should have won that game and they did. They did it in style too, locking the Snakes up at one end and then playing unselfish ball down the other.

According to NBL Facts, the Kings have now become the only team in history to be on top of the NBL ladder from round one through to round fifteen.

What’s most impressive about that accomplishment is that they’ve actually got that done in a bit of a canter. I mean, let’s be real: two-time MVP Kevin Lisch has barely played, other rotation guys like Craig Moller and Didi Louzada have been in and out of the line-up, they’ve been limiting Andrew Bogut’s minutes to keep him fresh for the finals and Casper Ware is yet to fully find his shooting touch.

No surprise: I’m still with the Kings for the title.

Dane Pineau (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

Speaking of winning things, this man has to be your frontrunner for MIP.

I’m a big fan of Sunday Dech, Shaun Bruce and Will Magnay – they’ve all taken huge leaps – but Pineau, who ranks fourth in the entire league for rebounds per game, surely has to be out in front.

After posting a monstrous line last week, ‘Great Dane’ notched up a second straight stellar effort on the glass yesterday with a 14-point, 19-rebound performance against the Hawks.

According to NBL Facts, Pineau has now become the first player to record at least 19 boards in consecutive games since the legendary Mark Bradtke achieved the feat in December 2002.

“He’s great, he’s a warrior, he’s playing his butt off,” Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell remarked about Pineau.

“He’s logging big minutes with Keith (Benson) now playing in Dubai and his ability to run the floor, defend the pick-and-roll and his relentlessness at both ends of the floor on the boards… his courage and his discipline was fantastic.”

Another Phoenix player who deserves a mention in the studs is Kendall Stephens, who posted an NBL career-high 20 points yesterday on 6-of-11 shooting from long range.

Stephens’ breakout performance snapped a streak of 15 straight single-digit scoring games from the second-year pro, who has been battling through a niggling ankle injury.

“The acid was put on him this week: ‘Man, you’re healthy now. You’ve got no excuses. You’ve got to get out there and get a job done’ and I thought he was excellent,” Mitchell said about Stephens.

Shout-out also to veteran guard Ben Madgen (17 points, 5 assists) who played through injury yesterday to help lift his team to a win.


Melbourne United

This team just ain’t clicking.

Dean Vickerman alluded to it midway through last week when he spoke about working on the “connections” that exist between his players – connections, he said, that needed to improve both on and off the floor.

Unfortunately for Melbourne, that lack of synergy continued to plague them this week as they struggled to execute at both ends against a desperate Adelaide team.

“We weren’t good enough,” United captain Chris Goulding stated.

“They attacked us and our defence wasn’t up to scratch. Turning the ball over and not making shots doesn’t help when your defence isn’t helping you out either.”

‘United’ have now claimed victory in just one of their last four games and, glancing even further back, have gone 4-6 over their last ten.

Those recent struggles have now left them at serious risk of slipping outside the top four for the first time since early November.

“It’s been a substandard quarter (of the season) for us but we’ve got a quarter to go,” head coach Dean Vickerman said.

“We need a positive score out of that. Whether that’s 5-2 or 4-3, we need a positive outcome.

“We’ve shown when we get it right how good we can be but we haven’t done that consistently enough so far.”

No sir, not by a long shot.

Melo Trimble (Melbourne United)

The United player struggling the most at the moment is undoubtedly Trimble.

The talented point guard put up 5 points and 5 assists against Adelaide, shooting just 2-for-13 from the field including 0-of-5 from outside.

That’s three straight single-digit scoring games now for Trimble. In fact, across Melbourne’s last four, the 24-year-old has shot just 13-of-54 from the field including an ugly 0-for-18 from downtown.

“[Melo] has had a number of games recently that he wouldn’t be happy with, compared to the standard that he was playing at the start of the year,” Vickerman reflected.

“We did what we could this week to challenge him and then encourage him to be better but it didn’t make a change tonight. We’ve got to find a different angle this week to get him up to scratch.”

According to Vickerman, Trimble’s offensive struggles were further magnified on Saturday by his inability to have a positive impact on D.

“Every player goes through a little patch it’s just about how long it takes you to get out of it,” the Melbourne coach added.

“We really pushed him that regardless of whether he’s making shots to really focus on the defence and he could’ve been better in some situations at that end guarding Randle down the stretch.”

Illawarra Hawks

The Hawks showed some fight at times across the weekend but not often enough, with another pair of Ls sinking their record to 5-17.

Truth be told, I was actually going to let them off the hook again this week. But, after re-watching their first half against Perth – including that disastrous 22-2 Wildcats run – it was clear that they deserve a mention.

Illawarra’s leading scorer, Todd Blanchfield, aired his frustrations over the weekend.

“We come in and work way to0 damn hard every day to not reward ourselves with a win. We’ve got to start rewarding ourselves,” he said.

“We’ve got five wins and people are saying ‘you’re playing well’ and ‘you’re close’ but it’s not good enough… we’ve got start converting that into wins.

“This crowd comes out and supports us every week; another really good crowd tonight and we served up that performance which was disappointing.”

Next up for the Hawks is a trip to Brisvegas for a showdown with the in-form Bullets.

Cam Oliver (Cairns Taipans)

The Taipans split their double this week but it was a rough couple of outings, individually, for all-league contender Cam Oliver.

‘Space Cam’ entered Round 15 in terrific form, having recorded five double-doubles across his previous six games, but just wasn’t able to have his usual impact in either of the Snakes’ games.

Oliver put up 12 and 8 in the win over New Zealand with 2 steals and 2 blocks however he was highly inefficient offensively, shooting just 6-of-21 from the field including 0-for-6 from long range.

It was a performance Oliver eloquently summarised on Twitter postgame…

In the loss to Sydney, Oliver posted 8 points and 7 boards with the Kings outscoring the Snakes by 22 while he was on the floor.

Once again, the big fella took to social media to vent his frustrations, posting: “Slummmmmp slumpity slump slump smh bounce back.”

Expect that bounce-back to arrive this week against Adelaide.

Mitch Creek & Tai Wesley (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

The Phoenix grabbed a much-needed win over the Hawks yesterday despite inefficient nights from two of their primary offensive targets.

MVP candidate Mitch Creek scored just 8 points on 2-of-11 shooting while Wesley posted a season-low 5 points on 3-of-11 – the pair also combining for 9 of SEM’s 17 turnovers.

That’s two straight relatively quiet games for Creek, who put up just 11 and 4 in last week’s loss to the Breakers.

As for Wesley, the Grown Man has shot just 25 percent (11/44) from the field across SEM’s past three games after threatening to break out with a big scoring night a couple of weeks ago.

Don’t get me wrong, Creek and Wesley are still doing work, despite their lack of scoring tough. In fact, Dane Pineau went out of his way to make that point about Wesley after yesterday’s win.

“Tai Wesley’s doing all the hard work for me,” Pineau stated.

“Every time he’s blocking the big fellas out and I’m getting a free run at it. Down the other end he’s being guarded by the better defender and I kind of get to roam around a little bit.

“I know he hasn’t been shooting that well but his presence helps me out a lot… he’s just doing so much work that goes a little unnoticed and, at the minute, I’m getting a little bit of the spoils with the numbers.”

That being said, the Phoenix need both Wesley and Creek to regain their touch if they’re to make a late-season playoff push.

Help is on the way for that team – a new import should be arriving this week – but with Perth and Sydney on the slate in round 16, they’re going to need both Creek and Wesley at their best if they’re to keep their playoff dream alive.

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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