NBL Preview: Round 10 Cairns v New Zealand

From NBL.com.au :

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 6 December

Where: Cairns Convention Centre

Broadcast: ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand

The last time

New Zealand 93 (Webster 23, Hampton 18, Ashley 14) d Cairns 85 (Oliver 23, Deng 18, Noi 16), Round 5, Spark Arena

This was a bad day for the Breakers. Forget the eight-point win or the incredible Corey Webster performance or even the defensive effort that forced Cairns into 19 turnovers, because this was the day they lost Scotty Hopson to injury. All the on-court struggles and off-court dramas derived from their star import’s absence has put their season on the brink.

The now

Thankfully for Kiwi fans, last week’s hammering of the Hawks in an amped up Spark Arena has maintained a playoff pulse, the Breakers three games behind Melbourne in fourth spot, with only two of their next 10 games against sides in the top four, and both of those against SE Melbourne. With an ailing Brisbane to come in Auckland on Monday, a win in the Far North on Friday could be a launchpad for an unlikely run once Webster and Hopson return.

New Zealand have tamed The Snakepit twice in the past two seasons, however, after going 9-17 at home across that span, Cairns have won four of their past five including dual Ws over Melbourne and a come-from-behind masterpiece against Perth. The Taipans are now just 1.5 games out of fourth, but with the top three on the menu over the next fortnight, including visits to Sydney and SE Melbourne, this game is huge for their playoff chances.

The stats

– The Breakers are 3-0 against Cairns and Illawarra, but 0-8 against the rest of the league

– Cairns are 0-4 against the Hawks and Breakers, but 5-3 against all other teams

– New Zealand rank 9th in rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding percentage. The Taipans ranks 7th in total boards and 9th in d-boards

– Cairns take the second-fewest shots at the rim but convert at the highest percentage (69%), while the Breakers take the most rim shots but are 8th in conversion (63%)

The match-ups

Scott Machado v RJ Hampton – The NBL’s two Next Star point guards have averaged 20.8ppg at 52 per cent against Cairns, but just 12.2ppg at 37 per cent against the rest of the league. In the Breakers’ Round 5 win, Hampton was slick with 18 points at 67 per cent, his best return of the season. In short, Machado needs to step up in this game, or his team will continue to sabotage their playoff hopes by losing to the bottom two. 

Cam Oliver v Brandon Ashley – NZ are giving up the second-most two-point buckets at the highest percentage (53%), their opponents scoring most efficiently from cuts, screen-and-rollers and off-ball screens, and that all points to a lack of interior defence. While Rob Loe’s return will help, Ashley needs to step up against Oliver, who can drag him out to the perimeter but also punish defensive breakdowns in the most spectacular ways inside.

The quotes

Cam Oliver wasn’t at his best in Round 8, he knows it, and he knows it eventually affected his team.

“I wasn’t really proud of myself the last round,” he said.

“I thought I was in my own head a little bit, I thought my inconsistency kicked in. That’s been a knock on me for a long time in my career, so I wanted to turn the page and be able to. Show everybody I’m a new person.”

Of course, Space Cam is far too important for the Taipans to let struggle for weeks on end, so coach Mike Kelly and Co set about getting their import big back on track.

How did they do it? By making Oliver the centrepiece? By making sure he got touches early and often? No, in fact quite the opposite.

“A lot of our offence is built on good ball movement and bigs and guards working together, and Cam creates a lot of his stuff himself with his activity,” Kelly said.

“It wasn’t that we ran a bunch of set plays for Cam Oliver, it’s just that the offence worked and he worked well in it.

“It wasn’t that we refocused on Cam Oliver, we refocused on our team to play better basketball and Cam’s such a big part of that he will naturally get more touches when we’re flowing.”

It worked. Oliver starred in his team’s impressive 93-86 win over Melbourne with 26 points and 13 boards as he went 9-of-13 from inside the arc.

The way Oliver excelled in a team-first environment was a good reminder to the Taipans that selflessness and simple execution can be pretty effective in pro basketball.

“We are starting to come together as a group and seeing some good things happen when we play the right way, so we’re just going to try and continue to build on those simple, fundamental things and keep this group tight,” Kelly said.

“This is definitely a team that needs every player to play their role.”

Those were sentiments shared by the Breakers after they overcame. The absence of leading scorers Scotty Hopson and Corey Webster.

While the team had adapted over a number of weeks to life without Hop, their two-way performance in their first game without C-Web was impressive.

“He’s one of the top scorers on our team and I think the whole team needed to be aggressive to make up for the points he puts out on the court,” guard Sek Henry said.

Henry was superb at both ends, helping dog LaMelo Ball into a 10-of-28 shooting night with 6 turnovers, while finishing the job at the other end with 25 points at 58 per cent himself.

While Henry’s was a standout performance from an out-of-form player, but perhaps the biggest improvement was New Zealand’s second-half.

Where they’d been suffering a case of post-interval blues, they withstood a number of Hawks challenges to get the much-needed win, something Henry put down to the leadership of Tom Abercrombie, Finn Delany and Jarrad Weeks.

“Finn, Weeks, Tom, after every play, even when they scored, they kept huddling us up,” Henry said.

“(They were) telling us to run a good play the next play, which coach called, and just to hang in there because they were scoring, and eventually in the end we got some stops and we kept scoring.”

That resilience was a welcome sight for coach Dan Shamir, especially with a string of winnable games on the horizon, and gives him confirmation his team still has belief.

“These are always opportunities for people to dig in and step up. Internally, the core is strong I think, everybody feels that. We are doing the work and I think we’re a healthy team on the inside,” he said.

“One of the key factors is injury but it’s not the only thing, there are basketball issues that we need to discuss, but hopefully today was the first step to happier times.”

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