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NBL Playoffs Preview
Local rivals and the champs take on the new kids.
Who would’ve thought, after the season we’ve had, that an expansion franchise in their first season, who everyone wrote off because of a perceived talent deficit, would be standing here 28 games later, setting an expansion record with 17 wins in their first season, and taking the place of the Perth Wildcats in the NBL Finals. Perth, who last missed the finals in 1985, ten years before I was even born (sorry if that makes you feel old).
Well that’s what the Tasmania JackJumpers, Scott Roth’s merry band of misfits, did, and boy did they capture the hearts and imaginations of not only those basketball fans down here in the Apple Isle, but basketball fans across the country with their selfless style of play and relentless energy.
But of course, the Finals aren’t just about them, and there’s two mouthwatering series to sink our collective teeth into before we find out who will be contesting the Grand Final series.
Melbourne United (1st - 20-8) vs. Tasmania JackJumpers (4th - 17-11)
Game 1 - Thursday April 28th - 7:30pm - Melbourne
Game 2 - Saturday April 30th - 8:00pm - Hobart
Game 3 - Monday May 2nd - 7:30pm - Melbourne*
The Road Here
Melbourne coasted through large stretches of the regular season and didn’t miss a beat without reigning Finals MVP Jock Landale. While new star guard pairing Matthew Dellavedova and Caleb Agada took a few matches to settle in, Melbourne eventually found their mix and roared past all the competition on the way to the minor premiership, led in part by MVP finalist Jo Lual-Acuil Jr.
Tasmania, on the other hand, really started slow out of the gates with a 2-6 record after 8 games, leading everyone to think they were little more than fodder in their first season in existence. However, Scott Roth’s coaching and buy in from a selfless group of players led by Josh Adams, Josh Magette and Jack McVeigh got the ball rolling, and found their calling card on defence, conceding the fewest points in the league.
Josh Adams vs. Chris Goulding
The reason I’ve gone for these two All-NBL Second Team guards is because I think we kind of know what to expect from the other matchups, and I don’t even necessarily think these two explosive scoring guards will be directly matched up to one another.
What I do expect is for Jo Lual-Acuil to dominate inside, especially given the long term absence of Will Magnay, and for the Josh Magette-Matthew Dellavedova matchup to be a wash due to both guys having well known distribution skills, I think that’ll be pretty even keeled.
However, both Adams and Goulding have the ability to explode for 35 on a given night while also carrying the risk of having absolute howlers, it comes with the territory of being a team’s key scoring threat, and a jumpshot heavy threat at that.
I think whoever gives their team the more consistent scoring punch will go a long way to deciding this series. Adams and Goulding figure to be the points of difference in this series. What I do think swings in Melbourne’s favour is they have better avenues to cover for a potential Goulding sleeper with the likes of Caleb Agada and his versatile scoring array.
Adams definitely has more pressure on him to carry a higher scoring load than Goulding but it will still be a matchup to watch for me.
As much as I’d love to back the JackJumpers for one last ride, and I do genuinely think they have a really good chance of knocking off United, but Melbourne have too much firepower for me over a series.
What I will say is Melbourne have tempted fate by throwing their last match of the season, against Tasmania, and while it won’t be framed as such by the team, they absolutely preferred to play Tasmania over Perth in a Finals series.
For Tasmania to win, I think they have to shut down United’s outside assault. I don’t think they have the cattle to really neutralise Lual-Acuil, but they should really be focused on drying up the space for the likes of Dellavedova, Agada, Goulding, Jack White, Brad Newley, Yudai Baba and Shea Ili.
I think Tassie can steal a game, but not the series, but I’ve been wrong on them before.
Melbourne in 3
Illawarra Hawks (2nd - 19-9) vs. Sydney Kings (3rd - 19-9)
Game 1 - Friday 29th April - 7:30pm - Illawarra
Game 2 - Sunday 1st May - 3:00pm - Sydney
Game 3 - Tuesday 3rd May - 7:30pm - Illawarra*
The Road Here
Illawarra started the season very strongly despite integrating a new star piece in Olympic bronze medallist Duop Reath and defensive stud Antonius Cleveland. Returning core guys like Tyler Harvey, Justinian Jessup and Sam Froling maintained their record early while the new guys got acclimated. There were some struggles midseason as Illawarra’s once-vaunted defence did fall off, and questions were asked about the decision to let Justin Simon walk, but by the end of the season those fears were allayed, with Cleveland storming to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Sydney started slowly amidst a raft of injuries to key guys like new star point guard Jaylen Adams, Next Star Makur Maker and import shooting guard RJ Hunter, who would end up injuring his knee in Wollongong and be released. Fortunes changed once Adams returned to full health and the Kings plucked Ian Clark from a scarce import market given the COVID situation in the NBA at the time. A 13 game win streak later meant Jaylen Adams was crowned with the league’s MVP, while Xavier Cooks was voted to the All-NBL Second Team.
Tyler Harvey vs. Jaylen Adams
This one is pretty obvious, right?
There’s a raft of very exciting matchups across the board here but none will be as entertaining or important as the battle of the two star American point guards.
Harvey is a scoring machine and once he gets hot it’s all over, with his ridiculous ability to hit floaters and three pointers off all kinds of angles already tricky enough to guard before you throw in his deadly handle and ability to snake through the lane to make plays for others.
For Adams, there’s not a lot of guards that can average north of 20 a game scoring while also leading the league in assists, and everything the Kings do goes through the Maryland native.
This feels like a case of who stands up more, and how each team defends the other. Adams is a good defender in his own right but it wouldn’t shock me if the Kings threw Xavier Cooks at Harvey for a few possessions. Harvey isn’t an amazing defender himself, but the Hawks do have DPOY and wing menace Antonius Cleveland to throw at Adams.
The Kings did try having Wani Swaka Lo Buluk guard Harvey in the regular season…it didn’t go great.
Whoever limits the other more wins this series in my opinion, and that might be limiting them to 25 points and 5 assists, if we’re being honest.
This series is so full of juicy matchups we haven’t even really talked about some of these pearlers:
Justinian Jessup vs. Dejan Vasiljevic
Sam Froling vs. Xavier Cooks
Duop Reath vs. Jarell Martin
Antonius Cleveland vs. Wani Swaka Lo Buluk
Xavier Rathan-Mayes vs. Ian Clark
What a series we have in prospect.
To me, this series will come down to defence, as we know both offenses are absolutely electric when they need to be. Both teams have a worthy DPOY candidate on their roster and while Antonius Cleveland won the award, no one would have begrudged Xavier Cooks getting it. Leading the league in rebounding and blocked shots as a wing/smallball center is unheard of.
On form, the Kings are the form team of the competition, winning 14 of their last 16, but have had a poor regular season series against Illawarra, only winning once against their southern rivals.
I think this series goes to three as well, and I do think it’s a coin toss, but people don’t like coin tosses and I have been a Kings fan my entire life, so why not.
Sydney in 3
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