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Casey’s Corner: Round 11

Photo credit: Stepney Sports

The Week That Was 

Round 10 ended with three distinct groups forming on the ladder and with the rounds counting down it may be difficult if not impossible for teams to maneuver themselves into a position higher on the ladder.  

The Southland Sharks and Manawatu Jets have found themselves on the outside looking in, as both teams have only been able to secure a solitary win this season their best hope is to play spoiler moving forward. The Sharks would have been hopeful that a page had been turned on their season as they sat 10 points up on their home court against a Franklin squad that was suddenly looking vulnerable.  But then Josh Scott (18pts, 70%fg, 6ast, 3stls) and Luther Muhammad (27pts, 6ast, 3stl) offered a blend of offensives class in transition and the halfcourt for which the Sharks were unable to keep pace, as the Bulls dominated defensively while limiting their fouls to cruise to victory. 

Manawatu would have been hopeful themselves, as an Otago squad in the midst of a 5 game losing streak (having dropped 8 of 9 overall) looked to be vunerable on the second leg of their double header with a slender 3 point lead heading into the 4th quarter. The Nugs had other plans as their import trio (Henshall, Darko-Kelly and Lawrence) and Russo=Nance all scored at least 17 points on the path to a desperately needed victory. The Sharks and Jets now only hoping to play the spoiler roll down the stretch of the year as they sit outside the teams with realistic chances to make a Final 6 run

The Nugs found improved form in New Plymouth, sticking close to the Airs before eventually succumbing to their talent and pace, but that much needed win against the Jets allowed the Nugs to join the group of four teams sitting on 5 wins, all with a realistic path of becoming the 6th and final team to claim a postseason stake. Tauranga was hopeful the addition of Ira Lee would give them the talent boost to springboard to the top of the group, but the Saints proved too strong in a win that was more dominant then the 12point scoreline at the end of the game. Phill Carr (31pts) with his best offensive effort unable to counter the 3-point barrage of the Saints, as they dropped 18 from deep at 48%, Izayah Le'afa leading the way with 7 bombs for 27 points as even with the Whai's 2nd highest score of the year was unable to keep pace with Wellington's offensive prowess. The loss moves the What into a 3 way tie for 7th place (all teams 5-8) with the Nugs and the Nelson Giants all chasing the 6th and final postseason position. The Giants had the opportunity to move out of that group with a home win last round against the Hawks, but were unable to keep Jordan Ngatai under wraps in the fourth quarter, who with the help of Isaiah Moore turned a 5 point deficit heading into the 4th quarter into a 5 point win. The win handing inside position to the Hawks with 8 games left in their season (1 more than the 3 teams chasing them). 

That leaves a group of 5 with a chance to finish in the top 4 to secure an entry to the semi-finals on their home court by finishing in the top 2. In that group the Bulls and Saints have the most work to do, both claiming 4 losses, and any hiccups making it very difficult to claim a home semi. The Airs have been taking care of their business, which is what good teams should do during month long home stands, but still find themselves off the pace of the top two teams in the league. 

The Rams and Tuatara set up perhaps the most intriguing regular season in a decade by winning their games last round. Canterbury took victory in a disjointed game that featured (maybe not featured) 49 fouls, but still looked totally in control even when not playing their best to pull down their 9th consecutive win. The Tuatara have not played as consistently well as they would have liked over their 10 game winning streak, but winning is the important thing and their veteran laden squad has done what is necessary when needed to secure top of the table status. But as good as these two teams have played the loser of Sunday's matchup will find themselves a full step back and fighting for 2nd rung on the ladder, while the winner will find it hard not to start peeking at the postseason and the possibilities that come with it. 

Worth a Mention

Saints Shooting - The Saints are far and away the most 3 happy team in the comp (with a 49% 3point rate) but the good news is they also shot the highest percentage (35% 3pfg) making it a great strategy.  The shooting is spread out, with Le'afa (4.78 makes), Tohi Smith-Milner (2.92 makes) and Ben Ayre (2.75 makes) combining for over 10 3's a game. When struggling from deep the offense can get muddled, but with Hyrum Harris seemingly out of the lineup for the foreseeable future those 3's are going to become the staple of the Saints offense giving them the ability to keep pace with anyone (as evidenced by the 15 combined 3's of Smith-Milner and Le'afa vs. Auckland) but where do they go when the shots aren't falling? 

Streaks on the line - Did I mention that the Tuatara have won 10 straight and the Rams 9? Well let me do so again, as win streaks are tough to come by and the meeting of two teams riding ones of this length even rarer. Each team last tasted defeat at less than full strength, Auckland sans Cam Gliddon in Nelson and Canterbury against this very Tuatara team but without starters Olbrich or K.J. Buffen. In that game M.J. Walker did go for an impressive season high 41, but that paled in comparison to the 47 point 2nd quarter that Auckland pulled together that ended the game at the halfway point. Following the rematch one team will have the inside track to top spot to go along with a double digit win streak, yeah that's worth a mention...

Round 11

Mills Albert Wellington Saints v Property Broker Manawatu Jets, Wednesday 7:30pm, TSB Arena 

The Saints will be without Harris for another round and Lat Mayen is still a question mark making Wellington slightly vulnerable as they return to their home court. But the firepower that remains will likely be too much for a Jets squad that hasn't been able to muster offense when they need it most. Malik Benlevi has proved capable with an expanded role and his production and strength at power forward will keep the offense ticking at a high level even with the Saints below full strength. But even below full strength the Saints offense is powerful, as their 98.42 points per game leads the league.  For the Jets, even the addition of Kahil Whitney and James Moors to the lineup isn't enough to buoy an offense that averages 81.58 ppg (9th in league) to the level of a less than full strength Saints team.  But in this matchup stranger things have happened (including last year where the Jets beat the Saints behind Mustapha Heron and Danny Pippen performances) so there is a modicum of hope from the green army, but how long that lasts will depend on taking care of the ball combining with shot making to actually score enough points to keep up with the pace of offense on the day.

Stats that Matter: 

Wellington- 55% effective field goal% (1st in league), 61% assist rate (1st), 78% defensive rebound % (2nd)

Manawatu- 50% effective field goal% (9th), 17% turnover rate (10th), 101 offensive rating (10th)

Matchup to Watch: Izayah Le'afa v Mustapha Heron

Southland Sharks v Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks, Thursday 7:30pm, ILT Stadium Southland

The Sharks get another crack to notch win number 2 on their home court hoping for a bit more than was achieved in their early season 27 point loss to the Hawks. The arrival of Cooper Robb has helped the Sharks on defense (where Robb averages 4 steals per game) and offense (as they scored their highest total of the year in his first game). But it will take more than subtle improvement to beat the Hawks this time around as the return of Keanu Rasmussen to pair with Moore and Ngatai makes their offense very formidable. With just a single true big on the Hawks roster (Josh Roberts) the Sharks could create an advantage on the interior and on the offensive glass (behind McRae and Marcale Lotts) but that will be negated if the Hawks are able to play at their preferred pace.  The Hawks will be ready as well, given a loss in this game will knock loose their hold on the final postseason spot. 

Stats that Matter: 

Southland - 26% offensive rebound rate (7th), 20% free throw rate (last), 18% turnover rate (last)

Hawke's Bay - 11% turnover rate (lowest), 41% assist rate (last), 71% defensive rebound rate (10th)

Matchup to Watch: Cooper Robb v Isaiah Moore

Tauranga Whai v NBS Nelson Giants, Friday 7:30pm, Mercury Baypark Arena

This is a game whose outcome may decide the postseason fate of both teams as both the Giants and Whai currently have tenuous grasps on their postseason chances. The Whai will be confident, having won the last matchup on the road and having added to the front line with the arrival of Ira Lee.  They have been most successful on their home court and will be hopeful that their form defending the Mount will be equal to what they put forth in Nelson a couple of rounds back. In that matchup the Whai were able to lock down the 3 point line (allowing just 5 makes from 28 attempts) while limiting fouls (just 6-9 ft's for the Giants) while they played efficient offense (52%fg, 42%3pfg). That will be the gameplan once more, but the inconsistent form of Nelson probably has more to do with themselves than opponents. With wins over Auckland, Wellington and Franklin they know they play with the top half of the ladder, but if they can't force their way to the free throw line of find a better efficiency from deep their run of inconsistent results will likely continue. 

Stats that Matter: 

Tauranga - 23% free throw rate (10th), 49% effective fg% (1oth), 44% 3point rate (2nd)

Nelson - 12% turnover rate (2nd best), 11% steal rate (2nd), 33% free throw rate (2nd), 34% 3point rate (9th)

Matchup to Watch: Phill Carr v Dan Fotu

Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets v Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks, Saturday 4pm, Edgar Centre

The Nugs return to Dunedin having picked up just their 2nd win in their last 10 outings and hoping that it is a return to early season form and not reminiscing of their home win against Nelson that was more mirage than reality. Kimani Lawrence continues to be a handful in the paint while Zaccheus Darko-Kelly, Ben Henshall and Dontae Russo-Nance bounced back with improved performances last round to give hope for a postseason chase. But the last time these teams met that wasn't enough to keep the Hawks from taking an 11 point victory.  This time around it will be key for the Nugs to keep the Hawks off the line while finding some success of their own at the stripe. For the Hawks, their second game of the round won't make securing victory easier, but with the inside track to the 6th finals spot and a team that understands how to win and who they are should be enough to find the winners circle for the second time of the round.

Stats that Matter: 

Otago - 85 pace (1st), 34% 3point rate (10th), 71% defensive rebound% (9th)

Hawke's Bay - 96.67 points per game allowed (last), 5.67 steals per game (10th), 9.25 made 3's per game (4th)

Matchup to Watch: Kimani Lawrence v Jordan Ngatai

Taranaki Steelformers Airs v Mills Albert Wellington Saints, Saturday 7:30pm, TSB Stadium

Taranaki welcomes the Saints to town for what will be their toughest matchup since Round 7 when they fell to the Rams, giving Taranaki the chance to prove their form of late is more than the product of their opponents. Their recent form would point to this being the case as they have been dominant in victories as while sharing the load across a talented lineup. Sam Froling's (3rd in scoring and rebounding in the league form has been impressive but relatively untested while Carlin Davison seems to have taken a leap with his impressive run of late. Mitch McCarron missed the previous matchup against the Saints and the Airs will hope that his inclusion will offer the stability needed to overcome the Saints in the half court. The Saints will be on their second game of the round and without Hyrum Harris and possibly without Lat Mayen.  They have the talent to overcome the absence of those players, especially if they find some space behind the arc, as their 13 made three's per game attests to. But if the shot isn't falling the strength and skill of Taane Samuel may prove to be the X-Factor, as he will have an advantage in the paint against whomever the Airs decide to match up with him. This will be a spicy match up, with quite a bit of feeling the first time around, but there is more pressure on the Saints this time out, given a loss may put a top two spot out of reach. For the Airs, a win puts them equal 2nd with a run home that could secure a home semi final, ensuring both teams will be bringing their best.

Stats that Matter: 

Taranaki - 79 pace (10th), 13% turnover rate (7th), 30% free throw rate (3rd)

Wellington - 85 pace (2nd), 13% turnover rate (6th), 36% free throw rate (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Mitch McCarron v Izayah Le'afa Bonus Sam Froling v Tohi Smith-Milner

Auckland Tuatara v Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams, Sunday 3pm, Eventfinda Stadium

The game of the round (maybe game of the regular season) is upon us, as the two longest winning streaks in the league come together. In the matchup of last years title game both teams will be looking to send a message to their opponent and the rest of the league about their class.  The last time out the Tuatara had their best offensive quarter of the season (47 points) and were able to cruise to victory, but that was without Olbrich or Buffen around to temper the inside attack of the Dino's.  There are mouthwatering across the board Loe v Olbrich, Vodanovich v Buffen, Walker v Gliddon, Te Rangi v Brown but Taylor Britt v Corey Webster may be the one that has the most to say about who wins the game. Britt will be eager to prove his improved form on both ends of the ball can slow down his backcourt mate from a season ago before Tall Blacks camp starts, while C Webb has little to prove it is always fun to prove that the flame still lights when called on. This is tough match to predict with an unstoppable force coming up against an immovable object, so lets just sit back and enjoy the show.

Stats that Matter: 

Auckland - 13% turnover rate (4th), 57% assist rate (2nd), 78% defensive rebounding rate (1st), 26% offensive rebounding rate (6th), 100 D-rating (1st)

Canterbury - 12% turnover rate (3rd), 48% assist rate (8th), 77% defensive rebounding rate (3rd), 33% offensive rebounding rate (1st), 102 D-rating (2nd)

Matchup to Watch: All of em, but Rob Loe v Lachlan Olbrich and Corey Webster v Taylor Britt in particular

Property Broker Manawatu Jets v Franklin Bulls, Sunday 6:30pm, Fly Palmy Arena

The Jets will return home for their 3rd consecutive Sunday game, but armed with the hope that they can find better results this time around. That won't be easy against the Bulls whose ball hawking ways will cause real problems against the Jets. In their first matchup of the season the Jets kept things close in Franklin, but were unable to truly threaten the Bulls as they charged to an 18 point win. But both teams look vastly different having shifted rosters and imports since then making most of the data from that game moot. James Moors will provide a more stout line of defense against Sam Timmins but that still leaves Luther Muhammad to contend with. Turnovers will tell the story of the game, if the Jets can cut back on mistakes they may have the pace and skill to sneak out a win, but if not another long afternoon awaits the Green Army faithful. 

Stats that Matter: 

Manawatu - 45% assist% (10th), 6% steal rate (last), 39% 3point rate (4th)

Franklin - 55% effective fg% (2nd), 11% steal rate (1st), 26% 3point rate (last)

Matchup to Watch: Mustapha Heron v Luther Muhammad 

Advance Stats courtesy of spatialjam.com

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