Casey’s Corner – Round 12

Photo credit: Shuttersport Nelson

The Week That Was 

The Airs started the week with a comfortable if unconvincing win to begin their double header in the deep south. Otago has been reclaiming early season form in recent weeks and their solid defensive effort against Sam Froling (4pts, 3rbs) was another step in this direction. Kimani Lawrence and Zaccheus Darko-Kelly were joined by Matthew Bardsley in double figures and stood out in the game, but a collective Taranaki effort led by Carlin Davision (26pts, 11rbs, 3stls) and Tobias Cameron (20pts, 8rbs) held the Nuggets at bay. The win for the Airs, when combined with their thumping of Southland in the second game of the week, keeps them withing striking distance of a top two finish and with a solid grip on the top four. For the Nuggets the loss sets up a huge week where the postseason chase will either slip away or become a bit more realistic. 

The Canterbury Rams also enjoyed success over two games in the round a home clobbering of the Jets, and a closer than expect win against the Giants where a nostalgic look at the 90's nearly inspired the G-men to the home win. Kobe Langely (32pts, 6ast) nearly willed Nelson to the win, but foul trouble to big man Theo Akwuba enabled Lachlan Olbrich (27pts, 17rbs, 4ast) to feast against smaller defenders whenever the game got close enough to make the Rams sweat. The Rams grip on first place (and postseason homecourt advantage) tightening.

The Giants were able to keep themselves ahead of the pack chasing the 6th spot with a huge win at Hawke's Bay where they extracted some vengeance for falling to the same team on their home floor. This time the result wasn't close as Nelson dominated defensively to win big. Holding Keanu Rasmussen (0 pts, 0-7 fg,5 to's 4fouls) and Lucas Sutherland (6pts, 2-12 fg) well below their normal output was key to the victory that kept Nelson in 6th spot while pushing the Hawks outside the postseason picture. Both teams now needing to regroup as they chase postseason appearances without key Tall Black talent (Dan Fotu and Jordan Ngatai). 

The Whai are now on the outside of that finals chase after their loss to a bouncing back Auckland unit that controlled the game essentially from the outcome despite good effort from Tauranga. Ira Lee's surprise scratching from the lineup tilting the talent in favour of the Tuatara who received key performances off the bench from Brydon Iuli (19pts) and Charlie Daulton (14pts). The bench development was timely with the Tall Blacks international window claiming 3 starters, but even a bumpy road home should still see Auckland claim a home finals date. The Whai may have emptied their petrol tank, with a slew of upcoming games against the top half of the ladder making the postseason a difficult goal to realise. 

The best game of the week was saved for last, as the Franklin Bulls claimed their biggest scalp of the season in a riveting 113-109 overtime victory over the Wellington Saints. Following Izayah Le'afa's (35pts, 6rbs, 4ast) flamethrowing of the second quarter it looked to be another lamentable loss coming the way of Franklin, but the Bulls  bounced back in the second half, led by Luther Muhammad (27pts, 5rbs) before foul trouble ended his night. The physical encounter claimed key performers Ethan Rusbatch, Isaac Davidson and Dom Kelman-Poto before the final buzzer sounded, leaving the Bulls wondering where the offense would come from. Enter Josh Scott (20pts, 6ast, 4rb) and Lee Skinner (24pts, 14rbs, 2stls) both playing their best games of the season while lifting the heavy weight for the offense in the second half to give the Bulls the chance to sneak a road victory. Sam Timmins (14pts, 12rbs, 6ast, 2stl, 3blk) picked up play on the defensive end just enough to temper the play of Tanne Samuel (21pts) and Tohi Smith-Milner (18pts) on the interior while swatting away the driving forays of perimeter players. The Bulls showed a level of perseverance that was previously unrevealed, and in doing so added their name to the list of teams that can realistically secure a championship. 

The biggest win of the year for the Bulls puts the Bulls in position to secure a top 4 spot and the all important home court advantage that comes with it, but the with international window upon us the roster makeup of teams is about to hit some turbulence, and the teams that fly their way through it most cleanly will be sitting pretty come the Final 6. 

Worth Mentioning

Josh Scott & Lee Skinner - Did I mention that these two played their best game of the year? Well one more time won't hurt. Scott hit season highs in points (20), 3 pointers made and attempted (2-4) while dishing out 6 assists and drawing 5 fouls. Skinner recorded his 2nd straight double double with season highs in points (24), rebounds (14), assists (2), free throws (3-3) and made 3's (3). If the import duo can maintain this level of impact down the stretch the Bulls will see themselves firmly in the conversation of teams that can cut down the nets.

Braydon Iuli and Charlie Dalton - Did I mention these guys too? Never too much of a good thing. The development of the bench hasn't been a priority for Aaron Young and the Tuatara, but now must be with the Tall Blacks yanking 60% of the starting lineup. What a perfect time for some young guns to step up. Iuli looks likely to take some ball handling duties as he dropped his 19points against the Whai by driving his way to 7-10 shooting with strong finishes. Dalton played his 3rd most minutes of the year and delivered his 2nd most efficent (6-8fgs) performance, delivering 14pts and 4 rbs with a selection of runners, cuts and 2-2 from 3.  If these two can maintain that level of activity in the near term the Tuatara may still have a chance at the top spot on the ladder.

International Window - The Tall Blacks are claiming 8 players for the full breadth of three rounds while Taylor Britt and Sam Timmins will be gone for a shorter spell as non traveling reserves. The Australian Boomers are dipping in to snare Ben Henshall, Sam Froling and Mitch McCarron as well, meaning 11 starters will be missing time at a crucial time of the year. The teams that best deal with the disruption will see their finals hopes realised, those that don't....

Round 13

Auckland Tuatara v Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets, Wednesday 7:30pm, Eventfinda Stadium  

The Tuatara look to build their form with a revamped starting lineup, but can be expected to lean heavily on Cam Gliddon and Rob Loe in the coming weeks and in particular against the Nuggets in their first game sans a full starting lineup. The Auckland bench will need to step up, but who with Coach Young call on in addition to Charlie Dalton and Braydon Iuli? Will in be veterans Nick Barrow and Chris Mcintosh or will young guns Josh Leger and Tukaha Cooper get the call? 

The Nuggets will be more concerned with their own lineup changes, as Dante Russo-Nance (injured) joins Ben Henshall as unavailable leaving questions as to where the points will come from. Matthew Bardsley and Darcy Knox likely joining the starting lineup to support Darko-Kelly and Lawrence in their scoring endeavors. But the efforts of Jack Andrew will be paramount, especially when it comes to slowing down Rob Loe. 

Stats that Matter: 

Auckland - 53.9 points per game missing in Te Rangi (12.5ppg), Webster (21.4ppg) Vodanovich (20ppg), 77% defensive rebound percentage (2nd in league), 100 defensive rating (1st)

Otago - 85 pace (fastest in league), 14% turnover percentage (8th), 33% Free throw rate)

Matchup to Watch: Cam Gliddon v Zaccheus Darko-Kelly

Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks v Mills Albert Wellington Saints, Thursday 7:30pm, Rodney Green Arena

The Hawks return to the nest after what could be their most disappointing result of the year, and this time with no Jordan Ngatai in the lineup. Can Lucas Sutherland and Keanu Rasmussen bounce back from poor performances and lift their offensive game? If so the Hawks should be able to keep it close with Isaiah Moore's floater game and Josh Roberts interior presence keeping things moving. 

The strength and depth of the Saints interior will be difficult to contain, and even without Le'afa on hand Wellington will be able to stretch the floor with shooting from Ben Ayre and the ability to find top speed in transition as a collective. The biggest question for both teams is who will step up given the opportunity? Can Kobe Kara and Jackson Ball find a new level of contribution? or with it be Rangimarie Dougall-Mita and Sam Gold for the Saints putting their hands up. The answer to that question may well answer the game winner as well. 

Stats that Matter: 

Hawke's Bay - 11% turnover percentage (1st), 44% assist percentage (last), 7% steal percentage (10th), 69% defensive rebound percentage (last)

Wellington - 27% offensive rebound percentage (4th), 115 offensive rating (2nd), 60% assist percentage (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Isaiah Moore v Izayah Le'afa

Southland Sharks v Tauranga Whai, Friday 7:30pm, ILT Stadium Southland

 They've dropped three on the trot since picking up their first (and lone) win of the year, and a long (very long) season for the Sharks continues as they eye what may be a winnable game on their homecourt versus a Whai team that is searching for it's own answers.  The Whai are still hopefuls for the postseason, but that very much depends on winning this game to keep pace with the group of teams (Nelson, Hawke's Bay and Otago) chasing the 6th and final post season position. Both teams play at a slower tempo so should be in their comfort zones, but if Ira Lee remains unavailable the size of the Sharks, and Callum McRae in particular, could pose problems for an undersized frontline.  Cooper Robb has lifted the play of the Sharks and his all around game will be difficult for the Whai to contain, but after a bounce back performance last round Kruz Perrott-Hunt should be up for the challenge. Both teams can expect quality looks to materialise from deep, so the team that finds a greater efficency from behind the arc will likely be the one who scoops the victory. 

Stats that Matter: 

Southland - 26% Offensive Rebounding Percentage (6th), 79 pace (10th), 47% effective field goal percentage (last)

Tauranga - 75 pace (last), 49% effective field goal percentage (10th), 14% turnover percentage (9th)

Matchup to Watch: Cooper Robb v Kruz Perott-Hunt

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams v Mills Albert Wellington Saints, Saturday 4pm, Cowles Stadium

The Rams are rolling and will look to continue their form and impose their will on a Saints team that has produced inconsistent results in the past few weeks. Canterbury was able to do just that when these teams last met, as the the Saints produced their  second highest number of turnovers (18) and offensive rating (103) of the season. The task to improve on that will be difficult for the Saints, still without Hyrum Harris and now sans Le'afa, but they are still an elite offensive team and have the size upfront to make things tough for Lachy Olbrich on the interior. With Taylor Britt a question mark with Tall Blacks extended squad activity the offensive machine the Rams have been may take a bit of a hit, but they have done an excellent job of bleeding in depth so have multiple options if that is the case, with Tama Isaac perhaps the best choice despite him still being a teenager. Possession will be key for both squads, with the team that controls the D-boards and keeps care of the ball the most likely to score the win.

Stats that Matter: 

Canterbury - 78% defensive rebound percentage (1st), 33% offensive rebound percentage (2nd), 103 defensive rating (3rd)

Wellington - 85 pace (2nd), 56% effective field goal percentage (1st), 50% three point rate (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Lachlan Olbrich v Tohi Smith-Milner

Property Brokers Manawatu Jets v NBS Nelson Giants, Saturday 7:30pm, Fly Palmy Arena

The Jets dropped their 13th consecutive game in a lackluster effort, but will look towards a date on their home court against a Dan Fotu-less Giants as a chance to stop that slide.  The loss to the Rams was a low point for the Jets, featuring their lowest fg% and 2nd lowest Offensive rating (86) of the year. But despite the recent form they still have enough talent to protect their home court if the take care of the ball.  Kobe Langely, Alex McNaught and Dan Grida are unlikely to make that an easy task to complete however, as the tri of perimeter players have convalesced into a tough defensive crew.  James Moors and Theo Akwuba will have the bulk of the work down low, but Akwuba will need to avoid foul trouble to lean that matchup into the Giants favour.

Stats that Matter: 

Manawatu - 16% turnover rate (10th), 6% steal rate (last), 69% defensive rebound percentage (10th),

Nelson - 12% turnover rate (2nd), 11% steal rate (2nd), 24% offensive rebound rate (8th)

Matchup to Watch: Mustapha Heron v Dan Grida, and James Moors v Theo Akwuba

Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets v Tauranga Whai, Sunday 3pm, Edgar Centre

The rare road/home double header will mean the Nuggets may be a bit fatigued on their return home, but the Whai will be taking part in their second contest as well to even things out. This game is crucial to the fading postseason hopes of both teams, so motivation shouldn't be an issue, even if a bit tired. With starters out, expect the Nuggets to rely deeply on reserves like Darcy Knox, Matthew Bardsley and Josh Aitcheson in this one, but it will be the play of Kimani Lawrence and Zaccheus Darko-Kelly that will determine the heights of their play. Phill Carr will need to be at his pick and pop best offensively to push the Whai, but his defensive efforts against Lawrence will probably have more to say on the result of the game. Demarcus Robinson should find some freedom to penetrate, but las with Carr, his work across the defensive assignment on Darko-Kelly will be a greater determiner of the outcome. Expect both teams to treat this as do-or-die game as the loser may very well be left out of the finals chase. 

Stats that Matter: 

Otago - 91.33 points per game (6th), 59% free throw shooting (last), 10.6 offensive rebounds per game (last)

Tauranga - 76.40 points per game (10th), 42% field goals (10th), -4.80 rebounding margin (9th), 14.2 assists per game (last)

Matchup to Watch: Kimani Lawrence v Phill Carr

Franklin Bulls v Taranaki Steelformers Airs, Sunday 6:30pm, Franklin Pool and Leisure Centre

The Bulls should return to the Stockyard with a renewed vigor following the huge win and they will be eagerly eyeing the opportunity to leap another rung on the ladder by scooping a win on their homecourt. There will be no Sam Froling or Mitch McCarron, severely impacting the Airs attack, but they could counter that by getting more aggressive with a smaller faster lineup. This would be especially impactful if Sam Timmins isn't back in the fold from his extended squad duties with the Tall Blacks, as his form and defensive sway has been impactful on the interior for the Bulls. They will also be without Ethan Rusbatch, taking a toll on a perimeter attack whose volume has struggled to match that of their opponents this year. Even shorthanded the Bulls will be confident in their chances as last rounds win has buoyed their confidence and the lack of Froling (who smacked them up to the tune of 28pts on 10-13 shooting last time) will even the playing field. Neither team will be chasing the 3 point shot, so efficiency on the interior and the ability to defend drives without fouling will be determining factors. 

Stats that Matter: 

Franklin - 25% three point rate (last), 36% 3point field goal percentage (1st), 33% offensive rebound percentage (1st)

Taranaki - 34% free throw rate (1st), 35% 3point rate (8th), 119 Offensive rating (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Luther Muhammad v Flynn Cameron 


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