Casey’s Corner Round 15

Photo credit: Roshysportfolio

The Week that Was 

The machine that is the Canterbury Rams continued to methodically work its way to the Final six, this week dropping two opponents with ease. They finished the week with a cruisy victory over the Jets. It was a solid offensive performance from Manawatu but there were no answers for Lachie Olbrich (30pts, 18rbs, 5ast) and a starting lineup that was down two imports yet still able to notch up double digits for all members. Earlier in the week in what looked like the game of the round they were able to dominate the Airs in similar fashion, scoring 121 points with 7 players in double figures (led by 23 off the bench for Taki Fahrensohn) while dominating defensively. For the Rams a 15 game winning streak has nearly put the top seed in their grasp but has certainly put a large amount of fear in their opponents.

The Airs were able to salvage the week with a split, using a dominating 3rd period without two imports (Mitch McCarron and Sam Froling away with the Boomers) to overcome a double digit deficit to come away from the week with a firm grip on 3rd position and the home play in game that comes with it. Five players for the Airs reaching double figures, with Tobias Cameron a big influence in the game with 23pts (on 70% fgs) especially in that 3rd period where the Airs outscored the Hawks 42-17. The Hawks played well again with 6 players in double figures, but not well enough down the stretch to snag a win despite another double-double from Isaiah Moore (23pts, 12ast. His brilliance on the court has been consistent, but with their finals hopes hanging by a thread he and the Hawks will need to find a higher level on defense to make their Final 6 chase fruitful. 

Franklin had a double header themselves, where two wins would have had the Bulls poised to grab a top 3 ladder position with an eye on a top 2 spot. The Whai, and ex-Bull Jayden Bezzant in particular had different ideas as his jumper tickled the twine with less than a second remaining. Phill Carr's 29pt 9rb performance led the way, but it was the Bezzant shot that sealed the deal, and helped seal the Bulls fate to not host a home finals game while keeping the Whai in the chase for 6. 

The Bulls then traveled back to the 09 to take on their foe from the other side of the bridge. League leading scorer Luther Muhammad dropped a masterclass with 41pts, but his 2 assists were indicative of his teammates lack of scoring prowess, with just Isaac Davidson reaching double figures. The lack of scoring didn't affect the Tuatara to the same level,  as Charlie Dalton dropped a career high 27 piece to keep Auckland in the chase for the top seed while consolidating their hold on second place despite being down on Tall Blacks. The expansion on depth over these few weeks a key development for Auckland but still good to see Rob Loe continue his dominance with 18pts, 16rbs, 6ast, 3stls and 3blks as they have all bnearly locked in the number 2 seed on the season. 

Elsewhere, the Saints marched down the Nuggets as Ben Ayre, Terry Henderson Jr and Tohi Smith-Milner combined for 10 triples while all scoring over 20 points to knock the Nuggets out of the finals chase despite a spirted effort. Kimani Lawrence (24pts) solid again but the lack of three point prowess sealing the Nugs fate. 

The Giants fate is still up in the air after dropping a home game to the resurgent Southland Sharks used a total team effort, led by Callum McRae, to hold the G-men at arms length en-route to a 15 point win. Dan Grida pushed hard as he dropped a 40 piece, but with Theo Akwuba a late scratch the undersized Nelsonians were always going to be under the pump in the low post and that turned out to be the case as they gave up a 15 rebound advantage and 20 points in the paint. The win making Southland fans wish this unit could have been pulled together earlier in the season, while making Nelson fans wish for just one more win and the postseason guarantee that will come with it. 

Worth a Mention 

Muhammad and Grida with 40 pieces - How about not one, but two forty pieces getting dropped in the round. First was Luther Muhammad with 41pts on 56% shooting and without a 3-point shot, The mid-range king was at it again, Then Dan Grida dropped 40 of his own at 53% while making only 1 3 point shot! Unfortunately both came in losses. 

Score 40 and your team- Speaking of 40 point games in losses, all four times the 40 point barrier has been broken (Grida and Muhammad this week, MJ Walker v the Tuatara on 4.14.24 and Tai Webster on 5.2.24 have come in losing efforts. 

Cal's Triple Dub - Big Cal McRae secured a big triple double, tallying 22pts, 21 rebound and 11 assists in another morale boosting win. His size and soft touch make his inside scoring look smooth, but it has been his passing which has been unlocking the Sharks offense of late. 

Happy Trails to Sam Froling- Airs fans will be sad to see the big Aussie leave the squad while being supportive of the cause as he chases his NBA dream with the Indiana Pacers. He departs the Sal's NBL with averages of 21.6ppg on 59% shooting while pulling down 10.9rbs and will leave a gaping hole in the middle for an Airs team whose championship hopes probably go with him. 

Round 15

Mills Albert Wellington Saints v Tauranga Whai, Wednesday 7:30pm TSB Stadium 

This game will be a question about pace and which team can impose their will in that area. No team wants to play faster than the Saints, they get up and down with ease and bomb triples with regularity. The pace that Ben Ayre pushes is balanced by the strength of Smith-Milner, Taane Samuel and Malik Benlevi on the interior and with Hyrum Harris ramping up to speed they seem to be pulling things together at the right time. When locked in from deep, the Whai are on the list of teams of that can keep pace with the Saints from deep in terms of volume but will need to lift the efficiency to find a chance to win. If they can find a way to keep pace from deep while limiting the damage on the interior they will be able to keep themselves in the finals race with a win, but a loss spell the end of their postseason hopes in their inaugural season.  

Stats That Matter-

Wellington: 84 pace (1st in league), 58% effective field goal percentage (1st), 50% three point rate (1st)

Tauranga: 75 pace (last), 50% effective field goal percentage (10th), 43% three point rate (2nd)

Matchup to Watch- Tohi Smith-Milner v Phil Carr 

Franklin Bulls v Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks, Thursday 7:30pm Franklin Pool & Leisure Centre 

Since winning a critical road game in Wellington the Bulls have failed to fire, losing 3 on the trot and likely giving up any hope to host a home finals game.  But they can't concern themselves with the water under the bridge as a dangerous Hawks team comes to the Stockyard with their postseason hopes still hanging by a thread ensuring top flight effort from a hungry team. Efficency was the name of the game for the Bulls in their last meeting as they dropped 10 threes @ 50% shooting while keeping the Hawks from success on the offensive glass. Isaiah Moore will try to push the pace to a level that will make the Bulls uncomfortable, but with a win a necessity for the Bulls to keep any hope of a home post-season game they will have the motivation to get through it. If the Hawks can take care of the rock and have Keanu Rasmussen and Lucas Sutherland fire on all cylinders they will be in with a chance, but the size of the Bulls should be enough to keep the Hawks in check. 

Stats That Matter-

Franklin: 43% assist rate (last), 11% steal rate (1st), 34% opponents free throw rate (highest)

Hawke's Bay: 11% turnover rate (lowest), 70% defensive rebound rate (10th), 123 defensive rating (10th) 

Matchup to Watch- Luther Muhammad v Isaiah Moore 

NBS Nelson Giants v Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets, Friday 7:30pm Trafalgar Centre

This may very well be the game of the season for the Giants as a win would lock up the 6th and final playoff spot. But that will be easier said then done against a Nuggets team that always seems to play well against the Giants.  The teams enjoyed a fast paced affair in their last meeting, with the Nuggets pulling away late behind 30 point performances for Ben Henshall and Kimani Lawrence. Henshall is expected to return for this bout lifting Otago's chances, but the loss for the season of Theo Akwuba pairing with the uncertainty of a Dan Fotu return will hamper the interior efforts of Nelson. Dan Grida will find another heavy workload, but if an undersized Giants squad can't find a way to spell the Nugs glass attacking style they may well head into the final round of the season with their postseason hopes still to be confirmed. 

Stats That Matter-

Nelson: 44% assist rate (10th), 11% steal rate (1st), 31% free throw rate (3rd)

Otago: 34% three point rate (9th), 57% free throw percentage (last), 34% three point rate (9th)

Matchup to Watch- Dan Grida v Zaccheus Darko-Kelly

Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks v Property Broker Manawatu Jets, Saturday 7:30pm Rodney Green Arena

These teams last met in early April with little to be drawn from that matchup given the change in the shape of the roster for the Jets. A 15 game streak of losses weighs heavily on a team that will look back on this earlier matchup as a game that got away as they fell by only 3 points (92-89) on their home court. The Jets should grab some confidence coming off one of their best offensive performances of the year, but the Hawks are still chasing an unlikely finals berth. If they are able to win their first game of the week (vs Bulls) this game will be of preeminent importance, but even without the hope of a finals berth expect the Hawks to come out with speed behind Isaiah Moore and company. 

Stats That Matter-

Hawke's Bay: 24% offensive rebound rate (9th), 98.75 points allowed per game (10th), 45% assist rate (9th)

Manawatu: 15% turnover rate (1oth), 59% defensive rebound rate (last), 22% offensive rebound rate (last) 

Matchup to Watch- Josh Roberts v James Moors 

Taranaki Steelformers Airs v Auckland Tuatara, Sunday 3pm

This matchup has lost a bit of lustre with the  departure of Sam Froling as his matchup with Rob Loe is always a tantalising one but a still undermanned Tuatara squad will have their work cut out for them as they try to lock down a top two seed. Without Froling in the lineup (also without Flynn Cameron and likely without Mitch McCarron) the Airs will need to lean on a transition attack but this is an area where the Tuatara have excelled all season long. Braydon Iuli has been a revelation at the point guard position but has yet to face the type of ball pressure that the Airs can utilise with regularity. The real challenge for the airs will be trying to temper the influence of Rob Loe, whose form is equal to his MVP season from a year ago, as the sending of extra bodies on the double opens up his passing and dangerous perimeter attack for the Aucklanders. An Airs win puts them a step closer to a top two seed while guaranteeing a home play in game while a Tuatara will lock in a home semi-final (and the bye that goes with it) so there will be plenty of motivation for both teams. 

Stats That Matter-

Taranaki: 54% effective field goal percentage (9th), 56% assist rate (3rd), 34% free throw rate (1st)

Auckland: 96.41 scoring offense (2nd), 81.53 points allowed per game (1st), 10.71 made threes per game (2nd)

Matchup to Watch- Carlin Davison v Charlie Dalton 

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams v Southland Sharks

A 15 game winning streak has all but locked up the top seed in the Final 6 for the Rams but there is a wee bit of work left to do to ensure that a gap remains between them and their chasers and it begins with the Sharks this round. The Sharks present a much stiffer challenge then they would have a few weeks ago and with a full week off after claiming their latest scalp they will be well rested and focused on disrupting another teams late season plans. KJ Buffen will stay sidelined but the expected return of MJ Walker will bolster a team that has been able to stay on track by depending on depth that continues to produce. With Walker back in the fold expect Olbrich and Max Darling to find a bit more space to play with on the interior as they attempt to see over the wall that Callum McRae presents in the middle. Cooper Robb and Caleb Asberry have proven a potent combo on the perimeter with Asberry's off ball movement and cuts causing issues for defenses. But this game may simply come down to how the Sharks are able to contend with the Taylor Britt/Lachie Olbrich pick and roll, a weapon that has taken down many teams and is more than likely going to take down another to end the round. 

Stats That Matter-

Canterbury: 78% defensive rebounding rate (1st), 34% offensive rebounding rate (1st), 122 Offensive rating (1st)

Southland: 122 offensive rating or better in 4 of last 6 games, 42.4% field goals (last), 10.1 free throws made per game (last)

Matchup to Watch- Lachlan Olbrich v Callum McRae

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