Casey’s Corner – Round 16

Photo credit: Masanori Udagawa/Photo Wellington

The Final 6 Picture

The Finals 6 picture is nearly complete as some less than likely scenarios are all that is keeping the teams from putting tickets on sale for the postseason matchups as multiple teams that needed to get dubs and have things fall their way to make the finals didn't quite have things work out in their favour. 

There were three teams chasing the Nelson Giants in the 6th spot hoping that a loss would come their way to keep the door open, and they got their wish when the Giants went down to the Nuggets when they came to visit the Trafalgar Centre in a 9 point loss. Zaccheus Darko-Kelly (34pts, 10rbs,) and Kimani Lawrence (22pts, 6rbs)  leading from the front once again as the Giant failed to fire outside of Dan Grida (28pts, 7rbs) and the freshly returned Dan Fotu (20pts, 9rbs) as they dropped another on the home court. The win technically keeping the Nuggets in the hunt (but a large points differential likely keeping them out) but opening the door for fellow 6th spot hopefuls Tauranga and Hawke's Bay. 

The Whai probably had the best chance to chase down the G-Men, and they would have been excited about the possibility of finals basketball when they were leading by 7 with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. But then the Saints O kicked it into high gear, dropping 50 points in the next 14 minutes to grab the inside lane for a home finals game as Ben Ayre (21pts, 9ast) and Hyrum Harris (19pts, 6rbs, 5ast, 3stls in 24 minutes) led from the front.  The Whai not out of realistic contention for the Final 6 despite an overall impressive first year in the League where they often played above their talent level to make things interesting. 

The Hawks were another team trying to chase down that 6th spot but it would take a perfect 2-0 week and call for some result to go their way as well. They were able to take care of the second half of the task as they easily handled the Jets 97-78 behind another Isaiah Moore (25pts, 12ast, 5rbs) scoring session and an inconceivable 26 point 28 rebound masterclass from Josh Roberts who grabbed just 13 rebounds less than the entire Jets squad. Mustapha Heron's 30 points and James Moors double-double (14pts, 15rbs) the only real positives to come out of the game in for a Jets squad who hasn't seen a win since April.

The Hawks were unable to take care of the first part of the task at hand as their trip to the Stockyard proved unfruitful despite a solid effort as they dropped a 9 point loss to the Bulls earlier in the week. Keanu Rasmussen joining Isaiah Moore on 23 points as Lucas Sutherland led with 25 of his own. But their efforts weren't enough to keep the Bulls from getting back on track as they ended a 3 game skid behind Luther Muhammad's 3o point effort (on 68%fg!) that found ample support from Josh Scott (16pts, 9ast), Isaac Davidson (16pts, 3stls) and Lee Skinner (14pts, 9rbs).  The Bulls locking in a top 5 seed and just barely keeping themselves in the chase for 4th with the win. 

The chase for the top seed was still in play when the Sunday games rolled around, where a Tuatara win coupled with a Rams loss would open the door for a possible top seed for the Aucklanders. They traveled to New Plymouth to take on an Airs team now without a star in the middle with Sam Froling departed and with Mitch McCarron still injured things were looking bleak for the home side despite the Tuatara still being without their Tall Blacks trio. But late entrant Flynn Cameron's efforts (19pts, 7rbs) helped to even out the squads and when Carlin Davison's highlight filled 23 point paired with a season high 16 rebounds it looked like the Airs might be able to hold home court and give themselves a run at a top two seed. Things looking difficult for the Aucklanders as Rob Loe fouled out in 25 minutes with his second lowest scoring game of the year (13pts, 9rbs, 3ast). Enter Cam Gliddon's trey ball (5-12 en-route to 17pts) and another huge game for fast rising star Braydon Iuli (20pts, 7ast) that included the game winning bucket with 1 second left (on a correctly whistled basket interference call). A final desperation tap from Davison sealing the result and guaranteeing the Tuatara a top two spot while leaving the Airs in a three way dog fight for third. 

Which leaves the Rams who cam in riding a 15 game win streak on their home court to take on the recently much improved Southland unit who has nothing to lose while hoping to shake up the postseason plans of other squads. Despite a solid effort for the Brayden Inger (15pts, and Cooper Robb (14pts, 3stls) led Sharks a fairytale upset was off the cards early as this one went to script for Canterbury once again as they romped to another big win to grab their 16th straight. MVP candidate Lachlan Olbrich, who still hasn't lost a game in the competition, dropping 22 points on 8-11 shooting while having his accuracy matched by Taylor Britt (21pts on 8-11fg). The return of sharpshooting M.J. Walker (21pts, 5-8 3pfg) yet another ominous sign for the rest of the league as they look for weaknesses in a unit that has displayed very few since their last loss was recorded on the 14th of April. 

Worth a mention

Josh Roberts 28 rebounds!! - What a stat line and what a game, I know I already gave it a shout out above but this dude was a rebounding machine with 10 of those on the offensive end. He is first in the league in rebounding (not counting Tyrell Harris0n who has played 3 games) at 12.75 and on the season he boasts a 15% offensive rebound rate and a 28% defensive rebound rate on the year. Impressive!

Luther Muhammad- The leading scorer in the league is putting together one heck of an efficient season on top of his 26.24 points per game. Despite the high volume and heavy defensive attention he receives he's at 54% effective field goal percentage on a 31% usage rate while still dishing out a 19% assist rate and hitting the chemist warehouse stripe with a 24% free throw rate. And he's doing this having hit just 12 three pointers across the entire season because he is 9% effective field goal percentage better than the league average in the mid-range. Impressive stuff for a player that may be the most relied upon offensive weapon in the league. 

Isaiah Moore - If there is one player that is relied upon to the same degree it could be Isaiah Moore. His high level of play has come just short of lifting the Hawks to the post season but it is impressive nonetheless. Second in scoring at 25.33 points per game he's also 4th in assists at 7.11 while hitting a 51% effective field goal percentage and a 33% assist rate while hitting the stripe at a 36% free throw rate while hitting a 29% usage rate. His shot diet varies vastly from Muhammad's in that he is mostly at the rim (where he attempts 9.1 fg attempts per game at 59%), in the paint with the floater game  and behind the arc where his average is 9% effective field goal percentage better than league average! 

Round 16

Tauranga Whai v Property Broker Manawatu Jets, Tuesday 7:30pm, Mercury Baypark Arena

The Whai will attempt to end their season on a high while the Jets would just be happy to sniff a win for the first time since round 2! This will be a tough task for the Jets on the road as the Whai have been good all season at forcing teams to play at their pace, and their pace is considerably slower than what the Jets are hoping to get to. But the pace and lack of interior option for the Whai does make scoring a bit of a slog at times, and event though the Jets have been losing they have been doing it while scoring a lot more points than your average cellar dweller. Two wins from the Jets last two games of the season may be enough for them to avoid the wooden spoon, but on the road against a team that is hoping to send their fans home with good feelings about the inaugural season in the league will make that a tough task to complete. 

Stats That Matter: 

Tauranga- 76.72 points per game (last in league), -4.11 rebounding margin (9th in league), 13.83 assists per game (last in league)

Manawatu- 82.12 points per game (9th in league), -7.18 rebounding margin (last), -4.47 turnover margin (last)

Matchup to Watch: Phil Carr v James Moors and Demarcus Robinson v Mustapha Heron

Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks v Auckland Tuatara, Wednesday 7:30pm, Rodney Green Arena

The Hawks have been one of the more entertaining teams of the season, and welcoming back Jordan Ngatai from Tall Black duties lifts this squad back to equal footing with most teams in the talent department. The problem being that the Tuatara are welcoming back two Tall Blacks of their own (Tom Vodanovich likely out for personal reasons) while having developed a stellar bench unit in their absence. These are two teams that enjoy playing at a high pace and when at full strength have a ton of weapons at their disposal in the starting 5. Josh Roberts could make things difficult for Rob Loe in the post but Loe's ability to stretch the floor will take the only rim defender out of play, allowing the wings to penetrate without fear of weakside defenders. Auckland has the 2nd spot on the ladder wrapped up, so may not be motivated to the extreme, but needing to get a squad back on the same page after close to a month apart will likely see big minutes for the key members of the squad. Look for the Hawks to push the Tuatara early, but in the end it seems likely the overall depth of talent for the Aucklanders will prevail. 

Stats That Matter: 

Hawke's Bay- 10.88 turnovers per game (best), 5.63 steals per game (10th), 98.75 points per game allowed (10th)

Auckland- 1.71 assist to turnover ratio (best), 81.33 points per game allowed (1st), 48% field goal percentage (3rd)

Matchup to Watch: Josh Roberts v Rob Loe and Isaiah Moore v Corey Webster

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams v Franklin Bulls, Thursday 7:30pm, Cowles Stadium

The Rams come into the final round on a dominating 16 game winning streak and have sealed up home court advantage throughout the postseason thanks to that form, while the Bulls still have an outside (very outside) chance at scooping up a home play in game if all the cards fall in their favour. But regardless of that motivation the Bulls will be looking to find a higher level of form and building on last rounds home win after dropping 3 consecutive games. The Rams will prove a tough test but the good news is the Bulls are one of the few teams in the league that have the size to match up with Rams on the interior. With K.J. Buffen likely still out the perimeter shooting of the Rams takes a bit of a hit but the return of M.J. Walker (from concussion) and his flamethrower of a jump shot last round tempers that issue. If the threes start falling for the Rams it will be tough for the Bulls (who prefer the mid range game and rim attacks) to keep pace, but the return of Ethan Rusbatch should alleviate some of the strain in that area. Luther Muhammad is as important to his teams fortunes as any player in the coemption but Taylor Britt guarding him the Bulls may need to look elsewhere for offense and those other options have proven inconsistent throughout the season. With the Rams looking to keep their form rolling into the postseason a win by the Bulls would be a huge upset so expect this game to go the way you think it will, with the Rams pulling away late.  

Stats That Matter: 

Canterbury- +8.28 rebounding margin (1st), 9.33 3pfg per game (3rd), 43% field goal percentage defense (1st)

Franklin- +5.18 rebounding margin (2nd), 6.41 3pfg per game (last), 50% field goal percentage (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Lachlan Olbrich v Sam Timmins and  Taylor Britt v Luther Muhammad

Property Broker Manawatu Jets v Southland Sharks, Friday 7:30pm, Fly Palmy Arena

The Jets haven't won since a Round 2 victory on the Road against this Sharks squad, well maybe not this Sharks squad as the team of recent weeks doesn't resemble the early season version very much at all.  But this matchup still remains their best chance to claim their second victory of the season which would at the very least send the Green Army faithful into the postseason with a bit of a pep in their step. But the same is true of a Sharks unit that had one two in a row before giving a game effort in a loss to the Rams. Cooper Robb should be able to find driving and passing lanes against a defense that has proven porous at the best of times. But the Jets can get up and down the floor with pace and that has caused problems for the Sharks more than once this season. If the Sharks can slow the pace and impose their will in the half-court they should have the upper hand but if the Jets live up their name and find great pace (and a bit of defense) they just might be able to end the year on a high. 

Stats That Matter: 

Manawatu- 49% field goal percentage defense (10th), 44% field goal percentage (9th), 100.12 points per game allowed (last)

Southland- 50% field goal percentage defense (last), 42% field goal percentage (last), 29% 3ptfg percentage (10th), 92.65 points per game allowed (8th)

Matchup to Watch: James Moors v Callum McRae 

Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets v Franklin Bulls, Saturday 7:30pm, Edgar Centre

The Nuggets and Bulls last met in Round 4, back when both teams were 3-0 and were starting to believe this season might be a special one. A Bulls smackdown brought the Nugs back to reality and they have struggled to find that form ever since. The Bulls too have had a smattering of inconsistency of late, but a win on the road will send them into the Finals with a bit of confidence. To get that win they will need to slow down Kimani Lawrence, which is much easier said then done, yet Franklin does have the size to make his preferred paint attacks more difficult than most teams make them. This will likely come down to the team that is most able to slow down the other squads weapons, and given that the Bulls are back to full strength their weapons should be able to outlast and outshine Otago to send Franklin into the postseason on a high.

Stats That Matter: 

Otago- 31% 3pt field goal percentage (9th), 59% free throw percentage (last), 14.67 turnovers per game (2nd most)

Franklin- 35% 3pt field goal percentage (3rd), 74% free throw percentage (2nd), 8.71 steals per game (1st) 

Matchup to Watch: Kimani Lawrence v Lee Skinner

Mills Albert Wellington Saints v Southland Sharks, Sunday 3pm, TSB Arena

The Saints league leading pace has caused problems for opponents all season long, as their strong interior play snatches rebounds and ignites fast breaks that finish with rim attacks or three point shots created off of deep penetration. That pace will most likely be even more difficult for Southland to deal with as they play the second slowest pace in the competition. At times the Sharks have been able to counter pace with the size of McRae but the Saints can send Smith-Milner and Taane Samuel to the block to force his catches off the block. The key to the Sharks chances will be slowing down the three point attack but many a team has tried to temper the Saints advantage in this area with little luck. 

Stats That Matter: 

Wellington- 49% 3point rate (1st), 56% effective field goal percentage (1st), 10% steal rate (3rd)

Southland- 47% effective field goal percentage (last), 16% turnover rate (worst), 20% free throw rate (last)

Matchup to Watch: Izayah Leafa v Cooper Robb and Tohi Smith-Milner v Callum McRae

Taranaki Steelformers Airs v NBS Nelson Giants, Sunday 6:30pm TSB Stadium

The Airs are coming off gritty effort on their home floor that ultimately ended up in disappointment as the gave up the lead in the last second of play. Carlin Davison was at his best throughout the game, displaying his above the rim talents while impacting the glass at a high level. Tobias Cameron chipped in on the glass as well and the Airs prowess in this area will be tough for the Giants to slow down give the late season loss of Theo Akwuba and a general lack of size on the roster otherwise. The aggressiveness of the Dan's (Fotu and Grida) has made life difficult for all of their opponents but the Giants lack of three point shooting has allowed defenses to pack the paint and take away those driving lanes that the Dan's feast on. The Giants will be happy to see the road and put the losses that piled up at the Trafalgar Centre in the rearview mirror, but in a game that looks to be a preview of the first play-in game it remains to be seen if both squads will reveal the full extent of abilities before they likely meet again in less than a week.  

Stats That Matter: 

Taranaki- 34% free throw rate (best), 55% assist rate (3rd), 75% free throw percentage (1st), +4.65 rebounding margin (3rd)

Nelson- 29% 3point field goal percentage (last),-4.11 rebounding margin 8th, +3.17 turnover margin (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Mitch McCarron v Kobe Langley and Carlin Davison v Dan Fotu

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