Photo Credit: Gameface NZ
In short, yes. At the top end of the ladder, the Tuatara, Nuggets, Bulls and Rams are all locked in and will be at the Final 6, though their order in those top four places can still change. The two remaining places, positions five and six, remain open to the Saints, Giants, Hawks, Jets, Sharks and Airs. Mathematically, the Giants, Jets and Airs have the best chance of making it as they all have three games to play, whereas the Saints, Hawks and Sharks only have two games to play.
However, that said, the Saints are the best placed overall given they have already grabbed seven wins – if they can win one of their remaining two games (Jets, Tuatara) they will make it. This week’s R14 game between the Saints and Jets will be the one to watch. What we can say with some certainty, is somewhere up and down the ladder there will be the need for a head-to-head tiebreaker between two teams, or (like last season) maybe even a mini-ladder to split three or more teams ending on the same number of wins.
Last year’s runners-up are on a 10-game winning streak and looking good on top of the ladder ahead of the playoffs. Not only is this a team with talent, but that same talent is also very experienced – Rob Loe, Reuben Te Rangi, Jarrad Weeks and Cam Gliddon being the standouts with years of top-shelf hoops under their respective belts. The mid-season additions of Kruz Perrott-Hunt and Joe Lawson III are both starting to find their feet and add considerable depth, while the rapid rise of teenager Charlie Dalton has been well documented. Can the Tuatara be beaten? Of course they can, absolutely, but it is going to take a near-flawless effort and a well-executed gameplan by a team to do it.
This is easily the most asked question that comes my way each week, and it’s been that way for much of the last month. My response has consistently been “I doubt it” but with every day of recovery comes hope for the Nuggets faithful that McLaughlin will be there for the playoffs. My doubt comes from the fact he is dealing with a knee injury, and from all reports it was worse than first thought, so it’s something you don’t want to mess about with by returning to play unless it is at 100 per cent. BUT … if he does return, wow! The Nuggets are stacked and will be a serious threat to go back-to-back.
Good question. The likes of Rob Loe (Tuatara), Jeremy Kendle (Sharks), Jarrad Weeks (Tuatara), Todd Withers (Nuggets) and Kyle Adnam (Saints – upon his return from early injury) have all been up and firing literally from the start of the season, so we’ll leave them to one side here. When looking at players who have increasingly got better as the season has progressed, there’s a few that come to mind.
The likes of Rickey McGill (Bulls) and Max Darling (Rams) deserve a mention, I really like their increasingly rising body of work, but two players stand out above all others for me, and I can’t split them – Matur Maker (Giants) and Dan Fotu (Bulls) have both been on an upward trajectory all season long and right now they are in top form and so important to their respective teams and their chances of claiming a championship.
It’s huge and to be honest needs to be talked about more. Most sports franchises will tell you they often sell the bulk of tickets to games in the last 24-48 hours before the event starts, so to do it 10 days out is next level stuff. Or course, you always get some games that do sell out, big games are big games after all, but if you look at Super Rugby (purely for comparison) you are talking their recent Grand Final as a sell-out, not a regular season game, and not a regular season game 10 days before it starts.
Yes, I understand stadium sizes, indoor versus outdoor and all that stuff, but let’s leave those debates at the door and just give credit where credit is due. The crowds are flocking to basketball because it’s fun, inclusive, entertaining and social. And it’s not just the Saints - we’ve seen sell-outs up and down the country this season, so something is working and it’s working well. Nothing but applause from me.