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Matt's Mouthpiece: Round 16
Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 09:27:59 PM

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One of the great things about the National Basketball League this season is its unpredictability.

Sure, you can point to Perth and New Zealand at the top of the tree and think “same old same old, here we go again.” But as great as the Wildcats and Breakers have been, they’ve had their missteps – Perth losing to Adelaide at the opening of their new mega-stadium; the Breakers getting crushed by the Kings in Sydney.

However, it’s not just the league’s powerhouse teams who have fallen victim to surprise outcomes. For example, not that long ago, there was a feeling that the Top Four was looking fairly solid – with New Zealand and Perth sprinting away to fight out the Minor Premiership and Sydney and Wollongong getting the job done in third and fourth position respectively.

I guess we should have known better. In the past month and a bit, the entire outlook of the competition has shifted dramatically – that unpredictably rearing its head.

From looking like title contenders in the first few weeks of the season, the Hawks – who were the last undefeated team at home – have seen their campaign hit some major potholes. They’ve suffered through some devastating injuries – not a good thing for a team that isn’t as deep as others – and just when they look like they are about to overcome that obstacle, their entire starting backcourt is lost for the season and they suddenly appear vulnerable to falling out of the postseason race altogether.

Then you’ve got Sydney, a team just about everyone expected to be bringing up the rear in 2012/13 yet have played well above what their overall talent level would otherwise indicate. Things were looking good for the Kings at 9-5 on the season, but since the All Star break they have faltered, dropping four of five and currently finding themselves mired in a three game losing streak.

The upshot of those unexpected troubles for Sydney and Wollongong is that the teams in the bottom four of the iiNet NBL Championship have found renewed life.

Even those clubs given up for dead – Adelaide and Cairns – still can’t be counted out. The 36ers are admittedly the one team that has probably the fewest chances left to make a run to the playoffs given their league-high 12 losses, but any team with an Adam Gibson leading the way and a more than decent frontline can’t be written off just yet.

Cairns are in a similar position to the 36ers and after getting blown out by Perth are probably teetering on that precipice right now. But under Coach Aaron Fearne, the Taipans have shown themselves to be extremely resilient, and it’s not beyond the realms to see them make one brave push to the postseason.

Then there’s Melbourne, who opened the season 1-4, sacked an import, looked completely disorganised in some games and appeared to be nothing like a team that could make a realistic playoff charge.

But recently, with Jonny Flynn starting to show flashes of the form which got him to the NBA as a high draft pick, the Tigers have come on strong, and incredibly now have the same amount of losses as do the two teams sitting immediately above them on the ladder – Sydney and Wollongong. Add that to the fact Chris Anstey’s squad has the most games remaining this season of any team, and you have an unexpected situation where Melbourne’s fate now lies squarely in their hands.

Which brings us to the Townsville Crocodiles.

Their preseason troubles, their initial laughable import selection and the resignation of their long-time CEO have been well covered. And at 0-10 on the season, you would have gotten any kind of odds you liked that the Crocs would make some kind of run in 2012/13. Essentially, they looked dead and buried.

As usual however, the competition has again thrown up one very interesting twist.

Since bringing in former league MVP Gary Ervin and standout Australian big man Luke Nevill, Townsville has looked reborn. They have won six of seven games, should have beaten New Zealand at home, and although their 11 losses puts them at a disadvantage in comparison to the teams directly ahead of them, there’s no doubt that the Crocodiles have to be brought back into the conversation as a playoff contender.

Townsville are yet another example of the unpredictability of this competition – a reason we all eagerly look forward to every week in the National Basketball League to see what surprises the iiNet Championship has in store for us.

I spoke to Townsville’s captain, Russell Hinder, to get his thoughts on the Crocs and their slow start to the season, their recent revival and his history in the game.

That was another big win for you guys last week – unlike the game against the Breakers you stayed strong when Wollongong surged in the fourth quarter.

Yeah, we spoke about that, we were aware of it and addressed it. Look, Tom Abercrombie just lit it up at the exact wrong time for us when we played the Breakers. He was just amazing in that fourth quarter. But we really concentrated during the week...we worked all week on what Wollongong were going to throw at us and I thought we handled it really well.

Given Townsville’s rough start to the season, are you treating every game now like a virtual elimination game?

Well it almost is, isn’t it? I mean we almost have to think like that. It’s just been a horror start...I’ve never seen anything like it in my 12 years. Losing the first 10 games of the season, questioning everything, changing staff...I thought we did a good job through all that of staying pretty true to what we were doing. We could have panicked a lot more than we did. But we all believed in what we were doing. When you look at it, 14 or 15 wins could get you into the playoffs, but then you start 0-10 – you start to think that you can’t afford to drop any more games. That New Zealand one really stung – I thought we were the better team for 30 minutes and we could have used that one big-time. The thing I found interesting was they celebrated on our floor like they had pulled one out – I mean good for them, they executed down the stretch, and that’s what championship teams do. So that one stung, that’s another one we shouldn’t have lost, and we can’t afford to drop any more of those. To do it against Wollongong...I know they were injured and on the backend of a double, but we did exactly what we wanted to do – keep the tempo up for 40 minutes, and it was just good to see us execute the game plan.

How crucial has it been to get Gary Ervin and Luke Nevill into the program?

Mate, Luke Nevill is amazing and I think Gary will tell you the same thing. When I was in the middle, you barely have to single-team me let alone double-team me (laughs), but if you don’t give Luke the attention he needs and deserves, he’ll destroy you inside. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s so talented, so big...he commands that respect and it takes the attention away from everyone else. Gary Ervin is the one who is seeing a lot of the benefit from that as well as myself. You know, they look down at Luke and they leave me wide open...I’ve been lucky enough to knock a couple of shots down when they help out on Gary or Luke. Then you’ve got someone like Pete Crawford on the other wing, and then you’ve got Todd Blanchfield for crying out loud, who’s going to be a Boomer pretty soon I would imagine. So Luke is really just attracting a lot of attention and that makes everyone’s life a lot easier. In saying that, we’ve only had him for six or seven weeks, so he’s still learning. Gary’s still learning how to play with him and we’re still learning things like where does he like the ball? What plays work for Luke? What plays work best for Gary and Luke? So I think we’re doing a great job of learning on the fly...the boys are working super hard Monday to Friday and we’ve done a pretty good job of executing that on the weekend.

Even after that loss to New Zealand, the confidence level in the team must be pretty high right now. Do you feel like the Crocs can shock the world and make the playoffs after the 0-10 start?

Well even that New Zealand loss...we watched the film of that game as a playing group without the coaches, and we took away a lot of confidence from that game. That was a great session where we got a lot of stuff on where we went wrong in that last quarter or in the second half or whatever. We executed a game plan pretty well for 30 minutes against one of the two clearly top teams in this competition. I mean, it’s all about confidence, isn’t it. Before we won this year, we had a couple of games there where we were so close, but just didn’t have the confidence to finish it off. Confidence is a beautiful thing. It’s so hard to get, and once you have it you never want to lose it. Look, we’re going alright, but the real test is going to come this Friday over in Perth. We’ll see where we are at and it will be another good litmus test for us. We’re very realistic – we played Adelaide four straight times then we had New Zealand coming into our building and they were playing great hoops as well. We were happy with the way we played, but we know we’ve got a lot of work to do to get up to their level. This is sort of the next step for us – we’ve won six out of seven so we’ll find out if that’s an accurate mark. It will be good going into Perth and seeing where we are at.

Your role has sort of evolved over the years. What do you see as your role in the team these days?

Yeah, a lot of it is as a mentor off the court for the young guys we have. We’ve got some really good young talent up here that I think will explode soon and I hope we can keep them up here for a long time. They love to listen too, so it’s a nice combination of talent and kids who want to get better and listen. The other thing is that I guess I see myself as a fill-in or a stop-gap if you like. I will do whatever I have to do. That’s been a good part of my entire career....playing a couple of different positions, playing up the court, playing back in the quarter court on defence, you know. I’ve been able to develop my outside shot over the last few years...making a couple of those every now and then. Just anything that the club needs, really. I like to see my role as a real go-between, between the coaching staff and the front office and the playing group. I try and keep everyone happy, find out what everyone needs. I can’t wait for Jacob Holmes to get back...I don’t think I need to be playing 30 plus minutes anymore (laughs). As soon as he gets back I’ll be more than happy to go back to the bench and bring some energy. If I can bring 18 to 20 minutes of energy every game that’s probably the perfect spot for me.


Paul Woolpert is a guy who has been under immense pressure, what with the preseason, the disaster with the imports and the start to 2012/13. What have your impressions of Paul been this season, particularly with all the adversity he’s had to deal with?

I didn’t get to see much of it last year because I had the broken leg, but he’s a cool customer, man. It’s like a duck on top of the water – up top it looks nice and calm, but underneath it’s kicking like hell. That’s Paul – he’s super cool up top, but his brain is ticking over non-stop 24 hours a day. I was with ‘Goorj’ (Brian Goorjian) and he was similar, but you saw a lot more of the angst and the grind with Brian. These coaches think about nothing else than basketball, and they think about it all the time – they are always trying to get better. Paul does a wonderful job of maybe not letting on as much as other coaches do...he loves letting the players try and figure out stuff for themselves, and he’ll give you a couple of cracks at it. We’ll eventually get there, but if we don’t he’s there to let us know and help us out. He’s a really cool customer – he didn’t panic when we started out slow, he was very realistic about what was going to happen, and there were a couple of times he probably thought that was the day he was gone. But to the club’s credit they stuck by him, we all believed in what we were doing, so I couldn’t be happier for him that we were able to turn it around. If you’d told me or him at the end of November that hey, Paul is going to win Coach of the Month next month I don’t know if either of us would have believed it. We have a great relationship and we talk a lot – half of what we talk about is basketball and the other half is about life so you can’t help but listen to someone like that.

You’ve had an interesting career. Going back before you started your professional life in Australia; you went to college initially at the University of San Francisco. How does a kid from Sydney wind up at the same institution that produced the legendary Bill Russell?

I have no idea mate (laughs). To this day I still have no idea why they did that. You know me Matt, I still don’t know why I get paid to do this and I don’t see myself as anything special or even a good basketball player. I guess what happened was that people saw me play at Nationals, the letters started coming, and I wasn’t going to go – at the time I was an eighteen year old literally sitting on my living room floor and I knew nothing about going to the States. But then I just wanted to be different to my friends – they were all getting a trade, going to school, going to the same pub every night...I just wanted to see if there was anything different out there. It was an amazing time.

You then transferred to NCAA D2 Augusta State – a college that has had a solid connection to the NBL with guys like Ben Madgen, Gary Boodnikoff and Kavossy Franklin. Why did you make that move?

Well the coach in San Francisco was absolutely horrible to me. He would tell me every single day that he wanted me to leave; he wanted me to go home and get out of there. He played me a fair bit though – I guess he liked what I did, but he never told me that. He was just that prototypical A-hole break you down guy, but he never actually built me back up. So after two years of that I wanted to quit basketball, I was done. I was dating my now wife Jen at the time, and I told her that I was going home and that I’d love for her to come with me, but I was through with basketball. But then I got in touch with Chris Harriman, who I was best friends with, and he said just come down to Augusta, the coach would love to have you and you don’t have to sit out a year. I wasn’t really in shape to play basketball – I went down there just as a stop-gap really while Jen finished school in San Francisco. I was all done with basketball after my two years in San Francisco, but I did another year at Augusta State with the coach, Chris Harriman and Gary Boodnikoff, then came back home. I was going to work in a pub with my dad, but Ben Arkell got me into the West Sydney training sessions with Gordie McLeod and kept at me to keep going to practice – they had a full squad at that stage. But then Brett Smith blew out his knee, so the Razorbacks came to me and said “you’ve been coming every day, we’ve got 14 grand for you for the year, is that enough?” Well, I said it beats working, so of course! I made $806 per month after tax, and I was living in an apartment with Jen at $200 a week. So at the end of every month I had six bucks spare (laughs). Thank God she had a good job.

In your first season with West Sydney, you made the Grand Final, and then in ’04, you were a part of the Razorback squad that took the Kings to the limit in one of the greatest Grand Finals in NBL history. What are your memories of that series?

Well in that first season I think I played 14 minutes all year, and at the end of January that year I was looking for another job – I even had an interview teed up for March at the same pub my dad worked at. But then my agent called and said the Razorbacks wanted to offer me another two years at 20 grand and did I want it? I jumped at it – I was like are you kidding me? I didn’t feel part of that first Grand Final – I remember Sam Mackinnon smashing his runners-up trophy in Adelaide and just thinking why would you ever do that? This is awesome – we got a trophy! So I pretended that I was so mad, but gently placed the trophy in my bag (laughs). But then we got back there two years later, and we had it in the bag, but Ebi Ere exploded at the Kingdome. That was a great series, and that season was amazing – we had an All-Australian team and that was one of my best years ever. I was starting, we were all having a lot of fun, and it was just a blast.

Moving forward, you came across to the Kings in 2006 after a short stint with the Hunter Pirates. You had a solid couple of seasons culminating in the 07/08 campaign. That team went 27-3 in the regular season and lost a classic Grand Final to Melbourne, but the season was marred by the situation with Firepower. Talk about that season, how tough it was for you personally and what it was like to be a part of that team.

That was where I gained the most respect for (Brian) Goorjian. I left a lot of money on the table from other clubs to go to Sydney to sort of be around it, see what it was all about, see what the legend was that everyone talked about. And it lived up to everything I expected. I didn’t play as much as I wanted to and stuff like that, but during that season the manager came out in Brian. He had to manage so much BS from the front office and the ownership, and he was just incredible. He kept us focused, he turned it into this us against the world thing – even though looking at the team on paper we were stacked and it must have been hard to convince us of that, he did a brilliant job convincing us that it was us against the world, when it was really just us against Firepower. We really turned that into motivation to win, and it was just astonishing at how good he was with that. It was sort of the perfect storm in that Grand Final – Dontaye Draper hurt his hamstring for the last three games and Jason Smith separates his shoulder, and we haven’t been paid in a month, nor does it look like we were going to get paid. To this day, it’s the most impressive job I’ve ever seen Goorj do – to keep people focused, because the whole situation was just horrible. It was a bad work environment – you knew these guys were dodgy and lying to us, pays were late and wrong; a lot of (Glen) Saville’s stuff wasn’t being taken care of...it was just a really crappy situation that Goorj was able to use as a motivational technique and it spurred us. I’m still upset at the Firepower people. These people would look you in the eye, you’d have your children with you and they’d pat them on the head, give your wife a kiss and tell you “we’re good, we’re paying you now, here’s all your money,” and all the while they knew they were lying through their teeth. It’s just shocking that people can be like that. They still owe me a whole bunch of money, but thank God I was able to land on my feet, because a lot of people, regular shareholders, lost their homes to these guys. They were just bad people. I still think that if we hadn’t had those couple of injuries we would have got the Tigers, but obviously when you think about it, some things just weren’t meant to be.


You talked about that broken leg you suffered in the 2011/12 preseason which by all accounts was one of the most horrific injuries anyone had seen on a basketball court. How tough was it to be sidelined for that entire season and all the rehab you had to do?

Just really horrible. I don’t want to play it up –Matt, you know me, I’m always the first to say that all we do is put a ball in a hoop and we aren’t out there saving lives or defending our country or anything like that, but that didn’t stop me from getting massively depressed halfway through the season – sort of around November to January. It hurt me to the core – I just couldn’t do what I wanted to do. That’s why I’ve had the job for 12 years – because I have a passion for what I do. I love my job and love being able to do it, and when I was hurt, I couldn’t do any of it. What people forget is that you can’t walk across the room with a cup of water if you have a broken leg...you are that dependent. I hate being dependent on anyone else – that’s why I love being captain so much because I want to be the guy. I don’t have the basketball ability to be captain, but I have other skills that allow me to be captain. But I couldn’t do any of that, and it was really tough. I was at an end of season dinner, and I remember an opposing coach telling me that I couldn’t come back, that he’d never seen anyone come back from anything like it. No one had come back from having their leg snapped in two then played at a high level. I mean you hear other stuff, and I was just blessed that the club and (former CEO) Ian Smythe backed me. It was a lot of work, but it was easy work, because I was so down when it was broken, so it was much better when I was grinding in the weight room, grinding in the gym, grinding at the physio for months and months than it was just sitting on my tail on the couch. Depression is no joke, man...you can see why it ruins lives. It gets into your insides, and it’s like a fog and a dark cloud. It’s just horrible and all I can recommend to anyone is that if you feel like that then you gotta talk to someone. Thank God I had the support up here and I could talk to professionals. It was scary, because I’m a really happy and upbeat guy, but I couldn’t get happy about anything. Depression is a frightening thing, and again, I don’t want to overstate it, but it is what it is. I never thought that could happen to me because I love life – I can’t believe I’m doing what I’m doing and I’ve just been blessed. So it was tough, but in the end I had more than enough motivation to compete at this level again.

How has the move to Townsville been for you and your family?

Ah look, if I was up here as a young single guy, it might be tough because I’d be hitting the same nightclub all the time and that might get a bit dull after a while (laughs).But for me with my young family...when you come into this community, if you give them your all and they see you are going to work your tail off for them, man, they embrace you. That’s what I do – I’ve worked hard for this team, and the community has just showed me so much love. We’ve bought a home up here – we’re never leaving. It’s just the best place for young kids – everything’s handy, everything’s close, everyone’s so friendly...it’s got that country town feeling to it but it’s got everything you’d ever need. Once again, the only reason I’m playing in the NBL was that 12 years ago a guy hurt his leg. The only reason I go to the World Championships and represent Australia is because Matt Nielsen, Chris Anstey, Dave Andersen and Alexs Maric, you name it – all those guys got injured or had insurance issues. The only reason I come up to Townsville is that Ben Pepper retires in the eleventh hour before the season gets started. I’ve just been blessed – I’ve been lucky to be in the right place at the right time and that’s not lost on me. I feel like I’m the luckiest man on Earth.

Finally, how much longer do you see yourself continuing in the NBL?

I’m contracted next year, and we’ll have a look at it. If I’m still going then like I am now, I’d love to go around again a couple more times. I think there’s a role for me...I mean you look at CJ Bruton; you look at Glen Saville and those guys and they are still performing at a really high level. It’s really the Monday to Friday that starts getting to you...it’s not the games. I mean in my first game back this year we were at Cairns. I ran out and just got heavily booed, but I had the biggest smile on my face. It just feels awesome. New Year’s Eve I hit a few shots and you hear the crowd get into it, and man you don’t sleep after that, you just love that feeling. It’s just the 20th time you do a shell drill at training or the 50th time you’re running a sprint – that’s the Monday to Friday grind. But I still do it, I’m still big on the preparation, and as long as I don’t lose the Monday to Friday passion I’m never going to lose the passion on game nights. I mean, it beats working for a living, I know that (laughs). I’ve always said I’ll keep coming back until they change the locks on me (laughs). This club has just been amazing to me, and so long as I feel I’m not hurting this club, then I’ll keep doing it forever.


As we head into the stretch run of the 2012/13 iiNet NBL Championship season, there’s more on the line for every team in the league as each week passes, and the slate of games for Round 16 is no exception, starting on Thursday night when the slumping Sydney Kings travel to Auckland to take on the New Zealand Breakers.


After winning six out of seven games heading into the All Star break, the Kings have struggled with losses in four of their past five, and need this one desperately to regain that lost momentum.

Shane Heal has to wait another week before James Harvey comes back to bolster the team’s playing stocks, but he would at least feel reasonably confident that the squad as presently constituted has the ability to knock over the Breakers – after all, they did lose to them the last time in New Zealand thanks to an unlikely Mika Vukona triple and then beat them handily in Sydney.

But New Zealand hasn’t lost a game since that defeat to the Kings, and with Tom Abercrombie in unstoppable form, Vukona vacuum cleaning the glass and Cedric Jackson no doubt determined to get some revenge against a Corin Henry who cleaned his clock the last time these two played, the Breakers should deal the Kings their fourth straight defeat – albeit it will go right down to the wire.

There’s a lot on the line at Perth Arena this Friday as Rhys Carter makes his debut for the Wildcats as they meet the in-form Townsville Crocodiles.

Carter played for Perth coach Rob Beveridge when he was at West Sydney and comes in fresh out of the Swedish league to replace the retired Brad Robbins in what is a great move for the Cats – while Carter isn’t the man defender Robbins was, he’s a better shooter and playmaker and should help spread the floor a bit more. Teams could cheat off Robbins, but not so much with Rhys.

As for the Crocs, this is a real prove it to me game. They have looked terrific over the past six weeks, but you have to temper your enthusiasm about them to a degree given they beat a free-falling Adelaide four times and a beat-up Wollongong once in their run of six wins out of the past seven. This is a completely different level to what they’ve seen so far, including the New Zealand game.

Luke Nevill will be determined to show he can be the type of dominant inside force he never was during his season in Perth, Gary Ervin will be put under immense physical pressure by Damian Martin and as much as they love to run and get it to their impressive wing guys Pete Crawford and Todd Blanchfield, the Crocs have got to be judicious in how often they get into transition – Perth lives off the up-tempo game and will burn you quickly if you give them the chance.

I’m prepared to say Townsville is the real deal based off their 1-5 punch in Ervin and Nevill, and when Jacob Holmes comes back they are going to be a team no one wants to face in the playoffs – should they get there. But in front of another monster crowd in Perth, I can’t go past the Wildcats.

Melbourne is still nowhere near where head coach Chris Anstey wants them to be, but they are looking like a much more confident team as they head to Cairns to take on the Taipans this Friday.

But forget about the bonehead turnovers, the sometimes too quick shots and the occasional defensive breakdowns from this team. Any time you’ve got a talent like Jonny Flynn running your club, good things will happen, as was the case last week in Sydney when the product of Syracuse University lit up Sydney’s Corin Henry for 15 points in the second quarter of Melbourne’s crucial road victory last week.

There have been those critical of Flynn for not having the kind of immediate impact expected from an NBA lottery pick, but you feel like it’s only a matter of time before he becomes completely comfortable in the NBL game – and when that day happens, look out.

Cairns on the other hand have struggled at home this season and if they are going to make the playoffs, they simply can’t afford to drop any more games at the Snakepit. They’ll rely heavily on Jamar Wilson to at least break even in his duel with Flynn; Cam Tragardh to put maximum pressure on the Tiger bigs – three of whom fouled out last week in Sydney – and rookies Cameron Gliddon and Clint Steindl to knock down some shots.

Tough one to call, but I was impressed with Melbourne last week and I think they’ll put another nail in Cairns’ coffin this Friday.

Wollongong fans will be hoping that new import Malcolm Grant, who replaces his old college teammate Lance Hurdle, will prove a solid acquisition as the free-falling Hawks take on the Breakers at the Sandpit this Saturday night.

The 24 year old Grant was a three year starter at the point for the University of Miami and has since plied his trade in Cyprus, and is an outside chance to play against New Zealand pending immigration clearance.

The Hawks will be hoping to have him in uniform to provide some desperately needed depth after losing both Hurdle and Rhys Martin to season-ending ACL injuries, but if they continue to get the kind of production they received from Adris Deleon when they lost by just a single point to the Breakers last week, they might be able to get a morale-boosting W regardless.

Criticise Deleon all you want for missing a free throw with the game on the line, but without his brilliant 34 point performance, Wollongong would never have been in a position to even be as close as they were. His battle with Cedric Jackson is again worth the price of admission, and if the Hawks can control the tempo, move the ball with authority and attack the New Zealand interior, they have a chance.

The problem is, with their stocks depleted, the Hawks are going to have problems dealing with New Zealand’s array of weaponry. If it’s not Jackson, it’s Tom Abercrombie, if it’s not Alex Pledger, it’s Will Hudson or any other of the Breakers’ outstanding reserve corps.

That impressive depth is an underrated reason why New Zealand is so tough to stop right now and have found every way possible to win. Wollongong will fight hard at home, but I just can’t go past the two-time defending champs. Give this to the Breakers.

Incredibly, if results fall their way this weekend, Melbourne has a chance to climb into the Top Four should they win both games in Round 16, including this one against the Adelaide 36ers at the State Netball & Hockey Centre this Sunday afternoon.

With more games left in the season than any other team, Melbourne has no excuses. And their coach isn’t interested in ‘one game at a time’ clichés – as he firmly stated in last week’s press conference after his team edged the Kings in Sydney, such thinking is BS. He knows his group has a chance to do something special, and so why not look ahead? When you have a Jonny Flynn at the point, a solid and deep frontcourt and an explosive X factor in Chris Goulding, you have a team that could be pretty frightening if they start reducing the silly turnovers and execute their stuff more consistently.

Adelaide’s campaign is on its last legs after their second half capitulation at home to the Breakers last week. They should get Luke Schenscher back in uniform for this one, and he will help inside, but it won’t matter if they can’t knock down their open looks like they couldn’t do against New Zealand.

The other issue is their interior has been as soft as butter in recent weeks. For all his offensive skills, Daniel Johnson is suspect defensively, and he was again exposed against New Zealand – look for Melbourne to exploit that weakness.

All the goodwill and momentum the 36ers gained in their win over the Kings looked like it disappeared quickly in the second half of last week’s game, and I don’t believe they are good enough defensively to hold up against Flynn and the rest of the Tigers all 40 minutes. Melbourne gets both games in Round 16.

Popular columnist and basketball tragic Matt McQuade has written for the National Basketball League and Basketball Australia since 2005 and was previously a regular contributor to national periodical Pro Basketball Today. He’s the play by play caller for Sydney Kings’ games on Sydney Kings Radio alongside NBL legend Bruce Bolden, and you can also hear him every Sunday night from 7:40pm with Cameron Luke on SEN 1116AM radio in Melbourne and on the web at www.sen.com.au with his weekly NBL wrap-up on the ‘Hoopin Around’ program.