Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Saturday, February 2, 7:30pm (local), Townsville Entertainment Centre
TV: NBL.TV (live)
Last time they met: Sydney 92 (Bruce 25, Madgen 23, Henry 18) d Townsville 87 (Ervin 16, Allen 14, Crawford 12) Round 4, Townsville Entertainment Centre
Shane Heal has earned a reputation as a demanding coach, but Ben Madgen says there is one thing his coach never complains about.
“Shane has never yelled at anyone for taking an open shot,” he said.
Sydney’s offence has averaged just 72.1 points in their past eight games and Heal has been coaxing confidence back into his players ahead of their trip to Townsville.
“Shane talked to us about having the confident mindset and not worrying so much,” Madgen said.
“When the moment presents itself, have the confidence shooting the ball like you're in an empty gym.”
But the Kings’ defence must be of greatest concern for Heal, who entered the job late last season bemoaning the side giving up 45 per cent field-goal shooting.
Madgen revealed his team had “worked more on our transition defence this week than we have the whole year” in preparation for the Gary Ervin-led Crocs fastbreak.
“I think we’ve gotten away from being disciplined on a few key areas of defence and we’re really working hard on getting back to that mindset of shutting teams down and not just trying to out-score them,” Madgen said.
“That was what was getting us over the line when we won six out of seven.”
Madgen has struggled since his shoulder injury, unable to spend his usual countless hours shooting before and after practice.
But the 193cm swingman said the extra attention he is getting from defences is “fine because it opens up other people and you see Crossy (Ian Crosswhite) being a lot more aggressive”.
Crosswhite has been dominant the past two weeks – and his match-up with Luke Nevill could be pivotal.
“Crossy’s up for the match-up and he’s really looking forward to playing Luke Nevill and showing he can play at this level against anyone,” Madgen said.
“We feel like Crossy can be the best big man in the competition, we’ve been telling him that the whole year and he’s really delivered the last two weeks.”
Madgen, Aaron Bruce and Corin Henry have shot 11-of-70 from three-point range the past six games at only 16 per cent. Before that they were firing at 38 per cent.
Sydney’s turnover rate has increased from 11.4 in their first 14 games to 14.2 in their past six, while their opponents have dropped from 13.1 to 12.8.
In their past six games the Kings have given up 84.8 points at 46 per cent. In the first 14 games they allowed only 75 points at 42 per cent.
The Crocs held opponents to fewer than 80 points just once in their first nine games. They have done it six times in their past nine.
The Kings have lost five-of-six and are in a dogfight just to make the playoffs, but they looked more at home offensively last week against New Zealand’s man-to-man defence and will likely see more of the same from the Crocs.
Townsville’s defence went to a new level in Perth, aided by the Wildcats’ poor conversion, but if Sydney’s guards can bust out of their shooting slump then scoring shouldn’t be a problem.
The Kings’ biggest issue is at the defensive end, where their pressing defence has been well scouted, their man principles have waned and their transition is sorely being tested by the volume of missed shots.
With the Crocs offence one of the league’s most productive the past two months (78.1 ppg) they should be able to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Prediction: Crocs by 4