By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Saturday, February 9, 7.30pm (local), Townsville Entertainment Centre
Last time they met: Cairns 92 (Wilson 27, Gliddon 17, Edwards 11, Tragardh 11) d Townsville 80 (Ervin 23, Blanchfield 12, Crawford 12), Round 5, Townsville Entertainment Centre
Some fans might be expecting the Taipans to be a little down about their flagging fortunes, but Alex Loughton says they are not yet defeated by their string of narrow losses.
“It’s sort of been the tale of the season, but we’re trying to live in the moment now and focus on the next game,” he said.
“We’re definitely getting in the mood for a classic Reptile Rumble.”
No matter the Crocs' and Taipans’ ladder positions, their battles are usually intense and this should especially be the case on Saturday with the loser likely out of playoff contention.
For Loughton, the challenge is an even bigger one given at various stages he is likely to match-up on the vastly different styles of Luke Nevill, Russell Hinder, Jacob Holmes and Todd Blanchfield.
“They’ve got a nice variety to their frontcourt,” he said.
“Hopefully we can expose the paint and attack it when we’ve got a Blanchfield or Holmes and expose the mid-range game when Nevill is guarding us.”
Cairns have struggled to exploit the mismatches created by their unconventional line-up, while watching opponents expose them at the other end.
“In the huddles we’ve got to do a much better job of saying ‘hey, I've got this match-up’ or have guys putting up their hand to say ‘I think I can score on this mismatch’,” Loughton said.
“We’ve been quiet about our opportunity instead of guys stepping up and having a crack. We need to voice that, we can’t just rely on Jamar (Wilson) to see everything.”
Loughton says Townsville’s “role players are doing a great job and their stars are going to work”, and that the Taipans have to make a stand this week.
“We still have light in front of us, but if things don’t pan out pretty soon that light is going to disappear and we’re going to be shaking our heads thinking ‘what just happened?’”
Cairns rank second in the NBL in three-point accuracy, third in rebounding and fourth in steals, but sit seventh on the ladder.
The Taipans also sit last in free-throw attempts and opposition field-goal accuracy, second-last in scoring and third-last in assists and turnovers forced.
Last week’s win over Sydney was the first time in 10 games neither Gary Ervin nor Nevill was the Crocs’ leading scorer. In six of the previous seven games Ervin and Nevill were the top two scorers.
In the past two seasons Townsville are 10-4 when Michael Cedar scores in double figures and 13-23 when he doesn’t.
The Taipans' weakness all season has been keeping point guards out of the lane coming off the ball screen, and keeping big men away from the rim on the roll-out.
No team is better equipped at these two things than Townsville, with the penetration of Gary Ervin, the inside presence of Luke Nevill and their bevy of three-point shooters.
Cairns’ containment defence was excellent against Melbourne, repeatedly forcing the Tigers to shoot over a hand.
They sagged off Jonny Flynn coming off the ball-screen and were physical with the roller, possibly the strategy we will see this week.
But Ervin is quicker than Flynn, Nevill a stronger presence than Seth Scott and the Crocs’ shooters more accurate than Melbourne’s, meaning they will have to pick their poison.
To win, the Taipans need Jamar Wilson and their trio of bigs to put a lot of points on the board, something they haven’t been able to do on the same night all season.
Prediction: Crocs by 8