By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Sunday, February 10, 1.30pm (local), Adelaide Arena
Broadcast: Ten, 2pm (local); NBL.TV (live to mobile, simulcast to web)
Last time they met: Melbourne 87 (Scott 23, Flynn 22, Goulding 16) d Adelaide 80 (Johnson 25, Cadee 24, Petrie 15), Round 16, State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne
Melbourne centre Matt Burston knows all about the pressure expectant Adelaide fans can put on their struggling team.
“It is hard. I was in Adelaide a few years ago when things weren’t going too well,” he said.
Burston understands some intense defence from Sunday’s tip-off could generate that sinking feeling again.
“That’s the key,” he said.
“If we can get on them early and make sure they don’t get going then that will go a long way towards us winning.”
Melbourne have won six of their past eight games, their second-half defence squeezing the life out of a number of opponents.
“In the Cairns game we had seven deflections in the first half and we were down and not playing very well,” he said.
“But in that third quarter we had 12 deflections - that’s the reason we’re winning.”
Burston, who has played on some first-rate defensive teams, says the Tigers must “get all 10 guys buying into that the whole time” if they are to continue their playoff push.
“Sometimes we have been focusing more on the offensive end and that is when we are struggling,” he said.
“When we get stops and run and use our athleticism in the open court, we are pretty good.”
Burston said some simple adjustments from defensive coach Darryl McDonald have made a big difference.
“We’ve just been keeping it basic,” he said.
“Trying to get good at certain things, whereas early in the season we were trying to do too much with different ways of defending things.”
Burston’s final word is his team must up the ante on the glass, where they have been strong at home but fallen away badly on the road.
“Away that’s been a bit of an issue for us, teams have been getting too many second shots,” he said.
“They’ve got two seven-footers so we’ve got to make sure we've got five guys crashing the boards.”
In Round 16 against Melbourne, the 36ers scored 52 points at 53 per cent from the field in the second half.
In their six other games since Christmas, Tigers’ opponents have averaged just 34 points at 36 per cent after the main break.
On the road, the Tigers are out-rebounded by 4.1 boards a game and grab 4.7 less offensive rebounds than their opponent. At home they pull in 1.7 more boards and only 1.1 less offensive rebounds.
The 36ers out-rebounded Melbourne 42-34 in their Round 1 victory, but in the Tigers’ two subsequent wins they have won the board count 83-64.
Daniel Johnson has averaged 3.3 offensive rebounds a game in the past eight matches and is averaging 19.3 points and 9 rebounds against the Tigers this season.
Adelaide have looked good this season when Adam Gibson and Jason Cadee have triggered their running game, but if Melbourne can use their athleticism to slow the 36ers, the odds tilt heavily in their favour.
The 36ers have struggled to defend as a unit, which has made them vulnerable to individual brilliance - Melbourne run uncomplicated screening sets that put Flynn, Goulding and Scott in positions to go one-on-one.
Adelaide coach Marty Clarke labelled his team reactive last time they met the Tigers and to triumph this week they need to force their talented opponents into individual plays from positions they are not comfortable with.
With the 36ers likely tired from their trip to Perth and Melbourne with a top-four spot to play for, it’s hard to see the home fans having much to cheer about.
Prediction: Tigers by 6