By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Sunday, January 27, 2pm (local)
TV: ONE, 2pm (local); NBL.TV
Last time they met: Melbourne 96 (Goulding 24, Scott 18, Flynn 12) d Adelaide 66 (Petrie 15, Johnson 12, Cadee 10), Round 6, Hisense Arena, Melbourne
After finishing college, Scott Christopherson faced a tough transition heading to northern Europe’s VTB United League, one of the best and most physical in the world.
But coming to Australia was another eye opener for the 23-year-old from Iowa State University.
“This is the most physical basketball I've ever seen in my life,” he said.
Christopherson is taking an expect-no-foul approach when he drives to the hoop to adjust his game to the new style.
“Just drive in there strong, be on balance and sometimes instead of powering the ball up you need to make the pass to the open guy,” he said.
But Adelaide’s ability to find the open man has been made difficult by their poor offensive spacing, which has regularly prevented them from punishing rotating defences.
“That’s something we talked about a little bit this week,” Christopherson said.
“Trying to keep better spacing in our offence and giving guys room to work, and also getting the ball moving from one side of the floor to the other.”
But the rookie import is not getting down about his team’s late-game struggles, having experienced something similar two years ago.
“In my junior year at college we lost seven or eight conference games all in the last two minutes,” he said.
And from that experience he knows the solution is backing his teammates’ abilities heading into Sunday’s clash with Melbourne, which could well end the loser’s playoff hopes.
“That stuff can be tricky, because sometimes all it takes is one guy breaking loose and the rest of the guys rally around him and all of a sudden the team can look completely different,” he said.
“We as players have to buckle down a little bit harder coming down the stretch and find ways to win, whether it’s making a big shot or finding ways to get your hand on a ball or whatever it may be.”
Adelaide achieved penetration, either by pass or dribble, in 13 of their 17 halfcourt possessions in the game-deciding third quarter against New Zealand last week, but on just five of those 13 penetrations did they have three players spaced outside the three-point line.
All three of their halfcourt scores for the quarter came in those five possessions.
After shooting 45 per cent on three-pointers over the first five rounds to lead the league, Adelaide have made 60-of-222 at 27 per cent since.
Shooting big men Daniel Johnson and Anthony Petrie have made just three of their past 23 long-range attempts.
Christopherson and CJ Massingale, brought in as perimeter shooting imports, have made a combined 6-of-26 from long range.
Melbourne’s ability to protect the paint has been impressive and that will be crucial against Adelaide’s frontline of Petrie, Johnson and Luke Schenscher, all of whom can score big totals.
The 36ers have rarely been able to get all their scorers going on the one night, however, and face the tricky balance of negating Melbourne’s athleticism in the open court but still getting easy baskets.
In these teams’ last meeting Chris Goulding exploded from the perimeter and Jonny Flynn exposed the 36ers’ ball-screen defence in his first NBL game.
Adelaide must do a better job of forcing the Tigers away from their strengths this time and their ramped-up trapping zone will be important in testing Melbourne’s composure.
Where the Tigers have shown the toughness to win close games the 36ers have not, so on their home court Melbourne start as favourites to eke out a win.
Prediction: Tigers by 6