Tip-off: Friday, January 25, 2013, 7:30pm (local), Cairns Convention Centre
Broadcast: NBL.TV (live)
Last time they met: Melbourne 83 (Goulding 27, Flynn 20, Ballinger 14) d Cairns 77 (Wilson 26, Tragardh 14, Grabau 13), Round 11, 2012/13, State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne
Cairns coach Aaron Fearne is well known for the stringent and comprehensive defensive rules he puts in place.
But after three seasons among the league’s best defensive units, Fearne has experienced a frustrating 2012/13 watching his team lapse from their rules time and time again.
“For patches we’ll play great D and follow our rules and then for three or four minutes we’ll just have a lapse where we will do things that we’ve never talked about at training,” reserve point guard Kerry Williams said.
“If we have three or four possessions like that it lets the other team get going and we can’t let that happen.”
A classic example was the Taipans’ Round 11 loss in Melbourne, where they out-scored the Tigers 61-53 across three quarters but allowed Chris Goulding to score 17 second-quarter points as he found cracks in all areas of the defence.
“We were right in the game except for when Goulding got hot. That was just some mental errors from the team, we’ve just got to be tougher than that,” Williams said.
“Goulding got rolling and then that got other guys involved.”
As well as playing his usual role as a disruptive “pest” to ball-handlers, Williams is trying to stand up as a defensive leader to fill the gap left by Ian Crosswhite’s departure.
“I've been around for a while, so I know the system in and out,” he said.
“I have to be a leader, make sure the young guys are doing the right thing on D.
"I am being more vocal about our defence and asking questions – ‘why is this happening?’ and ‘make sure we do this on the next play so it won’t happen again’.”
In the past two seasons Williams has had just one steal in five games against Melbourne. Against the rest of the league he has had 39 thefts in 37 games.
Cairns are the league’s second best three-point shooting team (35 per cent) but the worst from inside the arc (44 per cent).
In contrast, Melbourne are the NBL’s second worst long-range shooting team (30 per cent) but rank first in two-point field goals (49 per cent).
When more than 150 points are scored the Taipans are 4-5 this season. In lower scoring games they are 1-6.
After several capitulations early in the season the Tigers are now showing the traits of winners, hanging tough in close games and finding ways to win.
While his percentages may not be high, Goulding is developing a habit of making big shots and he will test the ability of Taipans’ wings to negotiate off-ball screens.
While Cairns ultimately suffered a big loss in Perth, they looked a more fluent unit than earlier in the season.
As they did in Round 11 against Melbourne, lapses in defensive transition allowed the Wildcats to generate momentum, and the Taipans must address this area or Jonny Flynn and Goulding will be too hard to contain.
The Tigers have been inconsistent at utilising the abilities of Seth Scott and Adam Ballinger, yet a key to defeating Cairns is exposing their interior defence.
If the Taipans can limit the amount of touches Melbourne’s bigs receive, they should be able to score enough against Melbourne’s containment defence to secure a win and keep their season on life support.
Prediction: Taipans by 3