By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Sunday, February 17, 2pm (local), State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne
TV: ONE, 2pm (local); NBL.TV
Last time they met: Perth 73 (Redhage 18, Knight 14, Lisch 12) d Melbourne 58 (Flynn 19, Lewis 11), Round 14, Perth Arena
While some fans criticise Melbourne for running simple offensive sets, for Wildcats coach Rob Beveridge it is merely a case of cutting out the middle man.
“Other teams play a lot more complicated sets, but they all end up in the same thing,” he said.
“There’s a lot of movement, false movement really, that ends up in an on-ball screen, a post-up or penetration.”
Beveridge believes his team can force any team out of their offence and into a battle of those basic offensive concepts, but that’s a fight Melbourne coach Chris Anstey backs his men to win each week.
“The thing is, they're really good at it,” Beveridge said.
“I think Chris has done a really good job of identifying what he’s about as a coach and getting the ball to people where their strengths are.”
Watching the Tigers win eight of their past 10 games, Beveridge has seen a team growing into their own skins.
“Seth Scott knows where he sits now, he looked lost to start off with but is now starting to really complement them,” he said, wary of the zone-busting capabilities of Scott and Adam Ballinger.
“That’s the thing with Ballinger, you can’t let him get open looks and get confident.”
Despite blanketing Chris Goulding in Round 14, Beveridge is full of respect for someone he sees as a “maturing” player.
“Goulding is just playing with a swagger at the moment,” he said.
“You talk about the past generation of shooters, he’s one of the young guys coming through where if he’s open he knows it’s going down.”
But given Melbourne’s offence revolves around the ball-screen, Beveridge knows it is about chopping off the snake’s head.
“You pick your poison. There’s no doubt everything is run around (Jonny) Flynn, so we’ve got to make things as difficult as we can for him,” he said.
“They run a lot of pick-and-roll for him and that’s the emphasis we need to stop.”
In their past three games, the Tigers kept opponents to 33 per cent field-goal shooting after half-time and forced an average of 8.7 second-half turnovers.
Melbourne have shot 42 per cent from the field and committed just 3.7 turnovers after the main break, while getting to the foul line twice as often as their opposition.
After losing their first five games decided by less than 10 points, the Tigers have won their past seven single-figure contests.
Flynn scored 19 points against Perth in Round 14 but shot just 37 per cent, with eight of his points coming in the final 2min 13sec of the blowout loss.
Perth restrict opposition point guards to 11.7 points a game at 36 per cent in Perth Arena, but give up 14 points at 43 per cent on the road.
The Wildcats will likely look to exploit the need for Melbourne’s offence to start with their point guard by denying Flynn the ball in the full and half court.
If the Tigers don’t show improved flow from their press-breaker into halfcourt sets they will end up taking a lot of rushed shots at the end of the shot clock.
Melbourne made life tough for Perth with their defensive length in Round 14 and the Wildcats too often settled for the three-point hoist.
Beveridge says his team must move the ball and attack the basket so this doesn’t become a final-quarter grind, where the Tigers have excelled of late.
Melbourne enter this on a wave of confidence but they don’t appear capable of beating the Wildcats just yet.
Prediction: Wildcats by 7