R16 Preview: Perth Wildcats v Townsville Crocodiles
Tip-off: Friday, January 25, 2013, 6:30pm (local), Perth Arena
TV: ONE, 9:30pm (local); NBL.TV
Radio: Sunshine FM; ABC 720
Last time they met: Perth 68 (Lisch 15, Wagstaff 15, Knight 13) d Townsville 63 (Ervin 18, Blanchfield 11, Crawford 11), Round 8, 2012/13, Townsville Entertainment Centre
After Matt Knight and Luke Nevill went head-to-head every day last season as teammates, Friday’s game might be like another training session – except this one will be in front of 12,000 people.
“And a couple of referees out there blowing their whistles,” Knight laughed.
“I'm sure there were a few fouls that didn’t get called at practice.”
Knight and Nevill have emerged as the NBL’s premier centres this season and both are looking forward to renewing acquaintances.
“He moves all the time under the basket, so it’s keeping a body on him and making sure I know where he is,” Nevill said.
Knight said his constant movement was because “I'm usually giving at least two or three inches to other big men”.
“I've got to keep them on their toes," he said. "I try to move around a lot to tire them out.”
The Wildcats big man knows he has his hands full around the basket.
“He’s very good with his left and right hand,” Knight said.
“I've just got to try and make him catch the ball where he’s not comfortable, because if he catches it down low it’s two points to Townsville.”
But Nevill understands it’s not easy getting deep position against Knight.
“He has a low centre of gravity and he is a big, strong guy, so it’s about moving him around a little bit and being able to shoot over him,” he said.
Knight says he will be speeding up-and-down and dragging Nevill around in the halfcourt too.
“We’re going to use Luke in as many on-balls as we can to try and get him away from the basket,” said Knight, who is a master of using the ball-screen situation in different ways.
“I just like to see what the defender is doing and make a read from that.”
However, he won’t be catching his former teammate by surprise when he slips the screen.
“You can kind of see it, especially by who he’s setting it for. A lot of the time if he is setting it for Kevin (Lisch) he will slip it and let Kevin go to work,” Nevill said.
“You have to stay with your man, you can’t show too hard on the screen because he can slip to the hole or get jump-shots.”
So far this season Knight has outscored opposition starting centres 14.4 points a game to 6.1, and out-rebounded them 7.1 to 4.9.
Nevill has outscored his opponents 16.3 to 9.7, but been out-boarded 5.6 to 6.6.
When Knight hands out two or more assists the Wildcats are 11-1 in the past two regular seasons, with the only loss being in overtime to New Zealand. When he doesn’t they are 12-10.
Townsville have lost their past six games to Perth and tasted defeat in 12-of-14 since their memorable 2009 elimination final at Challenge Stadium.
Things have clicked into place for Townsville since Nevill arrived, with their shooters now thriving, but he now faces arguably the league’s best defensive centre.
Not only can Knight defend the post one-on-one, he is superb at covering the ball-screen and recovering without giving his man an opening.
The “Knightmare” rarely lets his opponent catch the ball in preferred position and he is assisted by terrific ball pressure, which makes good entry passes difficult.
Perth’s rotations are so good on breakdowns that every opposition shot seems contested, yet offensive rebounders are almost always covered with a box out.
Townsville will need to hit all the open shots they get and make hay in transition, which won’t be easy with Damian Martin dogging Crocs superstar Gary Ervin in another of the game’s great battles.
Prediction: Wildcats by 9