Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks
When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 6 February
Where: Hisense Arena, Melbourne
Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ
On 16 July 2016 Melbourne United announced the signing of David Andersen. On 4 February 2017 he paid them back.
After looking at times like he had two left feet earlier in the season as he adjusted to the pace and unpredictability of the NBL, the 36-year-old looked like he had the world at his feet on Saturday as he tormented the Kings.
Andersen scored 21 points in 17 minutes from all points of the court; on his patented jump hook, unguardable dream shake, tough pull-ups and a perfect 4-of-4 from long range, including two contested daggers that took the wind out of Sydney’s sails.
— NBL (@NBL) February 4, 2017
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work,” he said.
“The rehab’s been testing mentally for me, at my age you start to doubt things, but I did the hard work and credit to my teammates, they found me in the right spots.”
Andersen teamed with fellow ex-NBA and Euroleague big man Josh Boone – who racked up 13 points, 14 boards and three blocks in 24 minutes – to form a deadly bench combination.
That duo will be tested by the speed of the Illawarra Hawks when they venture to Hisense Arena for Monday’s open air game.
In his first three games against the lightning pace of Illawarra and Adelaide, Andersen shot 11-of-33 from the floor and United were 17 points better off when he was on the bench.
But in Round 5 he fronted to Wollongong in a catch-and-shoot mindset, nailing an NBL career-high 23 points to go with eight hard-earned boards in an ultra-physical encounter.
No doubt that performance will be fresh in the memory Hawks big men AJ Ogilvy and Nick Kay, who have quietly become the best frontcourt duo in the NBL.
— NBL (@NBL) January 7, 2017
Over the past nine games Ogilvy has averaged 12.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 1.2 steals and a super-impressive 3.3 assists to put his slow start to the season behind him.
Against United in Round 14, he compiled 12 points, 12 boards and six assists as the Hawks romped to victory.
“He’s had his ups and down this season, no question, but tonight he showed why he was a potential MVP of the league last year,” coach Rob Beveridge said.
“I thought he was outstanding, he anchored out team. He rebounded, passed the ball, he had six assists and one turnover, just outstanding because he’s got a very, very high IQ … our thing was we’ve got to get the ball in AJ’s hands and good things happen.”
Over the past six games, Kay has averaged 15.2ppg at 64 per cent, 4.8rpg, 2.2 steals and an unselfish 2.7 assists in just over 21mpg to join Ogilvy in powering the team’s offence.
— NBL (@NBL) January 7, 2017
Kay had 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting last time the Hawks took on Melbourne, then followed it up with a remarkable 16-point, six-rebound, six-assist, six-steal night against the Bullets.
“The way Nick has been playing, it epitomises our club,” Beveridge said at the time.
“The heart of this guy and how hard he plays no matter what. He doesn’t get caught up with referees, he doesn’t get caught up with anything, he just plays his guts out.
“Offensively, defensively, running the floor, helping his teammates, he’s just been outstanding.”
Poise or panic?
Which frontcourt has the better of Monday’s match-up could well come down to each teams’ defence and ball control.
In Round 2, the Hawks failed to disrupt Melbourne’s guards and their perimeter crew fired away at will, nailing 16-of-23 from the arc, led by Todd Blanchfield’s 8-of-9 and a 60 per cent night from Chris Goulding.
— NBL (@NBL) October 16, 2016
In Round 14, Illawarra brought the D but United again hit the ground running, scoring 51 points in the first half as they hit one tough contested shot after another.
Beveridge’s men stuck at the task though, harassing Casper Ware into four turnovers and some frustrated play and limiting Goulding to 3-of-10 shooting before he was rested with an ankle twinge.
“I thought tonight defensively in particular we were outstanding against one of the most potent teams in the league, simple as that. To be able to go one-out with Casper and Goulding, they made four shots with one second to go on the shot clock,” Beveridge said.
“They made big plays, we just had to stay with what we were doing, I was really, really happy with how we were containing them.”
The difference was in Round 2, Melbourne’s penetration and passing cut the Hawks’ defence apart, dishing off 23 assists to 13 turnovers as they moved the ball with ease and canned open jumpers.
In Illawarra’s two wins the games were played on their scrambled terms, forcing United’s stars into one-on-one play that resulted in 30 dimes and 31 miscues.
Form teams, form players
As both teams showed with double-figure wins on the weekend, though, they are both starting to fire at the pointy end of the season.
After watching Sydney’s reactive defence get picked apart by Goulding, Ware and Co, the Hawks will know they must bring their disruptive defensive best.
After seeing how Illawarra threw the usually-methodical Taipans completely out of rhythm, Melbourne will have no doubt they must be able to execute through pressure, and contain in transition.
Perhaps the most highly-anticipated match-up of this game is Rotnei Clarke against Goulding, the winner and runner-up of the 2014 MVP count.
Clarke has averaged 19.1 points at 44 per cent from outside in his past 16 games, while Goulding has splashed 19.2ppg at 44 per cent from the land of plenty in his past 10.
Of course, Goulding will probably see plenty of Kevin White, while Ware will cop the intensity of Mitch Norton followed by the guile of Rhys Martin as the Hawks try to wear him down and negate his exquisite shot-making.
— NBL (@NBL) January 7, 2017
Doing the maths
A win will secure a post-season berth for Illawarra and put United’s season on a knife edge. A Melbourne victory will move them to equal-third, just half-a-game behind the Hawks, and a winning margin of more than 15 will hand them the season series.
This game will be like a cutthroat playoff encounter. United know they will have to bring their hard hats to match the Hawks’ never-say-die approach, but coach Dean Demopoulos has no doubt they will.
“These guys, all year long, we’ve had one stinker this year that’s about it,” he said.
“This team’s always played hard, they always play together, didn’t always result in victories but I never once doubted that this group wouldn’t play their hearts out.”
For the sharp-shooting Clarke, Friday’s win buys the Hawks no respite, as they have lost the season series to Perth, Sydney and Cairns in the chasing pack,
“Every game’s a playoff game now,” he said.
“We’re trying to get 16 wins, who knows how many wins we’re going to need but we’re trying to get as many wins as we can. We can’t afford to drop back to the pack with the teams we’ve dropped series to.”