New Zealand Breakers v Melbourne United
When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Friday 10 February
Where: North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ
When Melbourne United import Ramone Moore went down with a season-ending injury, many wondered was who would replace his punch off the bench?
The prime suspects were Owen Odigie, Nate Tomlinson and replacement import Lasan Kromah, but the man to step up has been pint-sized point guard Kyle Adnam.
“Kyle performs in practice and against arguably one of the top backcourts in the league every day and I see what he does to those two, so I’ve got complete confidence with him coming in,” coach Dean Demopoulos said.
That’s no surprise to the New Zealand Breakers, who think the rookie should be riding a wave at Bells Beach rather than his current wave of confidence.
“We call him surfer dude,” coach Paul Henare laughed earlier in the season.
“With all due respect we’re meant to go against opponents and not like them very much, I love that kid, he’s awesome.”
The Breakers watched Adnam pile on 16 points against them in last season’s penultimate game, then 19 points at 60 per cent earlier this year at Hisense Arena.
“He just plays with such a confidence level about him, and he came in and hooped it up tonight,” Henare said.
“We saw him last year when Melbourne rested a couple of guys at the North Shore Events Centre and he did the same thing over there, so it’s not as if we didn’t know he was capable of it.”
— NBL (@NBL) November 4, 2016
New Zealand welcome United to town on Friday night but there’ll be no more joking around. The equation is simple for the Breakers, win and they will likely go into a tie-break for a playoff spot, lose and they miss the post-season for just the third time since 2007.
While Adnam has previously torched the Kiwis while playing in undermanned line-ups, this time he arrives at NSEC – where NZ have lost their past three games by a total of 35 points – as part of a fit, firing and formidable Melbourne bench unit.
Last round United brought two of the most highly-credentialed big men in NBL history off the pine and they were simply too much for Sydney and Illawarra.
Josh Boone has played 256 NBA games and started 88, sporting impressive career highs in points (26), boards (20), assists (five) and blocks (four). He’s also played in the NCAA Final Four and led the highly-respected VTB United League in rebounding while playing for Khimki Moscow.
David Andersen has played in 224 Euroleague games, 103 NBA games, four Olympics and two world cups, while winning an astonishing 11 titles as a pro in Europe. He’s been MVP of the Turkish Cup, Italian Cup, Serie A Finals and Euroleague Final Four.
Last weekend, this thirty-something pair combined for 63 points at 67 per cent, 33 rebounds, six assists and four swats in 86 minutes, feeding off each other to belie how new their partnership is.
“I’ve always been a big that can work well off another big that can score,” Boone said.
“I’ve never really been that main scoring buy but I’ve learned to find the open spaces off of guys who are really good scorers like both Dave and Tai (Wesley) as well.”
— NBL (@NBL) February 6, 2017
The former New Jersey Net also showed he will be at his most dangerous feeding off the brilliance of Goulding and Casper Ware.
“Throughout my career I’ve been a barometer for how the team moves the ball,” Boone said.
“Tonight, 13 shot attempts, that means the ball was really moving, we were finding the open man, Dave Andersen was doing a great job of passing out of the double teams, Casper and Chris were doing great jobs of finding guys off the pick-and-rolls as well.”
With Akil Mitchell out for the season, the Alex Pledger-Rob Loe pairing could see plenty of time against Melbourne’s bench duo, while Mika Vukona’s duels with Andersen date back a decade on the international scene.
In their past two games against United, Pledger and Loe have combined for a remarkably efficient 47 points on 16-of-19 shooting and 23 boards.
— NBL (@NBL) November 4, 2016
Pledger has enjoyed playing Melbourne this season, averaging 12ppg at 84 per cent compared to 8.3ppg at 54 per cent against the rest of the league.
“He gave us a great target under the rim,” Henare said after the Round 5 triumph.
“Obviously one of our strengths is having shooters that spread the floor, so if we can keep having that interior presence where he’s making a nuisance of himself that’s going to add strings to our bow.”
In the past two games against the Kings and Adelaide, Pledger has utilised the space created by Kirk Penney, Kevin Dillard, Tom Abercrombie and Loe to dominate the boards, grabbing 26 points in 58 minutes, including nine at the offensive end.
Whichever perimeter crew can best spread the defence on Friday will likely allow their big men to shine, and it’s those match-ups that could be most pivotal.
At point guard, Kevin Dillard has averaged just 11.3ppg at 35 per cent and 3.3apg in three losses since he joined New Zealand. In wins, those numbers soar to 22.6ppg at 49 per cent and five dimes per night.
In his first 10 games for Melbourne Casper Ware shot 45 per cent from the field, 38 per cent from the arc and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 49:21. United were 7-3 in those contests.
In the past six outings, Ware has shot 40 per cent from the field, 26 per cent from deep and had 25 assists to 21 miscues. Melbourne have gone 3-3 in that stretch.
At shooting guard, only Andrew Gaze has won more NBL scoring titles than Penney, and the Kiwi sharpshooter is threatening to regain that form, averaging 20ppg at 44 per cent from range in his past five games.
— NBL (@NBL) February 4, 2017
His match-up with Goulding should be worth the price of admission, but Melbourne’s main man will be looking to recapture his best shooting form. While Bubbles has averaged 19.4ppg in his past five games, he has hit just 11 of his past 37 three-point attempts.
There are many other match-ups to savour – Abercrombie v Todd Blanchfield, Finn Delany v Tai Wesley, Vukona v Dave Barlow, Shea Ili v Adnam – but the reality is this game will be a dogfight.
What will be, will be
A loss for Melbourne will leave them needing to beat Perth at Hisense Arena on Sunday and have other results go their way.
While the Breakers playoff hopes are already in the hands of other teams, Henare’s focus is to “control what we can control” like defending Melbourne’s dangerous ball-screen, rebounding and taking care of the ball.
“Possibly when we had a good little win streak we sort of got ahead of ourselves and starting looking too far forward for us. What will be, will be in terms of what happens after next weekend,” he said.
“All we can do is focus on that game and play the best game of basketball we can, at the end of the round we’ll see where we are.”
A road win on Friday keeps Melbourne’s fate in their own hands, and Demopoulos believes his team has approached training and games over the past few weeks holds them in good stead.
“This stuff where the coach gives the players the confidence, it’s a two-way street for sure,” he said.
“I get it from them, watching them, how they react to things, what they do in their preparation during the week and that gives me spirit, gives me hope they can perform at their highest level.”