Perth Wildcats v Sydney Kings
When: 9.30pm (AEDT), Friday 10 February
Where: Perth Arena
Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sport NZ
It was Dontaye Draper’s night. His 20 points just shy of his NBL career high, shooting 7-of-13 from the field, dishing eight dimes and grabbing four boards in a performance that silenced the Wildcats’ faithful as Sydney prevailed 104-85.
It was also Saturday, 2 February 2008. Why are we still talking about that? Well, it’s all Sydney Kings fans have to talk about when it comes to winning in Perth.
Not only haven’t the Kings conquered the wild west in the nine years since, they have lost every game they’ve played at Perth Arena by double figures.
That doesn’t bode well for a Sydney side who simply must conquer their western demons on Friday night to square the season ledger at 14-14 and keep their playoff hopes alive.
— NBL (@NBL) November 17, 2016
Yet if coach Andrew Gaze is concerned by the mission impossible that lays between his team and the post-season, he certainly isn’t showing it.
“This season’s been a little different,” he said.
“Who would have thought after what happened to New Zealand last week they’d go over and beat Adelaide in Adelaide? There’s so many twists and turns to this season, I don’t feel intimidated about going over there.”
Points off turnovers
There is good reason for Gaze to be pragmatic about his team’s prospects, because he knows exactly what makes them tick, and exactly what they have to do to win.
In their back-to-back wins over Brisbane and the Breakers, Gaze’s men won the points off turnovers count by a staggering 51-14.
— NBL (@NBL) January 29, 2017
Against Melbourne last week they only forced 11 cough-ups, but five of them came in a six-minute stint in the second stanza when the Kings outscored their visitors 16-3.
“At no stage did I feel like we were getting great productivity from our offence,” Gaze said.
“We got back into the game through transition, a few steals, made our way to the free-throw line and got some stops.”
The Kings couldn’t maintain the defensive rage for long enough, however, and they conceded key offensive rebounds to relieve the pressure, complaints shared by Perth coach Trevor Gleeson after his team’s loss in Cairns.
“Our defence has been our backbone for eons, but I thought we lost our way defensively and rebounding, I think we gave up nine offensive rebounds in the third quarter,” he said.
The Wildcats received 26 points and five assists from Bryce Cotton, and 10 points, 11 boards and three dimes from his backcourt buddy Damian Martin. According to Gleeson, the rest of the team were off the mark.
“Damo and Bryce are very consistent, if we had a couple more who gave the energy they did we’d be a lot better, but we can’t win when we’ve got too many passengers,” he said.
— NBL (@NBL) January 7, 2017
Cotton was the difference the last time these teams met, scoring 26 points at 87 per cent in a dream NBL debut.
“They’ve found a beauty in Cotton, he’s a genuine player that’s going to be hard to handle,” Gaze said.
“The combination of bringing him and Cotton in is a big, big change to their team, you’re talking about two very significant impact players.”
No question reigning Best Defensive Player Kevin Lisch will spend plenty of time eye-to-eye with Cotton, but don’t be surprised to see Jason Cadee stepping in at times.
“I was very proud of Jason Cadee and the work he did on Chris Goulding in the second half, held him to two points,” Gaze said.
Of course, the challenge facing both Lisch and Cadee is the Kings’ lack of depth, sitting clear last in the NBL for bench scoring. With Garrett Jackson still in doubt, Perth will know they have an edge in this area, and their reserves will be on edge after this bake from Gleeson in Cairns.
“We didn’t really get a good hit of defence or rebounding from our bench, and you can’t really on too few players to do it,” he said.
The Wildcats were smashed 26-10 in bench points on Sunday, but have beaten the Kings 79-57 in that category during the season series.
Sydney trail that series 2-1, but a win by more than eight points on Friday will mean they own the season series over fellow contenders Perth, Cairns, New Zealand and Illawarra, which could be crucial in a tie-breaker.
Of course, winning at all in Perth is a monumental ask, and the Kings will need Lisch – who has made just 27 of his past 99 field-goal attempts and 15 of his past 62 triples – to rewind the clock in his old stomping ground.
They will also need Brad Newley – who has averaged 22.7ppg, 5rpg and 4.3apg against the Wildcats – to continue his remarkable return from injury, where he shot 7-of-7 in the first half against Melbourne before finishing with 19 points.
— NBL (@NBL) November 17, 2016
Newley and Casey Prather have fought out some intriguing battles this season, but the Wildcats small forward enters this match-up a man in a slump, having averaged just 10.5 points at 27 per cent in his past four games.
At power forward, Greg Whittington has become a barometer for the Kings at both ends. When GW2 shoots 50 per cent or better from the field Sydney are 9-4, when he doesn’t they’re 4-10.
In wins he shoots 41 per cent from the arc, in defeat that number is 32 per cent. Last week against United he missed six open triples that allowed Melbourne’s defence to help off him.
Defensively, when Whittington has three or more steals the Kings are 5-1, when he blocks multiple shots they are 6-2 and when he grabs more than five defensive boards they are 5-2.
— NBL (@NBL) January 7, 2017
Jesse Wagstaff fills the barometer role for Perth. When he shoots 33 per cent or better the Wildcats are 10-4, compared to 3-9 on his wayward nights.
The big man battle pits Jameel McKay, Matt Knight and Angus Brandt against Aleks Maric and Josh Powell.
Knight missed Sunday’s game in Cairns and his two frontcourt buddies combined for just 13 points and nine rebounds, while Sydney’s duo went for 19 points and 14 boards against Melbourne.
Maric pulling in 12 of those, prompting Gaze to label him “a warrior”, but given Perth have won points in the paint 128-82 in this season series the Kings will need a lift from their bigs at both ends.
If the 13-13 Wildcats win both games this weekend they will finish second, and while Gleeson likes his team having control of their destiny, he knows they can’t produce the same level they did against the Taipans.
“It’s up to us now, we got ourselves in this position,” he said.
“We had a great opportunity to close the game out the way we wanted to and when some things went against us we didn’t respond well.”
Gaze is confident his team can turn the corner on their long-running fade-out – which has resulted in 13 losses from their past 21 games – with their playoff lives on the line.
“If we can play our best basketball and we can get everyone on the same page, working together, then I think we’ve shown over the course of the season that we can put together a performance that’s good enough to win over there,” he said.