Round 16 of the NBL is in the books and things are heating up with Illawarra Hawks enjoying their Tasmania JackJumpers revenge, a Cairns Taipans star showing he’s not a bum, Perth Wildcats not resting on their laurels and the South East Melbourne Phoenix looking to fix serious flaws.
Right now it’s Melbourne United and the Perth Wildcats locked in a fight over top spot. The Sydney Kings, Illawarra Hawks, South East Melbourne and Tasmania JackJumpers are fighting for those two other top four positions with five rounds of the season remaining.
Round 16 in the NBL began last Thursday night with the Illawarra Hawks finding some impressive offensive form to beat the South East Melbourne Phoenix 103-97 in what was a battle over fourth position.
Watch Every Game of the 21/22 NBL Season Live & On-Demand with ESPN on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >
The Adelaide 36ers then snapped a five-game losing streak on Friday night with an 83-57 home win against the Cairns Taipans before two massive games on Saturday featuring playoff contending teams.
It started with the Hawks beating the JackJumpers 91-65 and some spice between the two teams post-match before the Kings maintained pace as the hottest team in the league even without Xavier Cooks, making it eight straight beating the struggling Phoenix 91-89.
That led into Sunday’s triple-header which began with Melbourne United overpowering the 36ers 101-74 before the Taipans snapped their five-game losing run beating the Brisbane Bullets 98-88. Finally the Perth Wildcats celebrated their homecoming beating the New Zealand Breakers 95-85.
Here are the five big things coming out of the action.
HAWKS ENJOY THEIR REVENGE ON JACKJUMPERS
While the rest of the basketball community loves the passion of Scott Roth, the Illawarra Hawks stored away his celebrations when the Tasmania JackJumpers beat them and spilt over in Launceston on Saturday.
The JackJumpers coach wears his heart on his sleeve and his celebrations with the Tasmanian locals after some big wins this season have been some of the more heart warming moments we’ve seen.
And to be honest, it would be a damn shame if he felt he couldn’t react that way in the future after the way the Hawks have made no secret that they stored it away and used it as some motivation.
Illawarra put together perhaps its most complete performance on Saturday handing Tasmania its biggest loss in the process with the 91-65 victory, but that was just the start of the drama.
Right in front of Roth, Hawks star Antonius Cleveland appeared to be celebrating in similar fashion to the way the JackJumpers coach did after his team beat Illawarra three weeks earlier.
Roth was far from impressed and it took some work to eventually separate the duo and calm things down, with Hawks coach Brian Goorjian a central figure in simmering the tensions.
However, afterwards Goorjian made no secret of the fact that the Hawks didn’t necessarily appreciate the way teams have been reacting after beating them this season or the way they’ve been treated overall.
He felt that’s why things bottled over after the game on Saturday and while he has enormous respect for Roth and his coaching, he fully backed the reaction of Cleveland.
“With all the fist pumping and stuff when the game was over there was so much emotion for this. I love my kid and he was just showing support and now the shoe is on the other foot,” Goorjian said.
“On the flipside, I’ve known Scott Roth for a long period of time and right now he’s the best coach in this. He’s got the most out of his team and there’s respect there, it’s just a little bit of to and fro. We had a handshake when it settled down and we go about our business.
“Also, I love my kid and understand our guys have had their face rubbed in this thing a bit too along the way about people saying we’re the best team, asking what’s wrong with us and after every team beats us they jump around, and dance around.
“We’re finally getting a little momentum and we haven’t had this all year where we can come in the locker room to hug each other and jump up and down. I’m not going to take that away from them.”
WILDCATS ABOUT TO MAKE A BIG MOVE
It wouldn’t be a surprise if this current Perth Wildcats group is enough to win this NBL championship, but the ‘Cats appear set to announce a new signing that could put them even further over that hump.
The Wildcats are well positioned to at least finish in the top two at the end of this season as they embark on what would be a 36th consecutive playoff appearance, but you don’t have the success they have had without leaving no stone unturned.
It appears the ‘Cats are about to make a significant addition to their squad and bring in someone who could be quite a defensive and rebounding menace in the form of John Brown III.
Brown most recently played for Russian club UNICS Karzan where he set a EuroLeague record for steals but he recently exercised his right to leave the country following the invasion of Ukraine.
The Wildcats appear to have pounced quickly and while there has been no official announcement of his signing, the 30-year-old 6’8 power forward has been spotted in Perth. He attended Sunday’s game at RAC Arena where the Wildcats beat the New Zealand Breakers 95-85.
This obviously doesn’t come as good news for import Michael Frazier who has been struggling for impact and confidence. The official line was that he didn’t play against the Breakers with a hamstring injury.
The Wildcats don’t necessarily need to release Frazier to sign Brown, but instead he could come in as a nominated replacement player similar to what happened for Perth with the signing of Will Magnay last season.
Either way, it appears he will be announced as signed in coming days and will suit up on Thursday night against the Tasmania JackJumpers.
By not saying anything following Sunday’s win over the Breakers on the situation, ‘Cats coach Scott Morrison actually said plenty.
“I’ve always wanted to do this, no comment,” Morrison said.
“In the words of Bill Belichick, we’re onto Tasmania.”
AC COULD BE KEY FACTOR IN HOW FAR HAWKS GO
Speaking of the Illawarra Hawks, Antonius Cleveland’s game actually did a lot of talking too before that post-game altercation and he could be the key to how far his team goes this season.
The Hawks were the best defensive team in the league last year. A lot of that was on the back of Justin Simon who won the Damian Martin Trophy as the league’s Best Defensive Player.
However, coming into this season the Hawks decided they needed to get a little more potent offensively. That’s where the signing of Xavier Rathan-Mayes to support Tyler Harvey came in, and also why they went with bringing in Cleveland rather than retaining Simon.
The longer the season goes and the more and more of an astute decision that appears to be. While Cleveland isn’t quite the defensive powerhouse that Simon was, he’s actually not too far from it and he does set the defensive tone for the Hawks.
He has done some outstanding defensive jobs in recent weeks. Then with his quick hands and ability to get in the passing lanes, and get out on transition and finish in spectacular fashion, he’s having a significant impact.
Offensively Cleveland is proving to be a handy addition to the other weapons the Hawks possess including Harvey, Rathan-Mayes, Justinian Jessup and Duop Reath.
The Hawks have now won five of their past six matches to be back in fourth position and with some momentum building which has a lot to do with the impact of Cleveland.
“We’ve got four offensive guys that we’re trying to blend and this thing has been about sacrifice and I think AC and Xavier have been the most affected,” Hawks coach Brian Goorjian said.
“Both of them are starting to find their way within the group and with the ball not sticking. AC gets on the offensive glass, he plays defence up the floor and he has that Justin Simon aspect to him but is more of an offensive influence to us. With him and Xavier, it’s been a bit of an adjust but they are now starting to find it.”
PHOENIX LOOK TO PATCH UP SERIOUS FLAWS
The South East Melbourne Phoenix have now slipped outside the top four, have lost their past four matches and coach Simon Mitchell sees some serious flaws they need to quickly fix.
For much of this NBL season the Phoenix have been in most people’s calculations as a genuine championship threat, and they have been in and around the top two spots for most of the way until the last two weeks.
The Phoenix were sitting pretty at 11-5 and riding a three-game winning streak, but the wheels have come off somewhat the past two weeks with defeats at the hands of Illawarra, Melbourne, the Hawks again and Sydney.
Things aren’t too disastrous. South East Melbourne were chances to win each of those games including being in match-winning positions in the second half in the first two games against the Hawks and United.
Even on Saturday in the two-point loss to the Kings they gave themselves a chance with the two-point deficit and with the ball and a chance to make a play that could have won them the game, or forced overtime.
It wasn’t to be and now all of a sudden having slipped to 11-9 and to be outside of the top four with eight games remaining, they have their work cut out if they are to make a second straight playoff appearance.
The absence of Ryan Broekhoff with a shoulder injury isn’t helping the Phoenix’s cause but they do have a chance to get back on track with games to come this week against the out of contention Cairns Taipans and Adelaide 36ers even away from home.
“I think the finals race is kinda irrelevant now. Even after the Adelaide and Brisbane wins, we were 11-5 and second on the ladder, and people were talking us up, but internally we weren’t particularly happy with how we were performing,” Mitchell said.
“There’s not been a whole lot of change since then other than the level of competition and we’re still failing in certain areas.
“I feel like we’re a ways off where we need to be at the moment and we’ll continue to endeavour to get better at what we do. There’s areas of our game that are seriously flawed so we need to patch that up.”
MACHADO PROVES TO HIMSELF THAT HE’S NOT A BUM
Scott Machado might not be having the season he hoped, but he also has nothing to prove to anyone but himself and after Friday night, he felt like he needed to remind himself and everyone else what he’s capable of.
Going back to the 2019/20 season when the Taipans were within one game of the Grand Final, Machado was runner-up to Bryce Cotton in MVP voting, named to the All-First NBL Team and a genuine superstar.
Things haven’t quite gone to plan for him or the Snakes the last two seasons now, but he also hasn’t had the same superstar level talent around him for him to work off at the same time.
He also injured a heel to start this season and missed the next five matches and hasn’t quite looked the Machado of old since his return.
Machado has had his moments including 26 points and eight assists against the Sydney Kings, but on Friday night in Adelaide with the Taipans losing to the also struggling 36ers by 26 points, Machado went scoreless for the first time in his 78-game NBL career.
He took that to heart, both the size of the loss for the team and the performance where even though he still had six assists, the zero points on 0/12 shooting stuck in his craw.
As a result, he came out ready to bounce back in Brisbane on Sunday and enough of his teammates were along for the ride too.
Machado had his first double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 assists even though he still only shot 3/12 from the field, but his teammates came up big too to snap their five-game losing run with the 98-88 win.
“I just know I’m not a bum, honestly. For me the other night I’ve never felt like that before. I don’t want to put it on nobody else but myself and I also don’t think nobody else can fix it but myself,” Machado said.
“You can have all types of conversations and people talking to me, but I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of doing. I’ve been falling short and even tonight I shot the ball terrible even though we won the game.
“Honestly I’m just going to continue to play, keep shooting those shots and a lot of them feel good. I wouldn’t shoot them if they didn’t and I’m shooting it terrible, but a lot of them feel good.”