NBL Round 15: A King sized problem as the finals picture takes shape

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There are five rounds to go in the NBL regular season, and the drama is building with every team still in the mathematical race to make the top four.

If last season was unpredictable, then there is no question that this one has been the closest one on record, maybe in any sport league around the country.

Anyone leading their tipping competition should feel good, because for the majority, games have been simply unpredictable even at this late point in the season.

After two crushing victories in Round 14, the Adelaide 36ers will look to continue their aggressive ways when they get the round underway at home against Melbourne United.

More on the 36ers later, but they can just about secure a finals spot this weekend – it’ll be easier said than done though with the side travelling to Perth on Saturday.

A big part of that Perth game for Adelaide will be their attempts to slow the scoring of Bryce Cotton and overcoming the defensive pressure of Damian Martin, but with the Wildcats solid, it’s difficult to see them getting the win.

On Friday, we are presented with a double header as the New Zealand Breakers attempt to get off the bottom of the ladder against the Sydney Kings before the Illawarra Hawks take on the Brisbane Bullets in an important game for both clubs.

From there, Melbourne take on the up and down Cairns Taipans. One would expect an easy win for United here, no matter what form they appeared to be in against the 36ers.

The Taipans have a serious weakness on the road and Melbourne have been, as already mentioned, in some pretty solid form with Casper Ware and Chris Goulding shooting the lights out.

Cairns strong point has been their defence though, and it’ll need to be on display twice this weekend when they close the round by hosting Perth – two losses and it’s curtains for their season.

The Sunday afternoon game is far from a blockbuster in anyone’s books, but the Bullets need to get their finals aspirations back on track when they take on the Breakers at home.

Fixtures (all times AEDT)
Adelaide 36ers vs Melbourne United at Titanium Security Arena (Thursday 7:30pm)
New Zealand Breakers vs Sydney Kings at Vector Arena (Friday 5:30pm)
Illawarra Hawks vs Brisbane Bullets at WIN Entertainment Centre (Friday 7:30pm)
Melbourne United vs Cairns Taipans at State Sports and Hockey Centre (Saturday 7:30pm)
Perth Wildcats vs Adelaide 36ers at Perth Arena (Saturday 9:30pm)
Brisbane Bullets vs New Zealand Breakers at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (Sunday 3pm)
Cairns Taipans vs Perth Wildcats at Cairns Convention Centre (Monday 7:30pm)

My tips
36ers by 5
Breakers by 11
Bullets by 8
United by 6
Wildcats by 4
Bullets by 7
Wildcats by 5

Lock of the week: Bullets to make a statement
The next two rounds of the season might well decide who goes onto play in the final four and even though they currently sit in sixth, the Bullets are only two games out of the top four and must make a statement this week.

While it’s an issue that has plagued every team in the competition, inconsistency has stung the Bullets in more ways than one this year, with the side going from second place early on to where they sit now.

They have had the highest of highs, beating the Perth Wildcats by 15 points on the road, but also the lowest of lows with the standout moment being when they crashed at burned at the feet of Melbourne United by a monster 38 points, only scoring 59 themselves.

In 40 minutes of Basketball, with Adam Gibson, Torrey Craig and Jermaine Beal on the floor that is completely unacceptable – in fact, it’s unacceptable by any team at this level.

But for the Bullets, this is the round they must get their offence firing again.

First up, they head to Wollongong for a game against the third-placed Hawks, before returning home to play the struggling Breakers.

If they can’t pick up two wins this weekend, then it might still be mathematically possible for the Bullets to make the finals, but realistically it’ll be looking a little more than difficult.

They would need to win at least five of their last six and realistically, go undefeated to the end of the season.

Never mind how hard a winning streak like that is to achieve in the NBL, they would have to knock over the Adelaide 36ers and Perth Wildcats on the road as well as a similarly desperate Sydney Kings on their run to the end.

Simply put, it’s now or never for the Bullets.

Big question of the week: Can Adelaide lock away a finals spot?
At the top of the table, the Adelaide 36ers are absolutely flying and not looking like they will take a step back, with the club able to virtually lock down a finals spot this weekend.

To do that though, they will have to win both of their games, with neither of them what you would consider an easy meeting.

Melbourne United have been in red-hot form recently winning three of their last four which has landed them in the top four, and everyone knows exactly how difficult it is to beat the Wildcats on their home floor.

The 36ers can move to 15 victories by grabbing the double this weekend and that should ensure them of a finals spot with it being mathematically impossible for the club to be overtaken by all the teams outside of the top four.

While there are questions over whether their style suits finals Basketball, we will save that for another article because Jerome Randle and Nathan Sobey in action, along with Daniel Johnson who is averaging almost eight rebounds a game and playing out of his skin have been splendid to watch.

While the 36ers won’t be desperate for both wins this weekend, holding the lead of the league it’s a dangerous round for them.

They did fall to Melbourne United in Round 13 before posting 117 and 113 points last round against the Hawks and Breakers – but doing that against United and the Wildcats will be a different task.

Their defence hasn’t aimed up at times this season, and two losses in a row can change momentum in a flash, as we have seen countless times this season.

Bonus talking point: The Kings, and Brad Newley’s injury might be the final nail in the coffin
Speaking of momentum changes and falls from grace, the Sydney Kings have gone from world beaters to being in serious danger of missing the top four – something that shouldn’t happen to a team who have Kevin Lisch.

At the moment, it’s still recoverable with the Kings sitting 11 wins and 11 losses and fifth place, but with a trip to New Zealand this week they must pick up the win.

The road ahead for the Kings is a difficult one though with Brad Newley ruled out for an indefinite time period thanks to an injury he sustained against the Perth Wildcats.

While it would be silly to write the Kings off at this point, they appear to be in a lot of trouble and will need something verging on a miracle to turn it around with teams behind them – particularly Brisbane looking in much better shape.

Needless to say, chances of a home court advantage during the semi-finals are just about gone.

There’s a huge amount on the line in Round 15 of the NBL season with the finals slowly drifting closer.

As always, be sure to join The Roar for our live coverage of the 2016-17 NBL Season.

Follow Scott on Twitter @sk_pryde