Cotton vs Ware and Casey Prather’s return in NBL blockbuster

Chris Pike Columnist

By , Chris Pike is a Roar Expert

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    We are three rounds into the NBL season and the most-anticipated contest comes our way this Friday night when the undefeated Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United go to battle at Perth Arena.

    While there are some dramas elsewhere in the league with the Sydney Kings malfunctioning, the Adelaide 36ers having a horror run with imports and blow outs popping up all over the place, it’s the Wildcats and United setting the running in the NBL.

    For the Wildcats that’s no surprise. The club has won a record-setting eight NBL championships including the past two and they have taken part in six of the past eight grand finals.

    To see them having won their opening two games of the 2017-18 with comfortable home victories over the Brisbane Bullets and Illawarra Hawks has been no surprise either.

    It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the big-spending Melbourne start the season so well either. For three years, United have had stacked rosters but to date all they have had to show for that is one finals appearance for a lamentable semi-final exit at the hands of the New Zealand Breakers.

    But this season’s Melbourne team looks different. Firstly they are well-coached by championship-winner Dean Vickerman who replaced the erratic Dean Demopoulos.

    Having plenty of talent in their roster is nothing new to Melbourne, but this group looks well-balanced with imports Casey Prather, Casper Ware and Josh Boone having played in the league before, and Chris Goulding, David Andersen, David Barlow and Majok Majok settled in the group.

    The result has been two tremendous road wins against last season’s minor premiers Adelaide. In between Melbourne delivered a more than credible showing with a one-point loss against the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

    That all sets the stage for a fascinating contest on Friday night at Perth Arena between the two undefeated teams who deserve to be fighting it out for championship favouritism.

    There are fascinating storylines everywhere in the contest and nothing will be more enticing to watch than the point guard battle between Bryce Cotton and Casper Ware.

    Neither started last season in the NBL but by the end of the campaign were locked in a battle over who was the best player. Ware didn’t get to show what he could do come finals time with Melbourne not making it, but he had a brilliant 18-game regular season averaging 22.1 points.

    Cotton, however, just got 11 games in the regular season but that was enough for him to lift the Wildcats from bottom spot when he arrived into the playoffs.

    Then in the finals, he was brilliant averaging 25.2 points across the wins over Cairns and Illawarra culminating in an amazing 45-point performance to clinch the 3-0 grand final series against the Hawks.

    That performance put Cotton in the box seat as likely the best player in the NBL coming into the 2017-18 when it was somewhat a surprise he didn’t find himself back in the NBA and instead returned for the Wildcats.

    He then started with 24 points in Round 1 against the Bullets but what uncharacteristically quiet with just three points last Friday in the win against the Hawks.

    Ware, meanwhile, also went close to securing an NBA contract but instead is back with Melbourne from the start of the season. He has started in brilliant fashion averaging 20.5 points. 6.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds across the wins in Adelaide.

    They remain two standout players in the NBL heading into the clash on Friday night where we will find a lot out about who the best import point guard is between the duo.

    Whether they defend one another is a different matter, though, with the Wildcats to have to choose between putting inspirational captain Damian Martin to Ware or to the returning Chris Goulding. But Ware will likely be hounding Cotton on the defensive end.

    The Cotton vs Ware match up might be the main event of the blockbuster clash, but it’s far from the only thing to keep an eye out for.

    Of course, there is Casey Prather’s first return to Perth as a Melbourne United player.

    Prather starred the past two seasons with the Wildcats winning the club’s MVP award and being key to the back-to-back championships.

    But when the ‘Cats secured Cotton’s signature, Prather felt it would be a better fit if he went to Melbourne and not to mention the lucrative offer was tough to ignore.

    He has shaken off a knee injury suffered last Saturday night in Adelaide to be right to play on his first return to Perth as an opposition player. The reception he gets all evening from the 13,000 strong Red Army is going to be fascinating.

    While his replacement at the Wildcats Jean-Pierre Tokoto is well short of the all-round performer that Prather is, that individual match up is yet another reason to watch on Friday night.

    There’s also the return of Goulding to keep an eye out for. Melbourne has started the season so impressively even without their superstar shooting guard who missed the opening three weeks of the season having had his appendix removed.

    But he’s made the trip to Perth and will be right to go to try and not disrupt the balance Melbourne has found with their star-studded roster over the first three weeks.

    Add in the inside battle between Perth’s Angus Brandt, Matt Knight, Jesse Wagstaff and even Derek Cooke Jr if he hits the floor against Melbourne’s Majok Majok, Boone and Andersen, and which role players out of the Wildcats’ Dexter Kernich-Drew or Jarrod Kenny, or Melbourne’s Kyle Adnan or Craig Moller can step up, and it really is a match any basketball fan can’t miss.

    Round 3 NBL Fixtures (AEDT)
    Thursday
    New Zealand Breakers 90 defeated Sydney Kings 73

    Friday
    Brisbane Bullets vs Cairns Taipans – Brisbane Entertainment Centre 7.30pm
    Perth Wildcats vs Melbourne United – Perth Arena 9.30pm

    Saturday
    Adelaide 36ers vs Sydney Kings – Titanium Security Arena 7.30pm

    Sunday
    Melbourne United vs New Zealand Breakers – Hisense Arena 3pm
    Cairns Taipans vs Perth Wildcats – Cairns Convention Centre 5pm
    Illawarra Hawks vs Brisbane Bullets – WIN Entertainment Centre 7pm

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