Put up or shut up time in NBL for Melbourne United

Chris Pike Columnist

By Chris Pike, Chris Pike is a Roar Expert

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    Melbourne United is the hottest team in the NBL having won six straight matches but they’ve also won just once in their last 12 attempts against the Perth Wildcats and New Zealand Breakers, meaning now is the time they must change that.

    You can’t deny the form that Melbourne is currently in having put together six straight wins to sit on a 12-6 record to be just percentage off top spot heading into Friday night’s clash with the Wildcats at Perth Arena.

    It’s not the first time in recent seasons that Melbourne has looked impressive though. After all two seasons ago they claimed the regular season championship.

    But they lost the last two games of the season to the Breakers and then were taken care of by New Zealand in two games of the semi-finals to be eliminated with barely a whimper.

    That’s despite having a talent-laden squad and the same was certainly the case last season when they missed the playoffs altogether.

    Much of the blame was placed at the feet of coach Dean Demopoulos so Melbourne backed in much the same playing group but added championship-winning coach from the Breakers, Dean Vickerman to take over.

    Casey Prather joined as well but the key really was the return of Casper Ware, Josh Boone, Chris Goulding, David Andersen, David Barlow, Majok Majok, Tai Wesley and Kyle Adnam with Craig Moller another to come on board.

    Casey Prather Melbourne United NBL tall

    (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

    There were rocky roads over the first half of the season with the low undoubtedly the 32-point hammering at the hands of Perth on their home floor.

    They have responded well since winning seven of eight games including the last six. Even with the injury to Prather, they have held up well and now added a new import Carrick Felix.

    Things look good for Melbourne. None of those six wins have come against either Perth or New Zealand, though, and until they prove they can do that, then there are more questions than answers over this team.

    That’s not to try to drag down what Melbourne has done so far, but the fact is they have lost 11 of their last 12 meetings combined against the Wildcats and Breakers who are the two teams to combine for the past eight NBL championships.

    Starting with this Friday’s clash with the Wildcats in Perth, five of the last 10 games of the season for Melbourne are against either the ‘Cats or Breakers.

    That means how they go against those two powerhouses will not only determine where they finish the season but if they deserve to be considered genuine championship contenders.

    Melbourne has already lost to New Zealand once this season and that was in their opening home game of 2017/18 at Hisense Arena, with the Breakers winning back on October 22.

    They haven’t met since but do play three times over the next month with Melbourne needing to turn around having lost nine of the past 10 against New Zealand. Their first chance comes next Thursday night in Auckland.

    Melbourne’s immediate challenge is Perth at Perth Arena on Friday night.

    A win and Melbourne will be the first team this season to reach 13 wins and to sit clear on top of the ladder.

    But getting that win remains something they need to prove they can deliver considering they have lost six straight to the Wildcats including two already this season and that 32-point hammering at Hisense Arena.

    Melbourne has lost seven of the past nine against the ‘Cats heading into Friday night, but they have every reason to think now is the time to begin turning things around against the powerhouse clubs and to make a statement.

    Melbourne has proven itself a strong defensive unit this season under the guidance of Vickerman.

    How they go about putting the clamps on Wildcats imports Bryce Cotton and Jean-Pierre Tokoto will be critical but Ware and Felix do appear two men up to that challenge.

    Goulding has regained some shooting touch over the six-game winning streak too averaging 18.7 points a game compared to 9.8 in the 10 matches prior to that. Perhaps even more importantly, Goulding deserves great credit for the defence he has been playing this season.

    chris-goulding-nbl-basketball-2016-melbourne-united

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Then there’s also Boone who is leading the league in rebounds at 10.1 a game while Wesley and Moller have been particularly effective in recent times.

    There appears no better time for Melbourne to head to Perth and to be ready to take down the Wildcats.

    Certainly the two-time defending champions will have something to say about that in their first home game in a month as they try to hold on to top spot.

    But if Melbourne can’t beat Perth right now in the form they are in, the question has to be asked if they ever will be able to come finals time if they face a must-win game across the Nullarbor.

    Coach Vickerman deserves to be happy with the way Melbourne is travelling right now and he hopes they have learned plenty from the previous two meetings with the ‘Cats this season as they try to turn things around Friday night.

    “We talked about it as a team that the club had never won three consecutive road games so we ticked that one off and we start a little first again. Now the challenge is to take on the best home team over the last six or years at their place. It’s a huge challenge,” Vickerman said.

    “We did learn earlier in the season that we can go over there and put 80 points up which is pretty important. But then when we played at home we learned that if we don’t come with the physicality and match how hard they play that you can get wiped off the floor.

    “Both those games provide some really good learnings and we’ll go over there understanding it’s a hostile environment. But Wollongong was a good test to go and play there the last couple of times when the crowd was into us. So we go over there prepared.

    “You want to make sure that you’ve got that one win against everybody in the league, at least. If you are able to do it away from home it’s kind of a double as well. We aren’t going to stress about it if we don’t do it, but certainly there’s a mental edge about getting a win against everybody.”

    NBL Round 14 fixtures (AEDT)
    Thursday
    Adelaide 36ers 100 defeated Cairns Taipans 90

    Friday
    Perth Wildcats v Melbourne United – Perth Arena 9.30pm

    Saturday
    Sydney Kings v Adelaide 36ers – Qudos Bank Arena 5.30pm
    Illawarra Hawks v New Zealand Breakers – WIN Entertainment Centre 7.30pm

    Sunday
    Brisbane Bullets v Perth Wildcats – Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre 3pm

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