If a road team is to win in this NBL grand final series it appears Sunday’s Game 4 is the chance for the Perth Wildcats, but Melbourne United is confident of bouncing back without some of the obstacles they feel come in Perth.
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If this Melbourne United team can’t capture the imagination of Australia’s second-largest city, nothing will.
After one round of the NBL season, Melbourne are the only side sitting 2-0.
That in itself isn’t particularly impressive. The Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats are a good chance to join them on 2-0 in the week ahead. United’s two wins were against the wooden spoon favourites Townsville and an Illawarra side down two starters.
But the legitimacy of the boys in navy blue was plain to see.
Chris Goulding just created and created and created. You can’t help but pity the defenders charged with figuring out if that big forward step is a prelude to a silky drive or a monster step-back jumper.
New import Stephen Holt and Townsville recruit Todd Blanchfield showed what they can do. Blanchfield opened the season with a career-high 29 points against his former club and had 15 rebounds yesterday against the Hawks.
The three-point shooting between the two of them was also on point – Blanchfield went 7 from 9 on Friday and Holt 7 of 10 across the weekend.
Meanwhile Majok Majok, grabbing 25 rebounds and two blocks across the two games, put himself well down a path Goulding would be all too familiar with – becoming so good your name no longer gets mispronounced.
Then there’s perhaps the biggest argument in favour of United’s potential this season, which is the simple fact Hakim Warrick is coming off the bench.
Yep, they have a 526-game NBA veteran and they can’t find a spot for him in the starting line-up.
It’s not because he’s not worthy. He had 14 points and six rebounds in just over 20 minutes yesterday. He had 21 points in 25 on Friday.
There’s just enough tools there for him to be an option off the bench, which says it all really.
Looking around the competition, there’s no reason to think it will be a cakewalk. We saw positive signs from Sydney and Perth this round. New Zealand and Illawarra at full strength will be a different proposition. Cairns and Adelaide put their names forward in their season openers.
About the only concern from Round 1 – on and off the court – was the Townsville Crocodiles, but coach Shawn Dennis always finds a way to be competitive and they will still keep teams on their toes this season.
All considered though, Melbourne have a right to be considered favourites. They are going to be the hardest to stop.
As a bonus, from a viewer’s perspective, they’ll also be exciting to watch.
That Melbourne-Illawarra game yesterday? Outstanding entertainment.
It wasn’t surprising at all to hear via the NBL Facts Twitter account that we’d witnessed the most three-point attempts since the introduction of 40-minute games.
— NBLfacts (@nblfacts) October 11, 2015
Warrick and Majok also supplied game-turning blocks, there was the odd dunk and the Hisense Arena crowd – not to mention the three-point smoke machines behind the backboard – provided a top atmosphere.
You get the feeling word will get out about Melbourne United games this season. The opening round crowd of 7009 could be routinely topped the way things are shaping.
As for what’s happening on the court, rivals need to watch out.
For all the excitement of a three-point shootout, Melbourne still found a way to win yesterday. At half time United were close enough to matching the Hawks’ shooters from beyond the arc, but the telling stat was that United had gone to the line 14 times to just two.
The home side were able to off-set their contribution to the entertaining outside contest by being aggressive when needed and it made a difference.
Inside and out, this Melbourne team looks like a winner.