There are four teams vying for the last spot in the NBL’s top four and they all just happen to be playing one another on Thursday night to open Round 17.
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The revamped NBL pre-season competition, known as the Australian Basketball Challenge, took place over the weekend at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, and won by the Illawarra Hawks.
The crowds were well up on what might have been expected, even for a basketball-starved city such as Brisvegas, and the on-court quality for the most part good.
The most pressing issue came from the Chinese teams involved, the Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions and the Zhejiang Golden Bulls.
Both teams were blown off the court each time they played, and it leaves massive question marks hanging over the NBL’s future possible expansion into China, which is something boss Larry Kestleman has hinted at time and time again.
While money is an important proposition for a league that has struggled financially over the past decade, quality and the on-court product are paramount sell the product.
Simply put, there won’t be TV dollars without a strong league.
Even with Tianjin and Zhejiang sending full-strength line-ups, it was clear they aren’t anywhere near being competitive against the Aussie clubs.
And with quality continuing to improve from season to season in the NBL, it’s hard to see that changing, meaning a merger between the NBL and the Chinese Basketball Association isn’t going to work.
As seen with the Singapore Slingers at the end of the last decade, clubs based in Asia and playing Down Under don’t work. This is regardless of how much funding or what players you give them, as the massive travel time they have to endure is double any club in Australia or New Zealand.
Meanwhile, the crowd is an important talking point to come out of the weekend, with more than 3000 turning up during the Saturday evening session, which featured the renewal of an old rivalry, between the Brisbane Bullets and Sydney Kings.
With opening night for the league featuring the Bullets, playing at the 13,000 seat Brisbane Entertainment Centre, the weekend is a positive sign that match will draw a crowd and won’t be a bad look for the NBL.
Given the massive amount of on-court talent seen over the weekend with most sides not even at full strength, support is going to grow as the season wears on.
The Hawks came away with the Loggins-Bruton Cup, and while it’s difficult to take a lot away from pre-season fixtures, Illawarra look like they are going to give this season a shake, despite predictions of a rough season.
Needing to beat Melbourne United in the final game was no small task, but one they took to expertly.
Traditional pre-season challengers the Cairns Taipans were the other team to go through the weekend undefeated, while powerhouse clubs Melbourne and Perth both had records of two and one, along with hosts the Bullets.
After a promising start to the weekend, the Kings fell away, while the New Zealand Breakers – without Corey Webster and key signing Kirk Penney – didn’t win a game.
The weekend also saw the three-point contest taken out by Kings up-and-comer Jason Cadee, who shot 20 of 25 in the final to edge out former league MVP Rotnei Clarke.
The dunk contest was won in anti-climactic scenes by Akil Mitchell of the Breakers, after some absolutely fantastic dunks throughout.
Day 1 – Session 1
Perth Wildcats 109 defeat Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions 66
Sydney Kings 94 defeat New Zealand Breakers 65
Brisbane Bullets 117 defeat Zhejiang Golden Bulls 73
Day 2 – Session 2
Cairns Taipans 93 defeat Adelaide 36ers 83
Illawarra Hawks 123 defeat Zhejiang Golden Bulls 75
Day 2 – Session 3
Melbourne United 133 defeat Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions 62
Sydney Kings 79 defeated by Brisbane Bullets 83
Day 3 – Session 4
New Zealand Breakers 68 defeated by Cairns Taipans 79
Illawarra Hawks 65 defeat Perth Wildcats 56
Day 3 – Session 5
Tianjiin Ronggang Gold Lions 93 defeated by Zhejian Golden Bulls 99
three-point shootout: Jason Cadee (Sydney Kings)
slam dunk contest: Akil Mitchell (New Zealand Breakers)
Adelaide 36ers 97 defeated by Melbourne United 100
Day 4 – Session 6
Perth Wildcats 81 defeat Sydney Kings 69
Adelaide 36ers 103 defeat New Zealand Breakers 89
Day 4 – Session 7
Brisbane Bullets 61 defeated by Cairns Taipans 91
Illawarra Hawks 94 defeat Melbourne United 86
Illawarra Hawks (3-0)
Cairns Taipans (3-0)
Melbourne United (2-1)
Brisbane Bullets (2-1)
Perth Wildcats (2-1)
Sydney Kings (1-2)
Adelaide 36ers (1-2)
Zhejian Golden Bulls (1-2)
New Zealand Breakers (0-3)
Tianjiin Ronggang Gold Lions (0-3)
Don’t forget The Roar will have live coverage of the NBL season so be sure to check it out.
Follow Scott on Twitter @sk_pryde