The Adelaide 36ers lost twice on the road last weekend but captain Mitch Creek is backing a big response Saturday night against their conquerors in last year’s semi-finals and expects that to be led by Josh Childress.
The Sixers will host Illawarra on Saturday night at Titanium Security Arena in their first opportunity to play against the Hawks since losing to them in Game 3 of the semi-finals to close the 2016-17 season.
That left a bitter taste in the mouth of everyone at the Sixers after they had finished the regular season with the minor premiership.
If that isn’t motivation enough, the 36ers come into the clash with a 4-4 record having lost on the road to both the New Zealand Breakers and Melbourne United last weekend.
That means Saturday night at home to the Hawks is a game they can’t afford to drop, but it’s not going to be as simple as that.
Illawarra found their best form of the season in Round 5 thrashing the Brisbane Bullets on the road and then overcoming the Sydney Kings at home to improve to 3-5 – having just played twice in Wollongong.
There’s no hiding from the fact the Hawks had the wood over the 36ers last season and indeed got inside their heads.
Illawarra won three of the four regular season games and then after losing Game 1 in the semi-finals in Adelaide, bounced back to win at Illawarra to force the deciding Game 3 in Adelaide. They turned the pressure on the Sixers in front of their expectant home fans and won through to the grand final.
That’s a memory that without question has stuck with Creek ever since along with fellow teammates remaining including Nathan Sobey, Matt Hodgson, Daniel Johnson, Majok Deng, Brendan Teys, Adam Doyle and Anthony Drmic.
While that does provide a degree of added incentive to get redemption for the Sixers, Creek is fully aware they have to focus on the job at hand to ensure Rotnei Clarke, Nick Kay, Oscar Forman, Tim Coenraad, Demitrius Conger and company don’t catch fire for a second straight week.
“We have a lot of respect for Illawarra. I think a lot of teams overlook them and think that they are that underdog side still, but I am a firm believer that they are one of the most competitive and well-coached teams in the NBL,” Creek said.
“We know Bevo is going to come with a great game plan and we know the players will come out playing a tenacious style of basketball on defence as well, but we’re ready. We are excited and we know what’s coming.
“We played three games in the semi-finals last year and unfortunately dropped out on our home floor but we haven’t forgotten that. It leaves a sour taste in your mouth any chance you lose a game to go into the grand final on your home court especially.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow and I know everyone’s going to have that little bit of extra desire to win. No game should be any different than another but at the same time everyone had put a little asterisk next to this since it’s our first meeting since that semi-final.”
Creek is also excited by how good this 36ers team can be once they click and start performing consistently.
The eight local players all returning from last season should help that and import guards Shannon Shorter and Ramone Moore have also played some impressive basketball in the opening eight games.
It’s the other import spot where the drama has been with the Sixers. Roland Roberts was cut before the season started and replacement Alan Wiggins broke his arm in his one and only game.
There’s no question what an upgrade Chidress is on that pair. With 398 games in the NBA under his belt and, having proven his quality in two NBL seasons previously with the Sydney Kings, Childress could help this 36ers team go a long way this season.
Creek was excited to get to play alongside him rather than against him. And now that he has had three games to settle in, Creek can’t wait to see what he starts to deliver in games and based on training this week, it’s going to be special.
“Josh has been a fantastic addition to the team and he was very cautious at first about not wanting to disrupt what we had going at the time because we were playing some very good basketball,” Creek said.
“We were 4-2 going into last week and him coming in just before that, he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers but at the same time we need him to be Josh Childress. He is who he is and he’s a great player, and we need him to be himself.
“Once we got that message through to him it has really hit home and from the start of this week he has turned it on. He has been one our best at practices this week and his attention to detail and willingness to learn stands out. His bravado doesn’t exceed who he is as a person.
“He is a team-first guy and we love him for that. This patch of home games gives us time to dig in our offensive and defensive sets, and really make him feel at home. Hopefully that translates to games and he will play some great basketball and allow us to play off him for some great team basketball.”
Adelaide’s search for redemption on Illawarra is the second game of a double-header Saturday of NBL action.
The first is at Hisense Arena with Melbourne United desperate to respond to a 23-point loss on Thursday in Cairns against the struggling Sydney Kings. But the Kings might not struggle for long once point guard Jerome Randle and centre Jeremy Tyler get into the line-up.
Since before the season started, we have discussed how the Kings need a genuine point guard and centre, combo guards Travis Leslie and Jeremy Kendle just weren’t the type of players required.
It has taken six weeks, but Kings management has finally agreed.
A team with Randle as point guard playing alongside Kevin Lisch and Jason Cadee in the back court, with Tyler provide a presence inside with help from youngster Isaac Humphries while Perry Ellis continues to fire as power forward and with Todd Blanchfield and Brad Newley on the wings looks superb.
That makes Saturday night even more important for Melbourne to rebound from Thursday back at home with the Kings not yet to have the services of Randle and Tyler, along with Leslie and Kendle who were cut so the pair could be signed.
NBL Round 6 fixtures (AEDT)
New Zealand Breakers 88 defeated Perth Wildcats 84
Cairns Taipans 92 defeated Melbourne United 69
Melbourne United v Sydney Kings – Hisense Arena 5.30pm
Adelaide 36ers v Illawarra Hawks – Titanium Security Arena 7.30pm
Brisbane Bullets v Cairns Taipans – Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre 3.00pm
Perth Wildcats v New Zealand Breakers – Perth Arena 7.00pm