The Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United look set to provide an NBL grand final series for the ages.
The Brisbane Bullets might be yet to settle on their final squad this NBL season but they are putting together enough performances to deserve in on championship discussion – and centre Matt Hodgson couldn’t be enjoying himself more.
Coming off two wooden spoon finishes in their opening two seasons back in the comp, it has been some time coming for a Bullets team coached by triple-championship winning coach and Boomers boss Andrej Lemanis. But things really now are beginning to click.
Brisbane have also shown they aren’t afraid to make the tough decisions if it means helping them win in the bigger picture and already imports Alonzo Gee and Stephen Holt have departed, as has Nnanna Egwu, who was only ever meant to be a short-term injury replacement.
The arrival of Lamar Patterson has certainly sparked the side since he arrived to replace Gee in that small forward spot. Now, after their two wins over the defending champion Melbourne United in Round 8, they need to be taken seriously.
They have two import spots up their sleeve, with Patterson the only locked away for the rest of the season. Jeremy Kendle is currently taking up another of those spots but he was initially supposed to be a stop-gap measure in between the release of Holt and the arrival of another new American guard.
However, those plans could be put on hold after impressive performances from Kendle in the wins against Melbourne, particularly since he knows Australia and the NBL well, and has been training with the Bullets all season anyway.
So the Bullets still have the option and possibility of adding another import, whether that is to replace Kendle or as an addition to him, so there’s potential for further improvement on a team already playing well.
Brisbane now sit fourth on the ladder, with a 7-6 record, ahead of a home clash with a desperate Adelaide 36ers this Saturday.
Hodgson is preparing to face the team he spent the past three seasons with, having joined Brisbane this past off-season and going on to celebrate his 100th game in the NBL in Saturday’s win over Melbourne in Brisbane.
He is enjoying a strong season as part of a strong frontcourt, alongside Cam Bairstow and Mika Vukona, and he sees no reason why Brisbane can’t be a real force come the business end of the season.
“I think we’ve got a chance to crack the top four and once you get into the playoffs anything can happen. That’s our goal and I do think we have a chance,” Hodgson said.
“We’ve got a pretty deep team and what’s really fun about it is that no one really complains about shots and no one is out there for themselves. There’s not an intrinsic selfishness to anyone on this team and that’s been fun to be part of and the other big thing is that we’ve got shooters everywhere.
“We have four or five guys who can shoot at an elite level and then our posts have been good decision-makers in knowing how to go to the rim or find our shooters. We are running pretty good action and I think the level of composure we’re developing is coming along well.
“We’ve been in some tough games and have lost a couple on the buzzer but we’ve won some tough ones too, and I do think that we can end up making the top four.”
Hodgson is settling nicely into the Bullets set up as well having fallen somewhat out of favour with Adelaide coach Joey Wright last season.
There was nothing personal, it’s just Wright didn’t use him as much as he had the previous two seasons and the mutual decision was made for him to be released from his contract.
When Hodgson was weighing up where to move to, the obvious pull of playing under Boomers coach Lemanis made Brisbane an attractive destination which became even more so when Australian teammates Jason Cadee and Cam Gliddon were on board.
Then once Hodgson found out that New Zealand legend and five-time championship winner Mika Vukona was there too, it became a no-brainer.
Add that into the fact that he’s enjoying his basketball so far this season and the balance he has with his fiancée and by being closer to his Ipswich home means that he couldn’t be happier to have made the move.
“I still enjoyed my time at Adelaide but it was just a case of not being in the right system for my game. But this is the happiest I’ve been in a long, long time and there are a lot of factors that go into that,” Hodgson said.
“I’m about to get married coming up soon and it’s been exciting planning that, and being closer to my family and spending more quality time with them has been great. Then obviously the style of game suits me and I’m pretty comfortable with it so there’s a lot of factors that lead into a pretty nice feeling of serenity right now.
“I do feel like I’ve achieved a good balance off the court as well now, it’s not all about stressing and worrying about my basketball performance. It’s sort of like the law of indirect effort where just because I’m not obsessing about how I’m going as much anymore, it’s provided a better perspective on my game.
“I’m still working just as hard, or maybe harder, than I ever have on the court in my career, but once that work is done every day I’ve been able to shut that off effectively and enjoy my time away.
“I’ve been able to spend time with my fiancé and my family so that provides me with a great outlet once basketball is done. Then when I do turn up for practice I am in a refreshed state of mind as opposed to being stale after sitting around obsessing about how I can get better and how I’m going.”
NBL ROUND 8 FIXTURES (AEDT)
Sydney Kings 77 defeated Perth Wildcats 72
Cairns Taipans 84 lost to Illawarra Hawks 95
Brisbane Bullets 97 defeated Melbourne United 94
New Zealand Breakers 70 lost to Sydney Kings 71
Adelaide 36ers 86 lost to Illawarra Hawks 87
Perth Wildcats 94 defeated Cairns Taipans 72
Melbourne United 74 lost to Brisbane Bullets 90