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Four teams left to battle for NBL finals spot as competition heats up

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Expert
6th February, 2019
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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.

Everything is at stake for New Zealand Breakers, Adelaide 36ers, Brisbane Bullets and Illawarra Hawks.

It’s a remarkable coincidence that the four teams fighting for that lone playoff spot all play one another this Thursday night with the Breakers hosting the 36ers, and the Bullets playing the Hawks.

Given the precarious nature of where they sit, losses for Illawarra and New Zealand would end their season and then leave it down to a race in two between Brisbane and Adelaide the rest of the way.

However, if either the Breakers or Hawks, or both, manage to win on Thursday night then the tantalising four-team race will continue.

There’s every chance the Breakers could be eliminated from the playoff race on Thursday night unless they beat the 36ers at home, but it’s a big occasion for a number of reasons.

It will be the last official ‘home’ game of their season with their last fixture in New Zealand against Illawarra taking place in Wellington.

Alex Pledger Breakers

Alex Pledger of the Breakers. (AAP Image/David Rowland)

But it’s also a big occasion for one of their favourite sons, Tom Abercrombie, who reaches 300 games and becomes just the second Breakers player to do at the club, after Mika Vukona.

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It’s quite the career Abercrombie has put together over the 299 games and he’s done as an Auckland-native to go on and do it all with his hometown club not far from where he grew up.

Along the way, Abercrombie has been a key part of all four of New Zealand’s NBL championship triumphs including being Grand Final MVP in 2011 and named to the All-NBL First Team in 2012.

The 31-year-old remains a key member of the Breakers’ playoff push this season and the milestone does give him a chance to reflect on what he’s accomplished.

“I think it’s hard not to think about the journey with a milestone like that. It’s taken me 10 years to get here and feel like it’s gone by very quickly,” Abercrombie said.

“I still remember the first time I got onto the court in a Breakers uniform and to think that at that time I’d play 300 games for the one club was hard to imagine. But looking back it’s something I’m really proud of and am very happy with the career I’ve had so far here at the Breakers.

“To play for a professional sports team in your home town is pretty rare to begin with and to do it for so long, and have some good success and win some championships for your home town team, is something that every young sportsman dreams of.

“I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to play here and have so many friends and family be with me along that journey. The Breakers mean everything to me and it’s a club that I’m really happy and proud to be a part of.

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“It’s a club that’s also given a lot back to not only Auckland and the North Shore, but the New Zealand community. I’m very proud of being a little part of all of it.”

While he is looking forward to celebrating the milestone on his home floor in his home town with his family watching on, including wife Monique and their two children, Abercrombie just wants the win to keep his team’s season alive.

“It is a huge game and some results have gone our way over the last week as well even though our own results didn’t,” Abercrombie said.

“That still leaves us with a chance if we win the rest of the games so this is a massive game for us.

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“We’re coming up against Adelaide who are facing the exact same thing but if we bring it and play like we are capable of, we know we can beat absolutely anyone. We’ve had good battles against Adelaide this season already so I’m expecting it’s going to be another really good game.”

With Melbourne United, Perth Wildcats and Sydney Kings all locked away their playoff spots by reaching 16 wins with two rounds of the 2018-19 season to go, there remains a race in four to see which team’s season will extend to the post-season.

In recent weeks it has indeed appeared that it’s a fourth position nobody wants to secure.

Adelaide currently sits there at 13-12 having won in Cairns on Saturday, but prior to that the 36ers had two horror showings in Round 15 losing to the Wildcats and United by a combined 42 points.

Brisbane has been in the top four most of the season but the Bullets have now lost four matches on the trot to have slipped to fifth with some work to do.

Illawarra kept its hopes alive beating Cairns on Monday night after a competitive showing in Perth on Friday. That leaves the Hawks at 12-13 and needing to win their last three games to remain in the hunt.

Then there are the Breakers who despite losing twice to Melbourne last weekend, remain in the mix due to the inability of the Sixers, Bullets or Hawks to move clear. At 10-14 and four games to go, New Zealand can still get there.

While it looks like as many as 18 wins might be needed for a top two position this season and United, the Wildcats and Kings are left to fight that out, it now appears 14 wins could be enough to secure fourth spot and 15 will definitely do it.

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That leaves the 36ers in prime position given they already have 13 wins to their credit. Their run home pits them away to New Zealand and Perth, and at home to Melbourne, though, so there is no easy road to those extra one or two wins for Joey Wright’s men.

The Bullets also have three games remaining and need to win at least two of those, and possibly three. But they are all against teams below them including home to the Hawks and Breakers, and then away to a team they’ve lost to twice already this season, the Taipans in Cairns.

Cameron Gliddon and Adam Gibson.

Cameron Gliddon of the Bullets substitutes with teammate Adam Gibson (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

The Hawks continue to show impressive fight and refuse to give up on the season. They have now won four of their past six games to stay in contention with a home game against the Breakers, and away to the Bullets and New Zealand to finish, they likely will need to win all three.

Remarkably the Breakers are still in the hunt as well despite losing five of their last seven to be 10-14. But with four games to go, they can still get to 14 wins and that could be enough unless either Adelaide or Brisbane get to 15.

The Breakers finish the season with home games to the 36ers and Hawks, and away to the Hawks and Bullets. So if they go on a four-game winning run, they could very well be eliminating their opponents for fourth spot in the process.

The other interesting aspect of the battle for fourth position is that no longer does the NBL decide final ladder positions by head-to-head results against teams that finish on the same record. Starting last season, it now goes by percentage – the simple for/against ratio to determine who finishes top.

So with two rounds to go out of the four teams fighting for fourth spot, it’s the Bullets with the best percentage at 100.76. That’s ahead of Adelaide (100.38), New Zealand (98.76) and Illawarra (95.26).

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ROUND 17 NBL FIXTURES (AEDT)
THURSDAY

New Zealand Breakers v Adelaide 36ers – Spark Arena 5.20pm
Brisbane Bullets v Illawarra Hawks – Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre 7.50pm

FRIDAY
Sydney Kings v Melbourne United – Qudos Bank Arena 7.50pm

SATURDAY
Cairns Taipans v Brisbane Bullets – Cairns Convention Centre 2.50pm
Illawarra Hawks v New Zealand Breakers – WIN Entertainment Centre 7.50pm

SUNDAY
Adelaide 36ers v Melbourne United – Titanium Security Arena 2.50pm
Perth Wildcats v Sydney Kings – RAC Arena 5.20pm