R10 Preview | Sydney Kings v Melbourne United

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Sydney Kings v Melbourne United

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When: 2.50pm (AEDT), Sunday 23 December

Where: Qudos Bank Arena

Broadcast: 9GO; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ

 

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Melbourne 84 (Ware 23, Boone 16, McCarron 14) d Sydney 82 (Randle 35, Bowen 15, Lisch 13), Melbourne Arena, Round 7

Kevin Lisch went close to being the hero, twice finding backcourt buddy Jerome Randle for transition treys to put Sydney in a winning position in the final term. But then the MVP-DPOY double star missed a lay-up and missed a boxout, allowing Money Making Mitch McCarron to tip home an extraordinary game-winner to cap one of the contests of the season.

 

 

The now

Melbourne had a little wobble, losing back-to-back to the blistering Bullets, but the reigning champs made an emphatic statement against Perth, holding the league’s best offensive team to 69 points. They are 2-0 against the Kings and almost pipped the ‘Cats out west in a double-overtime Round 4 classic– win on Sunday and they stamp themselves title favourites.

Sydney made their first real statement of the season last week in Perth, coming from 15 points down to beat the full-strength ladder leaders on a David Wear dagger. They return to The Kingdome with five straight wins since they last faced United, and the chance to sit clear atop the Hungry Jack’s NBL ladder at round’s end.

 

The match-ups

Andrew Bogut v Josh Boone – They waged some even battles as starters for Milwaukee and the Nets, and their two contests this season have been intriguing. Bogut has forced Melbourne to change the way they attack with his defensive presence, but his impact in other areas has been limited, the Kings making greater inroads with him on the bench.

Boone’s board work against Bogut has been outstanding, grabbing 20 overall and six at the offensive end, and while he struggled to finish against the Bogey Man’s size in the first match-up, his 16 points at 50 per cent, all scored in the paint, were the difference between the teams second time around.

Jerome Randle v Casper Ware – All offensive roads led to ‘Rome last time these teams met, Randle making a mockery of Ware and Melbourne’s defence with 35 points at 68 per cent. While some would say Sydney suffered from Randle’s focus on scoring, others would argue their 82 points at 47 per cent, along with 28 free throws, could have been enough to win.

Ware has made three or more triples in his past 12 games, nailing them at 41 per cent, and his past seven outings have delivered 23ppg and 5apg, which are MVP-like numbers in any language. After a quiet opening game to this season series, Ware racked up 23 points and 6 dimes in Round 7, including seven crucial points in the final term.

 

 

The stats

Melbourne and Perth have held Bogut to 6.8 points at 45 per cent, 9.5 rebounds, 2.3 o-boards, 2.3 assists and 2.0 blocks. Against the rest of the NBL he averages 14.2ppg at 62 per cent, 12.7rpg, 3.7orpg, 4.1apg and 3.2bpg.

In those four games against United and the Wildcats, Sydney have been outscored by 36 points with Bogut on the floor, but have been +33 with their star centre on the bench.

In those top-of-the table games, Sydney have been +22 on bench points, while against all teams outside the top three their reserves have been outscored by 42 points.

Melbourne are +4 on o-boards and -6 on turnovers in the season series with Sydney, winning both games by a combined nine points while gathering an extra 10 scoring opportunities.

 

The story

The Round 7 clash between United and Sydney at Melbourne Arena was about as good as it gets on a basketball court when it comes to entertainment value.

And while Mitch McCarron and Kevin Lisch were key players and fierce competitors that night, they both took time to sit back and enjoy the Casper Ware-Jerome Randle show.

“Kev made a little joke during the game, he said, ‘Do you just want to sub off and let them go one-on-one?’,” McCarron laughed afterwards.

“They were both playing really well, it is fun. You kind of want to help out, but at the same time they’re super-talented players, they make tough, contested shots, sometimes you just clap hands and say well done.”

It was one of the most compelling one-on-one duels seen in the NBL, reminiscent of their many off-season battles in the US summer.

Randle was incredible with his 35-point haul against arguably the best defensive team in the league, but Ware came right back at him with his unstoppable perimeter game and some big plays down the stretch.

“When you go up against a great player like Casper you know you have to bring you’re A-game,” Randle said.

 

 

“He’s not an easy cover. He’s a tough player, everyone in this league knows what he’s capable of, I know exactly what he’s capable of.”

While referee Chris Reid repeatedly intervened in the pair’s on-court discussion last time around, Randle has implored officials to let these long-time buddies go at it, and if given some space to talk this tete-a-tete could be worth the price of admission alone.

“You have to give guys the chance to play aggressive and have some fun out there,” Randle said.

“There’s nothing between me and him because we’re actually close friends, but at the end of the day we’re going to compete and were going to try and knock each other’s heads off, so you’ve got to let us play basketball.”

It was Randle who won the battle in Round 7, but Melbourne won the war, asking questions of the Kings in some key areas.

“They destroyed us in the first half on the offensive boards, they dominated that category,” Kings coach Andrew Gaze said.

“They had more offensive boards at half-time than they did defensive boards, they had 10 at half-time, we tidied that up a little bit in the second half, but ultimately it was an offensive board that gave them the lead.”

Josh Boone and DJ Kennedy had as many o-boards as Sydney’s entire team and United doubled their capital city rivals on that count, with Mitch McCarron picking up a pair, including the memorable game-winner.

Those second chances not only allowed Melbourne extra buckets, but also allowed their defence to get set and make life hard for the Kings’ offence to flow.

Midway through the third term the Kings had scored just 46 points, but Kyle Adnam, Brian Bowen and Daniel Kickert sparked a 21-13 run in just over seven minutes bridging three-quarter-time, dragging their team back into the contest.

 

 

In the process, Sydney’s reserves made a statement about their ability to support their star-studded starting group, who have struggled somewhat against Melbourne.

“We got to a position where it started to look a bit precarious, we were finding it hard to score points and we were sputtering on the offensive end,” Gaze said.

“They pushed us out of a lot of stuff today, particularly early in the third. We made some adjustments, we started to get into our rhythm and get that ball moving, and things looked a little better.”

The Kings need to be better though, they’ve lost their past nine games to Melbourne, and there is a fair chance they’ll have to go through the defending champions to claim Sydney’s first title since 2005.

“Unfortunately the good guys came out on the wrong side of it, so we’ve got to make sure we get them a couple of times at our place,” Gaze said.

“They’re a bit of a bogey team for us right now, but we feel like we’re getting better and we’ve got a lot more to give.”

Of that, Randle has no doubt.

“I thought Melbourne played an exceptional game, they rebounded well, we just have to work on it, that’s all,” he said matter-of-factly.

“We lost two to Adelaide and then we came back and beat Adelaide, so we play (Melbourne) again and I know we’ll do a lot better.”

 

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