Sydney Kings v New Zealand Breakers
When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 11 January
Where: Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
Broadcast: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ
The last time
Sydney 71 (Bogut 23, Randle 14, Kickert 10, Lisch 10) d New Zealand 70 (Weeks 19, Abercrombie 18, Wesley 14), Spark Arena, Round 8
It seemed the Kings would continue their domination of New Zealand, holding the Kiwis to just 18 points in the middle 20 minutes of this contest to take a 15-point lead at the last break. But Jarrad Weeks and Tai Wesley combined for 21 final-quarter points to drag the Breakers within a point, only for Tom Abercrombie’s game-winning attempt to fall short.
Winners of four of their past five, New Zealand still have a league-high 11 games to play, meaning their playoff hopes are well and truly in their own hands. They’ve got closer to the Kings at every attempt this season but haven’t been able to seal the deal, however with Shawn Long in rare form this could be the moment to make a statement on the road.
Sydney play seven of their final 10 at home, with just two games against Melbourne and Adelaide, the only sides they have fallen to this season. Those maths look good for Andrew Gaze’s men, yet while two wins this weekend all-but lock up a playoff spot, a pair of losses would put them squarely back into the scramble for a post-season berth.
David Wear v Tai Wesley – Can the Kings win a title with Wear starting at power forward? His four fellow starters have an average plus/minus of +58, ranging from Jerome Randle at +49 to Kevin Lisch at +67, while Wear languishes at +7. The sharp-shooting American must show he can defend top-level power forwards, and Wesley is most certainly that.
The Grown Man has produced 39 points on 17-of-27 shooting to go with 23 boards and 6 assists in the past two games against Jacob Wiley and Nick Kay to stake his claim as the NBL’s best four-man, and while he has averaged 17.7ppg, 5rpg and 3apg against the Kings, he’s yet to produce a trademark masterpiece. This would be an ideal moment for his team.
Andrew Bogut v Shawn Long – Usually it’s the guards who get tongues wagging in the Hungry Jack’s NBL, but this may now be the league’s most-anticipated battle, especially with Long averaging 25.8ppg at 65 per cent, 12.8rpg and 2.5bpg in the Breakers’ past four wins, and nailing a deadly 3-of-4 from range against Perth last weekend.
He’s averaged 17.7ppg at 50 per cent and 8.7rpg against Sydney, but Australia’s greatest-ever centre has returned fire with a blistering 17.7ppg at 63 per cent, 11.3rpg, 4.7apg, 3.7bpg and, of course, three wins. Can Bogut find Long in the zone and force him into foul trouble? Can Long force Bogut away from the hoop with his Nowitzki-like jumpers?
— NBL (@NBL) January 6, 2019
The Breakers have averaged just 78.3ppg at 38 per cent against Sydney this season. Against the rest of the NBL they’ve piled in 93.3ppg at 47 per cent.
The Kings have shot the ball at 55 per cent from the field in this season series, compared to 45 per cent against the rest of the competition.
Sydney have outscored the Breakers 200-151 on ‘ones and twos’ in their three meetings. Against all other opponents the Kings have been outscored by 39 points inside the arc.
New Zealand are 2-7 against the top three teams and 6-2 against the rest. Sydney are 1-5 against Melbourne and Adelaide and 11-1 against the rest.
It was a one-point thriller in Auckland five weeks ago and Andrew Bogut was ‘the difference’, his 23 points,16 rebounds and all-court brilliance out of this world.
Despite all that, there was only one thing that stood out to New Zealand coach Kevin Braswell.
“He hit a jumpshot,” he said.
“It was a big shot, in the fourth quarter. I was like, ‘Leave him, he’s hit two all year’, that’s his second. You look at that stuff and great players make big plays at big moments.
“He was a force. He’s tough man, he’s tough.”
Andrew Gaze had the Bogey jumper on his mind too.
“He made a big, big jumpshot, which I have to be honest, not sure that’s what the coach was actually looking for, a 15-foot jumper when we’re two up and we’re trying to get a lead,” Gaze laughed.
“When that went through I thought, ‘We should be ok here’.”
While that shot was one out of the box, so was his dominant offensive night, something that NBL hadn’t really seen from their boom recruit.
— NBL (@NBL) December 9, 2018
“I got it going early, I made some shots, but I’m not one of those guys who wants to take 15-20 shots a game,” Bogut said.
“I see different nuances in games where at times I need to get other guys going, get Kev (Lisch) going off pin downs, get ‘Rome (Randle) going for some easy baskets. Then there’s times where I’ve got to get in there and look for my own shot.”
This Friday’s rematch with the Breakers could be another one of those times. Counterpart Shawn Long is in breathtaking form, with the only thing seemingly capable of slowing him down being foul trouble.
Braswell has been hiding his key man in a variety of zone defences, but Bogut has the basketball IQ to seek and potentially destroy.
The Bogey Man has saved his offensive best for Long and Co, but he’s also been the mastermind of a Sydney defence that has locked the high-speed Breakers down like no other team.
“He changes so much and a lot of even my defence is just about funnelling guys to Boges, and I think at times we probably rely too much on him,” Lisch said.
“It is a luxury to have as a player where you know you can pressure more and just funnel guys to where your help is because he’s a world-class shot blocker.”
BOGUT PINS IT! pic.twitter.com/cbA03ClTEI
— Sydney Kings (@SydneyKings) December 9, 2018
But here’s the deal. Long doesn’t just rely on his interior game, all of a sudden he’s been making one-legged fade-aways look easy, and nailing triples like they’re lay-ups.
That provides a quandary for Bogut, who loves to patrol the paint, as does the fact Tai Wesley and Shea Ili have become adept at firing pinpoint lob passes the moment opposition centres stray into help positions. Long does the rest and he does it with energy.
“Don’t wait on anyone else to bring it, because if he brings it the team will follow,” Braswell said.
The quandary for Braswell is how to implement his zone defences against a team with as much shooting talent as Sydney, with Daniel Kickert, Lisch, Kyle Adnam, Randle, Brad Newley, David Wear and Brian Bowen all shooting 36 per cent or better from deep.
Perth nailed 14 triples against the Breakers without nearly the same level of outside threat, Corey Webster in particular constantly losing sight of Bryce Cotton as he banged in half a dozen from deep.
“I think something Perth did a great job of when we were trying to go to our zones was flooding corners and we were falling asleep,” Braswell said.
“They got going in the third quarter, I just talked about communicating, all the things we had in our last game, let’s get back to that, and they did a hell of a job.”
And so, having won four of their past five, the Breakers roll into Sydney chock full of confidence, no one more so than Long, who can’t wait to test his mettle against Bogut and Co.
“I think (it’s) the same as I’ve come in the last two games, just being smart, staying out of foul trouble, it’s going to be a challenge, he’s a long guy, a tall guy, and I’m looking forward to it,” Long said.
“Coach is always telling me it’s about energy, if I bring the energy the guys will come with it, that’s the only thing I’m trying to do every night so we can win.”
— NBL (@NBL) December 9, 2018