Cairns Taipans v Adelaide 36ers
When: 2.50pm (AEDT), Saturday 2 February
Where: Cairns Convention Centre
Broadcast: 9GO; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ
The last time
Adelaide 87 (Johnson 22, Deng 17, Conger 15) d Cairns 82 (Jawai 18, Trimble 18, Newbill 15), Titanium Security Arena, Round 10
Devon Hall and DJ Newbill scored the Taipans’ opening 11 points to open up a seven-point lead, but the 36ers locked Cairns down during a 46-31 run in 20 minutes around half-time, Majok Deng keeping the scoreboard ticking at the other end. Nate Jawai and Melo Trimble dragged the Snakes back within two late, but a huge Demitrius Conger triple closed the door.
Adelaide were soundly outplayed by Perth and Melbourne last round, keeping them outside the top four looking in. After their visit to Cairns, the 36ers trek to Auckland, welcome United back to town and then head west for a final-round showdown in The Jungle. It’s a tough run home, but a win on Saturday puts them into fourth and in the box seat.
In 2019, the Taipans have beaten New Zealand, Perth and the Bullets, and lost to Melbourne in OT, to Illawarra by a point, Sydney by four and to the Breakers by seven in a thriller. With only one poor performance – a thrashing in Brisbane – their form line is strong, and with three wins from four home dates, they’ll enter this one with plenty of confidence.
Nate Jawai v Daniel Johnson – In two losses last round, Johnson took just 15 field-goal attempts and six free throws. In the three wins over Cairns, DJ has averaged 17.7 points on 30 field goals and 27 foul shots. Johnson averages 18.3ppg in wins compared to 14.6ppg in losses, so the Sixers need their get their big man shots and get him being aggressive on O.
In Cairns’ past three losses Jawai has taken just 12 field-goal attempts and four charity shots, compared to 31 and 15 in their past three victories. Big Nate had 18 points on 6-of-7 from both the field and the stripe last time against Adelaide, and the Taipans were +5 with him on court, suggesting they need to feed the beast early and often on Saturday.
Melo Trimble v Nathan Sobey – While Trimble had a quiet one to start 2019, since then he’s been irrepressible, averaging 29.4ppg, 4.7rpg and 3.4apg while shooting 53 per cent from deep. Adelaide are one team he hasn’t had his way with, though, averaging 17ppg at 40 per cent from the field and 5-of-15 from the arc against the 36ers’ array of long defenders.
Sobey started this season series with a memorable triple-double in Cairns, but in the following two games totalled just 17 points on 4-of-16 shooting, with as many turnovers as assists. Sobey has dished 66 dimes to 25 miscues in wins, while in defeat that ratio is 55 to 44. With Ramone Moore sidelined, the 36ers need an efficient display from their leader.
— NBL (@NBL) January 28, 2019
When Moore has played 20 or more minutes the 36ers are 9-5 this season, but when he’s played less or is sidelined their record is 3-7.
Adelaide are 7-4 in Cairns since Joey Wright took the reins – including four of their past five – while the rest of the NBL has been 29-45 at The Snakepit during that time.
The Taipans have taken 47 free throws in this season series compared to Adelaide’s 94, but have launched 86 three-pointers to the 36ers’ 64.
There has been an average of 33.3 turnovers in the three games between Cairns and the Sixers, well above the league average of 23.4 in all other contests.
It’s fair to say the Cairns Convention Centre has a home-away-from-home feel for Adelaide, given their impressive run of success in what was a Taipan fortress prior to this season.
And so, despite back-to-back losses last round, the 36ers should be feeling good heading into the gym for Saturday’s crunch clash, and coach Joey Wright knows how important that is.
“We need to play with a little more confidence, little more swagger,” he said after his team fell to Melbourne on Monday.
Last round, with a door to the top four wide open, the 36ers shot just 37 per cent from the field and 17-of-56 from outside the arc.
“I say the way you feel inside is what comes out this hand, and if you feel good, when that ball comes out it looks good,” Wright added.
“We’re not feeling good inside and it’s probably from some of the things we’re searching for, some of the expectations we’re putting on ourselves.”
— NBL (@NBL) January 28, 2019
Nathan Sobey is doing his utmost to lead the 36ers into the post-season without running mate Ramone Moore, the athletic Australian silencing the critics who said he wouldn’t make it as a playmaker.
But Adelaide need others to step up, something Wright is only too well aware of.
“We can’t just try and put it on one person, we have to collectively lead as a group, including myself, and we’ve got to do a better job,” he said.
“We’ve got to turn it up a notch if we want to get into these playoffs.”
One young man who has answered the call is rookie Jack McVeigh, who has added 30 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists in his past 60 minutes, making the most of the extra playing time in Moore’s absence.
Most importantly, he’s providing the energy and the hustle plays Adelaide need if they’re going to squeak into the finals.
“Jack will be a standout in this league, and credit to someone like Jack because he trusted us,” Wright said.
“We’ve been telling him all year, ‘You’re time’s going to come, you’re good enough to play’, it’s just really hard to get a comfortable 11-man rotation, and bringing in Conger in his position really took his minutes away.
“But he brings it every day in training, he’s first one in here, last one to leave, he just works, he has such a great positive attitude.”
— NBL (@NBL) January 25, 2019
Ironically, it’s Conger he is showing up right now, the star offensive small forward in a scoring drought and not consistently making a contribution elsewhere to cover for it.
Wright was pleased to see eight rebounds from his import swingman against Melbourne, but wants to see that sort of effort more often.
“I’d love for him to get some other stuff done, I’d love to see, no matter what, 8-9 rebounds per game, I’d love to see some great defensive stops,” Wright said.
“Guys are going to have off nights at the offensive end, but if you can try and change the game in other ways that can be really beneficial for us.
“We look at someone like Jack, to go in and get eight offensive rebounds, he’s not as athletic as Demitrius, at all, that’s just a want, a need, and no agendas out there.”
The agenda for Cairns is clear, get some more wins to springboard them into a more successful 2019/20 season.
— NBL (@NBL) January 26, 2019
“Cairns Taipans is not a one-year deal, and we’re trying to get better every day, trying to continue to build for each other and for the club and for the city every day,” coach Mike Kelly said.
“So even though I’m desperate to win this next game, if I ever do take a step back and have a look at the whole thing, we really do just want to keep getting better every day.
“These guys do need that win for the pay-off, because that gives you energy to go the next time.”
While the Taipans have been run off the floor by Adelaide in the past, this year’s team is different, and they’re embracing the thought of a shoot-out.
While they started slow against Illawarra last week, they charged home and almost pinched an impressive road win.
1 point game!
— NBL (@NBL) January 26, 2019
“We have some terrific scorers, and we got the ball in the right guys’ hands and they made plays,” Kelly said.
“We got some great energy from guys off the bench as well, thinking of Kuany specifically, he came off the bench and gave us great energy, JK always comes off the bench and gives us a steady hand, so there some good things.”
Wright knows the 36ers have been able to pressure the Taipans into high turnover counts in previous meetings and punish their leaky transition defence going the other way for buckets and free throws.
However, he is wary of Cairns’ newfound ability to pile on points in bunches, and well aware his team can ill-afford to drop this one in the race for fourth place.
“Every win’s important now,” he said.
“We need to get three more. It really depends what shakes out at the other end, but we just take that Cairns game, it’s not going to be an easy one, they’ve been scoring over 100 points the last couple of games, they’ve got some unbelievable scorers.
“We’ve got to make sure we slow it up, we’ve given up over 100 points the last couple of games, that’s not good enough.”