Perth Wildcats v Adelaide 36ers
When: 9.50pm (AEDT), Friday 15 February
Where: RAC Arena, Perth
Broadcast: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ
The last time
Perth 100 (Cotton 19, Steindl 19, Kay 16) d Adelaide 81 (Deng 19, Wiley 18, McVeigh 12), RAC Arena, Round 15
The 36ers jumped the gates in this game, racking up 32 points in the opening 10 minutes and leading by nine points early in the second term. Perth then played party poopers, allowing just 47 points in the last 29 minutes, while piling on 75 at the other end behind the sharp-shooting of Bryce Cotton and Clint Steindl, who nailed 9-of-17 triples between them.
Cairns’ past two performances have given this contest crystal clear ramifications. By beating Brisbane last week, the Taipans ensured an Adelaide win in The Jungle will guarantee the 36ers post-season action. Cairns knocking off United on Thursday means a Wildcat win will secure the minor premiership, barring a monumental meltdown in Melbourne on Sunday.
Perth have won five straight – the only team to win more than three of their past five – are a league-best 11-2 at home and haven’t lost to Adelaide in the west for two years. Only Sydney (9-5) has a better road record than Adelaide (8-5) though, who have won in every NBL city except for Perth this season and have prevailed in six of their past seven away dates.
Nick Kay v Daniel Johnson – This is two legitimate All-NBL First Team candidates going head-to-head. Kay is the NBL’s best all-around player with top 20 rankings in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field-goal percentage and three-point conversion – along with first in plus/minus – his ability to consistently contribute in all aspects unique to the competition.
DJ’s season has been a tale of inconsistency, producing eight games with 20 points or more – for a 6-2 record – but 10 with 14 or less, the 36ers 3-7 in those contests. Against his home-town team of Perth, Johnson had 40 points and 17 boards in the two Brett Maher Court games, but managed just 5 points and 3 rebounds at RAC Arena three weeks ago.
Bryce Cotton v Nathan Sobey – Here’s another pair of All-Star candidates doing battle, Cotton a lock for the First Team long ago, but confirming his anointment with last week’s 27-point masterpiece after half-time to keep the ‘Cats on top. Against Adelaide, the MVP has averaged a sub-par 17ppg at 41 per cent, but dished out 15 dimes in the three games.
Adelaide restricted Cotton to 10 field-goal attempts in their only win over Perth this season, their energy impressive as long 36ers defenders constantly denied the slippery shooting guard touches. With Mitch Norton out, Sobey will get chances to go at Cotton’s D, and that will be just as important to tire his legs and make the task of chasing him a little easier.
— NBL (@NBL) January 20, 2019
Adelaide have taken 24.3 three-pointers per game against Perth at 29 per cent, while against the rest of the NBL those numbers are 21.1 attempts at 36 per cent.
The Wildcats average 12.3 three-point makes against Adelaide at 42 per cent, while against all other teams those numbers are 9.5 makes at 33 per cent.
This season series has featured 31.7 offensive rebounds per game. The NBL average is 20.4 o-boards.
Adelaide is undefeated in first quarters of this season series with a +11 advantage, while Perth have won all second periods with a +18 advantage. The winning team has prevailed in all three second halves.
It was a great question – asking Trevor Gleeson if anything Bryce Cotton does surprises him anymore – and an even better answer.
“He surprised me when he was 0-of-10,” the Cats coach laughed.
That poser, of course, came after Cotton went from all-struggles in the opening 20 minutes to all-world in the final 25 to guide Perth past the Kings.
Bryce Cotton out-handles Randle and says goodnight to his ankles in the process.
My goodness!!! pic.twitter.com/bikSOhSA6C
— Perth Wildcats (@PerthWildcats) February 10, 2019
“Believe it or not, my senior year of college, I always had slow first halves,” Cotton revealed afterwards.
“Sometimes I would be scoreless and finish with 20-something, or maybe just have five and then go off, so that was what I was trying to remind myself. I did that for an entire season in college.
“I just wanted to stay aggressive, whether it was making plays for myself or my teammates.”
That wasn’t easy for him to do, Sydney’s excellent defensive game plan taking the ball out of his hands – or at the least putting him on the retreat – at every opportunity.
The Wildcats were ready for that situation, having seen a myriad of coverages for the combustible Cotton this season.
Perhaps the one that most sparked a call to action, however, was Adelaide’s efforts making the one of the league’s greatest all-time shooting guards a non-factor in Round 14.
“I thought we did a great job chasing Cotton around,” coach Joey Wright said post-game.
“He’s such a great shooter, if he can get that ball above his head there’s a pretty good chance it’s going in, so I thought our guys did a great job of taking him out, he only took 10 shots.”
Expect the 36ers to try and bring similar heat on Friday, with multiple defenders to get their turn on the NBL scoring leader, but also expect Perth to be ready.
Their discipline getting the ball to Cotton early against Sydney, then bringing screens late and at pace, made it hard to keep the ball out of his hands for long.
— Perth Wildcats (@PerthWildcats) February 10, 2019
If he did receive extra attention, the Cats were quick to rescreen for Bryce, both on and off the ball, to ensure they were dictating to the defence, not the other way around.
“We were a bit technical with what we wanted to do out of the hard shows and traps he was getting,” Gleeson said.
“When Bryce gets going you can see the look in the eye, and he just looked over and said give me the ball, so it was like Damo get me the ball and get out of the way.
“When he’s on that roll it doesn’t really matter if there’s a double team or triple team, he finds different ways to score him, that’s why we love him.”
What Gleeson would really love on Friday is a fast start, the 36ers with combined leads of 17 points during the first quarter of their past two clashes.
Things that are ?.
• The sun.
• Adelaide, yesterday.
He’s up to 12 points, in less than 4mins. pic.twitter.com/sCys4fVdvx
— Adelaide 36ers (@Adelaide36ers) January 25, 2019
“They were on fire,” Gleeson said after their comeback win in Round 15.
“Wiley came on, got 12 in the first quarter, he was on fire so we had to put Nick (Kay) on him, we were probably too late doing that because he was hitting threes and just feeling the game out there.”
That’s the first big match-up question of this one. Do Perth go back to their original plan of the air-tight Kay on the match-winning Johnson?
And if Jacob Wiley again proves too quick for Angus Brandt, do they make the change and risk DJ getting off the hook, or do they look to the bench and the resurgent Jesse Wagstaff to use his smarts against Adelaide’s explosive import?
For coach Wright, does Demitrius Conger get first bite at Cotton? Do they switch screens and dare the MVP to attack on the drive against bigger opponents? Or do they trap aggressively and lure Perth into a high-paced, unpredictable encounter?
Given last week against Melbourne they scored just two points from turnovers, and last time against the Wildcats they managed just nine, don’t be surprised if they up the ante in an attempt to spark their running game.
When the @Adelaide36ers RUN & GUN they are FUN.
— NBL (@NBL) January 17, 2019
If this becomes more of a half-court contest, it’s hard to see Adelaide producing their brilliant best, and Wright knows that’s needed to taste victory and lock in a playoff berth.
“We’ve beaten every team in the competition this year, so we know we have got the capacity to do it,” he said.
“We’ve just got to bring our A-game in order to beat the better teams, but we know when we’re playing and we’re rolling, feeling good about ourselves, we can do some good things.”
For Gleeson, his team effectively gets two dips at claiming first place, but perhaps the most important thing for the veteran sideline-stalker is for his team to keep their impressive roll going.
“We’ve got a great chemistry within the group, the guys love each other out on the floor and it’s one of the best feelings we’ve had within the team, so hopefully we can continue that,” he said.
“Adelaide have got to win to make the playoffs, then we’ve got Melbourne in Melbourne which is always tough.
“You want these tough games to go in because that’s the playoff atmosphere … We know how Adelaide are, they’re going to be good too, you don’t get a break in this league.”