R18 Preview | Sydney Kings v Cairns Taipans

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Sydney Kings v Cairns Taipans

When: 2.50pm (AEDT), Saturday, 16 February

Where: Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

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Broadcast: 9GO; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ

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The last time

Sydney 86 (Lisch 18, Randle 16, Bogut 15) d Cairns 82 (Trimble 22, Jawai 16, Newbill 11), Cairns Convention Centre, Round 12

Sydney controlled this match-up but the Taipans refused to quit, erasing a 12-point first half deficit before the main break, and then charging from 14 down in the third term to twice pinch the lead in the final stanza. They couldn’t make key triples down the stretch, however, while Jerome Randle and Kevin Lisch combined for 16 fourth-quarter points to seal the deal.

 

The now

What are the odds of the Kings taking this game lightly? If there was any chance of that leading in, Cairns’ tough road win in Melbourne would have shaken those sillies out, especially as it opened the door for Sydney to claim a top two spot, something they can achieve with a win on Saturday, followed by Melbourne losing to the Wildcats 24 hours later.

Thursday’s victory means the Taipans have beaten two of the competition’s top three, and they can now complete the trifecta in Sydney, where they chased the Kings into overtime in Round 3. The bad news for Cairns fans is their team is 1-7 this season when backing up within 48 hours, so they’ll have to find a for that to overcome a desperate Kings outfit.

 

The match-ups

Jerome Randle v Melo Trimble – What a delicious point guard showdown to savour before Randle heads to the playoffs and Trimble heads off to Puerto Rico to cash in on his brilliant season. He’s averaged a remarkable 26.2ppg, 4.5rpg and 4.5apg since he last played the Kings, and can edge Bryce Cotton as the NBL’s leading scorer with a big outing here.

In terms of the individual battle in this season series, Trimble has managed 21.7ppg and 6.7apg, while Randle has responded with 20.7ppg and 5.3apg to highlight the importance of this pair. While the statistical edge has gone to Melo, that’s shallowed by three Ws for ‘Rome and Co, and that’s what the Taipan will be hellbent on remedying in his season finale.

Andrew Bogut v Nate Jawai – If anything can match the point guard duel it is this, two of the biggest, baddest bigs under the Australian sun meeting like an immovable object and an unstoppable force. Nate has slowed of late, just 20 points and 11 boards in his past four games, but this is one match-up that has brought out his best, so expect some fireworks.

Jawai has averaged 11.3ppg at 57 per cent and 7rpg in 25 minutes against the Kings, including some dominant moments where Bogut has been overpowered by sheer size, but the Bogey Man has returned serve with 11.7ppg, 14rpg, 5apg and 1.7bpg, Sydney +13 with their centre on the floor last time the teams met, and -9 when he rested.

 

The stats

Against the Kings, Cairns fire up 30.7 three-point attempts and make just 25 per cent. Against other opponents they average 26 long bombs and make 36 per cent.

The Taipans have averaged just 14 free-throw attempts against Bogut and Co, while against the rest of the NBL that figure is 21 FTA.

Sydney have got to the foul line 23.3 times per game against the Snakes. Against the rest of the league they average 17.1 FTA.

Cairns lead points in the paint 132-104 in this season series, the teams are tied 69-69 from long range, while Sydney lead 34-16 from mid-range and 58-25 from the foul line.

 

The story

The last time the Sydney Kings faced Cairns, it was in the Far North as the community club celebrated 300 games for their stoic leader, Alex Loughton.

“There were a lot of people I hadn’t met before just coming out, everyone congratulating me on the 300,” Loughton said.

“It made me realise how much people appreciate the effort and the fight each and every season. It was just nice to soak it up.”

Now, as his farewell tour of the Hungry Jack’s NBL comes to an end, Loughton is looking to soak up as many wins as possible.

He didn’t taste victory in Melbourne often throughout his storied career, but led the way on Thursday night with 14 points on 3-of-5 from deep, 6 rebounds, a game-high +14 as the Taipans stunned the defending champs.

“Al’s been great, all season he’s been great at his effort, and to see him hit some shots last week and this week, I think the guys definitely followed his lead,” coach Mike Kelly said.

“He’s just continued to play like Al, on both ends, maximum effort. I think that gives these guys a lift, especially when you see the ball go in the basket early.”

On-court toughness aside, Loughton has been a key leader to keep this Taipans team together through some tough times in 2018/19.

“He’s big time,” Kelly said.

“He’s been great with our group in the continuity from years past to this year so it’s been fantastic, I’m proud of Al with this group and I think he’s done a great job keeping us together.”

One of the traits the Taipans were known for under Aaron Fearne’s watch was fighting seasons out to the death.

In 2016/17 Cairns came from the clouds, winning six of their final seven to finish in second place, after most had written off their playoff chances long before.

One of only two remaining links from that side, ‘Louzy’ has made sure the culture of the club is passed down to the new generation.

Given the Taipans will go to 6-7 in 2019 with a win over Sydney on Saturday, after starting the season 1-14, it’s obvious the lessons have been learned by his younger teammates.

And though Cairns’ last win in Sydney was on 8 February 2015 – Cam Tragardh leading the way with 23 points while Ben Madgen paced the Kings with 22 – their drought-breaking W in Melbourne showed anything is possible.

You don’t have to tell Andrew Gaze that, who said the Taipans’ “record is not indicative of their talent” after watching his team escape with a four-point win in Round 12.

“The thing that sticks out the most to me throughout the course of the game is our rebounding, giving up 17 offensive boards,” he said.

“They’ve got some really good weapons, they were desperate and they went after it but it’s very difficult when you handicap yourself to that level.”

Sydney’s lack of offensive rebounding also plays into the Taipans’ hands, allowing Melo Trimble and DJ Newbill to get downhill into offence quickly, leaving plenty of time for Nate Jawai to go to work.

“He’s one of the few guys in the league, when Bogues is guarding him we just can’t guard him one-on-one,” Gaze said.

“He is so big and he’s agile, he’s got that good touch, he made a big, big play down the stretch when we decided not to double him and he made the most of it.

“He made some really nice passes when we sent the double, our trapping rules broke down a little bit, but he’s good enough to exploit it.”

Yet despite the trouble Cairns have given the Kings throughout the season series, Bogut and Co remain one of three teams they haven’t beaten.

They’ll be going all out to change that if Kelly repeats the message that inspired the, to Thursday’s win over United.

“I just said I don’t care if you lose the game but I want you to attack, attack their pressure,” Kelly revealed.

“DJ Newbill looked at me and said, ‘We’re not f’ing losing this game’. I think it was great for the whole team to hear that from DJ and then he carried us for that patch, then the guys settled and finished the game off.”

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