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Rivalry resumed: NBL Round 15 Preview

THE NBL's playoff wannabes are reaching the thin end of the wedge and rarely has a rivalry been more relevant than with this round's Perth-Adelaide fixture.

They have met twice in Adelaide for a 1-1 result - in the first week and the last week - and now have two bouts to go at The Jungle.

This rivalry dates back to 1987, the year after the 36ers' "Invincibles" team dominated the competition like no team before or since, incoming Perth playing-coach Cal Bruton using Adelaide's blueprint to create the first super Wildcats team.

They haven't missed a playoff series since and can lock up 33 in a row by beating Adelaide this round.

A lot can change from round to round and Perth bounced back by beating Melbourne after Adelaide continued on to Sydney to beat the Kings.


It's safe to say both teams are well aware of this game's significance, standing as another in a long line in this rivalry, which started when Bruton's team KO'd the 36ers in the 1987 semi finals.

It has had its ups and downs, peaking with a Grand Final, and last year it was Adelaide (in Perth) which sent the Wildcats' hopes of a threepeat crashing in the semi final round.

This is a big fixture, but so too is Brisbane-Sydney, Sydney-Perth, Adelaide-Melbourne. And hapless New Zealand needs two wins this round to even stay relevant.

* * *

ROUND 15 opened in Melbourne last night with the Australian Open (roof) match in which Melbourne pummelled Illawarra 113-89.

It was the start of Make-A-Wish round and featured the special city uniforms (below)

The Hawks offered some first-half resistance but a 37-17 third period by Melbourne put this well out of Illawarra's reach, Rob Beveridge's crew turning in a feeble defensive effort.

As predicted, Casper Ware (25 points, four assists) was exceptional, while Mitch McCarron had a big game, a couple of his swoops-to-the-hoop memorable for their audacity and athleticism. 

DJ Kennedy also was solid with a 17-point, 13-rebound double-double as Melbourne took a 28-point lead into the final stanza, only Todd Blanchfield offering any consistent resistance.

Deep off the Hawks' bench, Marshall Nelson showed the way in the final quarter with two rapid-fire 3-pointers in an 8-0 start, Illawarra even dragging the deficit back to 14. But this was never going to be any sort of upset, United just putting its foot on the accelerator and the gasping Hawks choking on the fumes.

MELBOURNE UNITED 113 (Ware 25, McCarron, Kennedy 17, Barlow 15, Goulding 13, Pledger, Boone 10; Kennedy 13 rebs; Barlow, Kennedy, Ware 4 assts) d ILLAWARRA HAWKS 89 (Blanchfield 22, Conklin, Jackson, Ogilvy 10; Ogilvy 7 rebs; Jackson 3 assts) at The UN, Hisense Arena.

* * *


Cairns at New Zealand


CAIRNS came from behind to beat New Zealand 106-98 in overtime last round, most likely ending any real chance at the top four for the Breakers. There is a real shot at retribution here for NZ which has been the season's greatest under-achiever. Patrick Richards and Armani Moore have been busts as imports, especially the latter, Captain Push-Up. Put simply, the Breakers can't be trusted to bring their best. The Taipans have some momentum going and Nate Jawai again will enjoy his match-up with Shawn Long. But you have to favour home-court providing NZ with some spark.

Sydney at Brisbane

YOU would be overstating it to say Sydney is in freefall but it sure doesn't look the championship contender it did a few weeks ago. Even Andrew Bogut was off the boil in the home loss to Adelaide and the form of fellow starters David Wear, Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley has resembled a yo-yo. Kyle Adnam has been reliable off the bench but Dan Kickert has not, and only Jerome Randle has been getting his numbers. Brisbane is comfortably the form team of the top four at present and it's tough to see the Kings coming up with an answer for Lamar Patterson. The Bullets are loaded.

Adelaide at Perth

THE 36ers' comfortable home win over Perth had many wondering if that core of culture and chemistry at the Wildcats - Damian Martin, Jesse Wagstaff, Greg Hire, Tom Jervis - had ALL lost a step. Apart from Damo, the rest of the trio of reliables has been anything but during the club's run of eight losses from 10 games. Beating Melbourne put a halt to that. And in Adelaide, Nick Kay's quick and early foul woes also was a huge factor. Rhys Vague and Terrico White carried the 'Cats but with Bryce Cotton firing against United, they looked good again. Cotton is the key but who steps up to go with him is equally important. Is Perth back or Adelaide on a roll? I suspect the latter.

Cairns at Illawarra

OPENING the season beating the Bullets in Brisbane, Cairns' horror run of 14 straight losses started when Illawarra came to town. Now the Taipans have the opportunity to return the favour and derail the Hawks' flickering finals fantasies in their own backyard. Losing yesterday to Melbourne already means Illawarra cannot afford hardly a single misstep from here to the end of the regular season, throwing great pressure onto the home team. Fans have been returning to The Gong due to the excitement the Hawks can provide. But excitement and consistency are two different things.

Brisbane at New Zealand

EXPECT the Bullets to inflict the final wounds on the Breakers' playoff campaign. Matt Hodgson can go with Shawn Long, Cam Bairstow can match Tai Wesley and completing the starting frontlines, Lamar Patterson will have too much for Tom Abercrombie. At guard, Jason Cadee and Cam Gliddon can be erratic but nowhere near as erratic as Shea Ili and Corey Webster this season. Gliddon mostly has elevated himself into the second rung of elite players and Brisbane's bench is loaded, from Mika Vukona and Adam Gibson, to Reuben Te Rangi, Jeremy Kendle and AJ Davis.

Perth at Sydney

THIS might be the round's toughest game to tip because who knows what may or may not happen in Perth's match-up with Adelaide, and Sydney's showdown with Brisbane. Injuries, psychological effects of those first results ... the door is open on this one. Overlooking that, winning form is good form so if you look at Sydney crashing to Adelaide and Perth beating Melbourne, then based on that, you might like the Wildcats as favourites. But again, there's a long way to wait for this one and if Andrew Bogut gets some more support around him, you might like Sydney to restart its campaign.

Melbourne at Adelaide

SIXERS fans are always happy to welcome back Chris Goulding, but the likelihood in this meeting of last season's Grand Finalists and United's first visit since winning the championship, is their "welcome" may fire him up. Goulding has struggled to find consistent form this season and came off the bench again in the win over Illawarra. David Barlow has been the Most Improved Player this season, often carrying his team and making his battle here with Jacob Wiley a mouth-watering prospect. Casper Ware and Nathan Sobey head-to-head, mercurial Mitch McCarron facing Anthony Drmic, there's a lot to like about this match-up. At home, the 36ers start slight favourite. 

Jan 24

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