Top 4 anyone? (Preview: 36ers v Tigers 27/1/13)
Wollongong came into the round holding onto the prized 4th spot, sitting at 8-9. It lost today to the Breakers to slip to 8-10 but still holds a 2 game lead over Melbourne. The Tigers sit in 5th spot at 6-10 and have played two less games than the Hawks, making them a strong chance to catch the injury-hit Hawks. Melbourne has the talent to make a late charge but will know it's chances rest on Jonny Flynn staying in the country and taking over games on a regular basis.
Sixth spot is currently held down by the the Cairns Taipans (6-11). The Taipans have played one more than Melbourne and one less than Wollongong, keeping them in the mix. They helped their chances with a big win over the Tigers last night, a game most expected Melbourne to win. That win makes things interesting, especially considering they have five of their last eleven games at home, only one against Perth and New Zealand and five combined against Melbourne and Adelaide.
Townsville sits in seventh but is strangely one of the team's hottest teams. It lost a heartbreaker to the Wildcats in Perth last night, taking it's record to 6-12 after 18 games. Incredibly, Townsville started the season 0-10 and this current lineup really deserves a spot in the playoffs but it will do it tough. It probably needs to go at least 7-3 in the run home. It has 4 home games but only one more game against Perth and none against New Zealand. I'm not ruling it out.
That leaves us with the 36ers, also sitting as 6-12 after 18 games. It lost the season series to Townsville so will need to win more games than them if it hopes to pull of the best playoff run in recent history. Adelaide only has 3 more home games and a game to come against both Perth and New Zealand.
You'd think whoever loses tomorrow is done for the season. So who wins?
On form and recent history, you'd have to pick Melbourne. The Tigers had been on a nice little roll going into the Cairns game Friday. That loss changes things. It was an away game but still one the Tigers should have won. They'll be glad to be back home and facing a team they beat by 30 in their last matchup ( you can read my game report here ).
I'm sure coach Marty Clarke will be taking a positive approach, highlighting the fact there was huge buzz for Flynn's debut and that Adelaide really didn't know what to expect from him. They'll hopefully now have a better idea. Adam Gibson played on him last game but got into foul trouble which harmed Adelaide's plans. I'd expect to see Adelaide play a bit of zone and provide some fullcourt pressure at times as well, something which has been successful for them at times of late. Crosswell should get some minutes on Flynn as well to frustrate and annoy him. Chris Goulding is the other tough matchup and should be followed closely by Gibson and Christopherson for most of the game.
The frontcourts are fairly evenly matched with Adelaide probably holding the advantage. Petrie and DJ have done well in the last two matchups but Schenscher has struggled, averaging 4pts on 2/15 shooting. Yeh. The Tigers have the bodies to throw at Big Luke but if he can recapture some of his pre-injury form it will be a huge help to Adelaide's chances.
The Sixers did beat the Tigers in the season opener but that was a Tigers team playing Braswell instead of Flynn and with no Adam Ballinger. If Adeaide can curtail Flynn and if Chris Goulding has one of his 1-10 nights it has a strong chance of pulling of a rare away win. It will be interesting to see how much we see Daly and Vasiljevic and if Big Luke and Petrie are in better shape after some recent injury issues. It won't be another blowout but it's unlikely on current form Adelaide can beat the surging Tigers at home.
Prediction: Melbourne by 7