Friendship on hold for key rivals as Kings ‘can’t wait to shut some people up’: NBL Talking Points

The NBL is now gearing up for a tantalising Boxing Day triple-header highlighted by the Sydney Kings gunning for revenge on Melbourne United before the Adelaide 36ers look to earn redemption against a Perth Wildcats team beginning life on the road.

Drama has already crept in to the start of Round 4 of the NBL season with the scheduled Thursday night contest between the Illawarra Hawks and South East Melbourne Phoenix in Wollongong forced to be postponed following positive Covid cases inside the Hawks camp.

That robs us of what would have been a tantalising match up between two teams who made a hot start to the season but are coming off Round 3 losses, the Hawks to the Brisbane Bullets and the Phoenix to the Sydney Kings.

That means that all attention now turns to Boxing Day and what a triple-header the NBL has in store to try and attract people away from watching the cricket action.

It all starts down in Hobart and with just one win between them so far, the Tasmania JackJumpers and New Zealand Breakers are desperate for a breakthrough win.

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That leads into the most fascinating of contests to continue their rich rivalry with the Sydney Kings hosting Melbourne United just 10 days after United hammered the Kings in record fashion.

The last match up of the triple-header for Boxing Day has the Brisbane Bullets host the Cairns Taipans with both teams coming off impressive victories on their home floors.

Round 4 then wraps up on Tuesday with the Adelaide 36ers needing to bounce back from a horror showing in Cairns up against a Perth Wildcats team now beginning life on the road until mid-February.

There’s plenty to watch out for and here are five of the biggest talking points:

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

NO ROOM FOR FRIENDSHIPS OUT ON THE FLOOR

Covid delaying Thursday night’s opening Round 4 hit out between the Illawarra Hawks and South East Melbourne Phoenix might mean the battle on the floor is on hold, but for new Hawks guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, he’ll be putting his close ties on hold when he needs to.

Rathan-Mayes might be new to the NBL this season, but he’s no stranger to several people across the league having spent this past summer working out with Melbourne captain Chris Goulding while Wildcats coach Scott Morrison was Canadian assistant coach when he was his national team.

Then there is Phoenix superstar Mitch Creek who Rathan-Mayes has built up a close bond with and it was Creek’s recommendation of the NBL as a league he should be part of that was a big factor in him signing at the Hawks.

Rathan-Mayes is fitting in nicely under coach Brian Goorjian in Illawarra and forming a dynamic back court alongside Tyler Harvey, but he will be disappointed Thursday night’s match up with Creek and the Phoenix now won’t transpire.

Kings condemn Phoenix to first loss | 00:59

“I’m definitely excited to get to play against Mitch’s team for the first time. I’m excited to match up and play against him, he’s obviously having a great start to the season,” Rathan-Mayes said.

“He is an MVP candidate and rightfully so. He does a little bit of everything and he is such a huge piece for what they do because he can do it all.

“He can shoot the three, he pushes the ball, he passes the ball, he defends and he scores. He does everything and is a special player, and one of, if not the best player in the NBL right now. He’s somebody who I’m excited to match up against and play against.

“Even though we are good friends, we can’t be friends for those 40 minutes. After that we can hug and go to dinner or whatever, but for those 40 minutes that we have to play, we’re not allowed to be friends.”

Creek grabbed worldwide headlines for his dunk back in Round 2 over Melbourne’s Matthew Dellavedova. Given the same situation, Rathan-Mayes has no doubt he’ll go up to challenge Creek too.

“If that happens, I might have to give him a really hard foul,” Rathan-Mayes joked.

“If I see his strong self coming at me the way that he does, I might just have to take a foul for the team I think.”

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

REDEMPTION EARNED, REVENGE NOW ON THE MIND OF KINGS

The Sydney Kings have earned some redemption with two wins since a record-setting loss to Melbourne United last Thursday, but earning revenge on that same team is now their focus for Boxing Day according to exciting rookie guard Biwali Bayles.

The Kings set all sorts of unwanted record in last Thursday’s 42-point loss in Melbourne to United, including the lowest score in franchise history of 47 points on the back of conceding the game’s first 26 points, and being down 34-5 by quarter-time.

Sydney was humiliated by going scoreless for more than seven minutes to start that game, but any team is judged by how they respond to a poor performance and this Kings team has passed with flying colours.

The Kings firstly responded to hand the South East Melbourne Phoenix their first loss of the season on Saturday and then backed it up with a solid 83-71 win at home to the Tasmania JackJumpers on Wednesday.

They have been doing it all without import duo Jaylen Adams and RJ Hunter, and one man who has been stepping up is 19-year-old rookie sensation Biwali Bayles.

Now that the Kings have hit back from that Melbourne loss, Bayles and his Sydney teammates are fully focused on earning revenge now against United at Qudos Bank Arena on Boxing Day.

Wildcats on top after defeating Tasmania | 01:02

“I can speak for all of us when I say we can’t wait. We kind of proved ourselves when we responded against Phoenix, but now we can’t wait to prove ourselves again on the 26th against that same team,” Bayles said.

“Everyone’s really excited and ready to go. We don’t pay a lot of attention to it, but you can’t help but see a little bit of the stuff on the internet and this and that what people are saying, so now we just can’t wait to get back out there and shut some people up.

“We just really tried to flush the Melbourne game as quick as possible, but also remember that feeling of being embarrassed with that performance. As far as I know, none of us have felt like that or been smacked like that before, so we didn’t want to forget that feeling of not wanting to go through that again.

“We just tried to flush it but store it away and then come out to just play how we play in the next game. We wanted to tidy ourselves up, focus on executing mainly with our defence because United did to us what we are trying to create as our identity which is trying to punk other teams, being physical, blowing stuff up and taking teams out of the game.”

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

ZHOU QI CAPTURING THE EYES OF THE GREATS TOO

He is one of the best stretch big men the NBL has seen but Cairns Taipans great Alex Loughton is blown away by the rim protectors in the league this season, and is glad he doesn’t have to lock horns with them.

Loughton had a glittering NBL playing career racking up 311 games between the Taipans and his hometown Perth Wildcats before retiring at the end of the 2018/19 season, and with the big men in the league, he’s glad he isn’t battling with them.

We’ve already seen a slice of history earlier this season when South East Melbourne’s Zhou Qi and Melbourne United’s Jo Lual-Acuil had seven blocks apiece in the one game.

While Zhou Qi has been the standout with the Chinese star averaging 4.3 blocks a game so far for the Phoenix, Loughton feels as a whole the league has become so much bigger with plenty of shot protectors right across the NBL.

Loughton remains in Cairns and keeps a close eye on the Taipans, and while in the past an import centre like Stephen Zimmerman and imposing stalwart Nate Jawai would have had a size and strength advantage, that’s not necessarily the case.

He still believes Zimmerman and Jawai can be successful for the Taipans, though, including during the Boxing Day clash in Brisbane with the Bullets, they just have to find a different way to do it.

Bullets hand Hawks first loss of season | 01:04

But as for if he was still playing himself, Loughton would be taking himself out beyond the three-point line and would be jacking up bombs, and hopefully celebrating with his trademark fist pumps against the current crop of NBL big men.

“The league has gotten super tall and those ring protectors seem to come at a premium. Every team in the top four has loaded up with some tall timber. If I look at the Phoenix, I really rate Zhou Qi and what he’s doing for them,” Loughton said on this week’s Hoops Heaven’s Basketball Hustle podcast.

“It’s really setting the standard for the league. Then you have a team like the Taipans and they are a bit smaller. Zimmerman is a good 6’11 but we are talking about teams with 7’2 players so they have to rely on athleticism and hustle. I’m actually glad I’m not still playing in the league at the five spot.

“Nate Jawai did have a unique advantage a few years ago with his size and height, but he’s only really 6’9 or 6’10, and now the 7’2 guys swallow up those moves with length.

“So for me at 6’9, I’d be picking and popping for days because I wouldn’t have the athleticism to go up and over. But for any team now, you almost need that import big to compete with the top teams and their big guys.”

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

WILDCATS URGED TO BLOCK OUT NEGATIVITY

New Perth Wildcats coach Scott Morrison might be bemused about his team now basing themselves out of Tasmania for the next six weeks, but former club great Damian Martin says the only way they can make it work is to block out those negative thoughts.

The Wildcats started the season with five home games, including a record crowd at RAC Arena of 13,615, and they won four of them but now with Western Australia’s borders closed to the rest of the country, they hit the road.

They will be based out of Tasmania for the next six weeks to then travel to away games before a return sometime in February.

It creates some challenges especially with those husbands and fathers in the team including captain Jesse Wagstaff with three children and veteran Kevin White who has two.

Their first test on the road is in Adelaide on Tuesday night. While Morrison might not like the decision, he wants his team to try to make the most of it.

“I was lucky enough to be part of the NBA bubble where they moved all the teams from areas of more threat to an area that was safe, and this is like a reverse bubble,” Morrison said.

Goulding on fire as United beat Breakers | 01:44

“We are being moved from somewhere that’s safe to somewhere that’s more of a threat, I don’t really get that and I’m not sure why the teams aren’t just coming here where there’s no Covid. But whatever, that’s one of our opponents now is the virus and everything else.

“We have to be mentally tough and it’s not the best for those of us that have families here in Perth to get dragged out for six weeks. We do see this is an opportunity to gel as a unit though. We can use it as a positive from the basketball sense even though the rest of it is pretty negative.”

However, six-time NBL champion Damian Martin believes if the ‘Cats do let those negative thoughts about not wanting to be away from home, then they might find themselves having a horrible time and losing games before getting back to WA.

“You address it with all the players acknowledging it won’t be easy, but you don’t want any negativity feeding into the group because that becomes contagious, and can affect your approach to training and the games,” Martin said during his Hoops Heaven’s Basketball Hustle podcast.

“You have to just say you don’t want to hear any whinging and there’s a lot of fun that can be had on the road. They can go and do sightseeing and embrace Tassie as their home for the next six weeks.

“You address that early but you also have to work on the home front to make sure your family is happy and taken care of too.”

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

MUST-WIN AFFAIR ONLY FOUR RUNS INTO NBL22

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that a loss for either the Tasmania JackJumpers or New Zealand Breakers to open Boxing Day’s triple-header could almost put an end to the finals hopes for that team even so early into the season.

The going has been tough for the JackJumpers and Breakers early this NBL season, for vastly different reasons, but now they both badly need a win in Hobart on Boxing Day.

The JackJumpers are in their first NBL season, they won their first game and for the most part, have just struggled to shoot the ball and put points on the board since.

As a result, they have lost to Adelaide, Cairns, Perth and Sydney leading into hosting the Breakers on Boxing Day.

Coach Scott Roth always knew it would take time to build and he’s willing to play the patient game.

“Well I’m not concerned about wins and losses, I never have been at the end of the day even though I want to win every game we play,” Roth said.

“But my concern is meshing together 15 new players and trying to create a style of play. They have done great and done a strong job of building culture within the group and organisation, and we’ll continue to build on those things and develop our basketball as we go.

Deng Deng produces NBL’s worst flop? | 00:21

“Our offence is behind a little bit but we’ll hang our head defensively and that’s what travels with you wherever you go. We’ll continue our aggressiveness and scrappiness.”

It’s a different story with the Breakers. They’ve already had to bring in a replacement import with Chasson Randle arriving for the injured Peyton Siva, and he will make his debut on Boxing Day.

Captain Tom Abercrombie could return, but the Breakers are also dealing with the reality there’s no guarantee they get home to New Zealand at all this season with their country closing their borders again to Australia.

They are now 0-5 this season too so playoffs are already starting to look out of reach and coach Dan Shamir is aware of the realities.

“Anybody who has been in a sports team understands the emotions and how tough a days these are,” Shamir said.

“That makes every game huge and if these games are spread and the record is different, then these losses hurt but it’s a different story than what is happening to us now. Every game for us now is very big, huge for us but the process has to be the same.

“We have to go and think about what we’re doing now, we have to incorporate a new player but there’s no one, magic solution that fixes everything. We need to do the work and we all have to be better.”

Soruce: https://www.foxsports.com.au/basketball/nbl/nbl-news-2021-round-4-fixtures-sydney-kings-illawarra-hawks-melbourne-united-talking-points-scores-latest-updates/news-story/5208470d20542fa2756c0d636467b6a7

By Malvi