Now that the World Cup Qualifying break is over and we can forget that the Boomers lost to Iran in a Tehran gymnasium, the NBL finals series has shown up on our doorstep!
Amazing to think, the last time Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all appeared in an NBL finals series together was 2008. Of course much has transpired since then- the Kings folded thanks to the Firepower collapse (Talk about a blast from the past) and came back in 2010, the Bullets folded because ABC Learning Centres went arse up and then came back in 2016, Melbourne ditched the Tigers and became Melbourne United, and the Wildcats did Wildcat things and kept making the finals. So without further ado, it’s time for this completely unhelpful look at the finals:
Perth Wildcats (1st) vs Brisbane Bullets (4th)
Feb 28th, 7:20 AWST (10:20 AEDT) at RAC Arena
March 2nd, 1:50 AEST (2:50 AEDT) at Brisbane Convention Center
March 4th, 6:50 AWST (9:50 AEDT) at RAC Arena
Death, taxes and the Wildcats in the playoffs. That’s now 33 straight appearances dating back to 1987, something completely unmatched in Australian professional sport.
When November ended the Cats had a record of 10-1, and it looked like they were going to take the piss on their way to a minor premiership.
But then December came and the team hit a crater, winning only 2 of their next 10 games as they went on their annual Hopman Cup road trip, but by the end of January they chalked up a big win against Melbourne in ‘The Jungle’ and found their identity again, winning 6 straight games and securing the minor premiership.
When it comes to talent, the star is their guard, former MVP, this year’s scoring champion, and NBL First Team member Bryce Cotton (Did I get all those titles out?), and they’ve also got First Team forward Nick Kay, and their defensive stalwart, scrappy gym rat and Captain Damian Martin, who’s won more Best Defensive Player Awards than I’ve watched NBL games this season.
On the flipside, the ‘new’ Bullets are back in the playoffs after beating the Breakers in their last game of the season, tipping out the ’36ers in the process.
When I typed in ‘Brisbane Bullets players’ into Google, the only name I saw pop up was their star import, forward/guard Lamar Patterson, who only signed on October 31st, but still managed to make the All-NBL First team.
Patterson played in the NBA, and should be used to the brutality of cross-country flights, and let me tell you from experience, Brisbane to Perth and vice versa in a fart filled tin can is an experience that takes a few hours to recover from.
The trash talking from the teams has been ongoing since last week, and it kicked off when Cats coach Trevor Gleeson said that the Bullets’ success was in part due to illegal screens. That’s the sort of panic-based comment you’d expect to hear from a coach who didn’t even get nominated for Coach of the Year.
The Bullets responded by wheeling out club and NBL great Leroy Loggins at practice this week. In response, I’m expecting the Wildcats to bring out Ricky Grace on Thursday evening.
Although the teams split their season series 2-2, The Bullets haven’t won in Perth since 2017, they lost their last three games on the road (Including losing to the wooden spoon winning Taipans), and the Cats have won their last four games at home.
To don a cape and play Captain Obvious, the Bullets will have to break that hoodoo to make the big dance.
All I can say is welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun and games.
Melbourne United (2nd) vs Sydney Kings (3rd)
Feb 28th, 7:50 AEDT @ Melbourne Arena
March 3rd, 2:30 AEDT @ The Qudos Bank Arena
March 5th, 7:50 AEDT @ Melbourne Arena
This series should be the highlight of the season to date.
Melbourne and Sydney apparently don’t like each other (I wonder why), and that rivalry especially intensifies in the field of sports, case in point being the City of Sydney’s seething hatred for the Melbourne Storm, and the Melbourne media’s seething foot fetish for the Sydney Swans.
In one corner, you’ve got the Kings led by league MVP and Best Defensive Player Andrew ‘Porkchop’ Bogut, former MVP and team captain Kevin Lisch, and former MVP Jerome Randle, who did miss the Kings’ last game with a glute injury.
Did you know he once played for the Ukrainian national team? I’m not kidding!
What has put a very big spanner in the works is the impending departure of coach Andrew Gaze, who for some reason decided to make the announcement he was leaving just before their most important series in a decade. Still, Gazey would love to go out by burning the reanimated corpse of the team that he proudly represented for 21 years.
And then you’ve got the defending champs, Melbourne United, led by their star import, Casper ‘The Ghost’ Ware, D.J Kennedy, who should drop some sick beats on the Kings, and team captain Chris Goulding, who was one of the Australian leaders in the Battle of Bocaue against the Philippines last year.
Chris was one of the many players suspended from that game, for getting beaten up while lying unprotected on the ground by a mob of angry Filipinos.
With Gazey successfully destabilising the Kings by announcing he’s going to stand down after the season ends, I’ll pencil in United to make it back-to-back appearances in the NBL Grand Final Series.