We have arrived at the penultimate round of the NBL regular season and we are set for six exciting games in Round 18.
The action is underway in Brisbane on Thursday night, but the headline fixtures are undoubtedly the two games between Melbourne and New Zealand, which will have a bearing on who finishes where in the top four.
Neither team can make this season’s finals, but there is pride on the line when the Bullets host the Hawks on Thursday evening.
The Bullets were in action only once in Round 17 and they were ultimately unable to match it with league-leading Melbourne, falling 69-61. Daniel Kickert was best on court for the Bullets; racking up a game-high 17 points and keeping his side in the contest longer than they probably should have been.
The Hawks failed to over the Breakers in two games last week, but they did improve on the road second-up and did well to cover the line.
The Bullets have released import Perrin Buford from the remainder of his contract and they will subsequently have a hole to fill this weekend. The Hawks have easily been the ‘best of the rest’ this season and they can notch another win on the road here.
The first of two meetings will see Melbourne United and the Breakers square off at the home of the former on Friday night.
With two weeks to play, it is Melbourne’s minor premiership to lose and they have been absolutely on fire of late. They did enough to overcome a spirited Bullets side in Round 17 and they are shooting for a fifth-consecutive win here. Four players hit double-figures against Brisbane and their multidimensional offense is sure to go a long way against the Breakers as well.
New Zealand are second overall heading into the second-last week of the regular season and can heap the pressure onto Melbourne with a win. The Breakers comfortably overcame Illawarra twice in Round 17 and will take plenty of confidence into this mini-series.
One more win will probably be enough for Melbourne to claim the minor premiership and they can do that here.
The blowout of the round could take place when the Perth Wildcats host the Cairns Taipans on Saturday night.
The Wildcats are assured a position in this season’s finals and for the most part, they have been typically strong and consistent recently. They played bitter rivals the 36ers twice in Round 17 and while they won the first tie by a whopping 21 points, they could not repeat that performance in Adelaide and suffered a 12-point defeat.
The Taipans are well and truly out of contention and they look like a team that is ready for a break. They were pretty comfortably accounted for by the bottom-placed Kings in Cairns last week, in what was their third-consecutive loss.
Perth will fire a warning shot at their finals-bound rivals with a convincing win here, and they can cover a line currently set at 10.5 points.
There’s not a lot riding on Saturday’s match between the Kings and Bullets in Brisbane, but it should be a pretty exciting contest between two similarly-skilled teams.
The Kings failed to gain anything of a grasp on the season and there is every chance they will finish in last position. It hasn’t been a whole lot better north of the border, where the Bullets have managed only eight wins from their twenty-four games so far.
Sydney have produced a few good performances recently and backed-up their Round 16 demolition of the Wildcats with a strong performance and win over the Taipans in Cairns last week. The Bullets’ form hasn’t been too dissimilar, but they were comfortably accounted for by Melbourne last weekend.
The winner of this match will gain an advantage in the race to second-last and the Kings can sneak home in front of their home fans.
Sunday’s return leg between the Breakers and Melbourne United in New Zealand is probably going to be the best game of the round.
Should Melbourne win on Friday, they will have all but sewn-up the minor premiership and they will subsequently carry plenty of confidence into this fixture. By the same token, they may elect to rest some players with a view towards the finals.
The Breakers still have everything to play for. Given how close and open the top four remains, a loss at any point could mean the difference between finishing second and fourth, and either gaining or losing home court advantage.
The result of the first meeting between these two clubs is sure to have some bearing here, but New Zealand can cover a small line at home, currently set at 3 points.
The final game of the round will see the 36ers travel to Illawarra on Sunday afternoon.
Adelaide were both terrible and outstanding in Round 17, but they did return to winning via an impressive performance at home most-recently and will take that condition into this game.
The Hawks are returning home from a trip to Brisbane and while the result of that game may have some bearing, they face a far greater task in the form of the finals-bound 36ers.
Adelaide can carry more momentum into the final week of the regular season by winning in Illawarra.