'Underdog' Pirates have wealth of talent on deck

Lindsay Tait chuckles when informed his Auckland Pirates have been installed by the bookmakers as underdogs for tonight's game against the Saints in Wellington.

"Oh no, that's good, I like being the underdogs. So yeah, cool," Tait said.

It is a surprising assessment from the TAB, given the 11-3 Pirates remain in the running for the National Basketball League's regular season title and boast a star-studded cast.

Tall Blacks point guard Tait, lured back home to Auckland this season after leading the Saints to back-to-back championships, has a wealth of firepower at his disposal.

New Zealand Breakers duo Alex Pledger and Dillon Boucher have bolstered the front-court while athletic Americans Ron Dorsey and Ismail Muhammad complement sweet-shooting guards Hayden Allen and Brook Ruscoe, a former St Pat's Town schoolboy star.

"I think the package we put out on court is pretty exciting," Tait said.

"Having those two Breakers boys back has been great. They're both great players, what Pledger brings and obviously Dillon, it's awesome."

While the four semifinalists are locked in for the May 26-27 Final Four at TSB Bank Arena, the match-ups are not.

Hawke's Bay (12-3) lead the league after beating Harbour Heat 96-90 on Wednesday and round out their regular season against the Manawatu Jets in Palmerston North on Sunday.

The Jets (9-5) have qualified for the finals for the first time since 2003 and host the Taranaki Mountain Airs tonight, while the Pirates visit the Giants in Nelson tomorrow.

The Saints (9-6) close their regular season tonight and will finish either third or fourth.

Tait made it clear he would not be saving any ammunition for the Final Four. "I want to win first place in the league and that's what our whole team feels," Tait said.

"That was part of coming back here, what I wanted to help bring to the new culture of this team. We want to win and put Auckland basketball back to where I think it should be.

"It's a big game, coming in against Wellington who are playing great. We know they're always going to be tough playing down there and we couldn't ask for anything better coming into the finals series the following week."

Tait's match-up with Jason Crowe will be a beauty.

The two outstanding playmakers have orchestrated the best two offences in the league this season with the Pirates averaging 97 points per game and the Saints 92. Both men lead their teams in scoring and assists.

"Jason's a great player and he's been a great player since he's come into this league. He's fun to go up against, I especially like going up against the good imports as a Kiwi. That's something I pride myself on, I like to go out there and test them as much as they like to test all the locals. So it's going to be fun and he's playing with a very good team.

"That's always a lot more fun to play against as opposed to a team that you might go and blow out.

"I'd much rather have a real entertaining game that's fun for the people involved and the fans."

How They Line Up

What: National Basketball League, week 12

Where: TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

When: 7pm tonight

TAB: Saints $1.65, Auckland $2.15

Saints: Jason Crowe, Troy McLean, Ernest Scott, Arthur Trousdell, Casey Frank, Jeremy Kench, Damien Ekenasio, Jordan Mills, Martin Iti, Ross Taurima Auckland: Lindsay Tait, Hayden Allen, Ron Dorsey, Ismail Muhammad, Alex Pledger, Brook Ruscoe, Dillon Boucher, Houston O'Riley, Daryl Cartwright, Nick Barrow

The Dominion Post