Two of basketball's high achievers will meet in round one of the 2014 National Basketball League following the release of the new season's draw.
Nelson's Fico Finance Giants and the Saints from Wellington each have a long and proud history in the NBL and their cross-strait rivalry has been a feature of the league for more than three decades.
They are drawn to play each other in Nelson on Saturday, April 5 in the Giants' season-opener, although Saints will already have a game on the board, having opened the new campaign on Wednesday April 2 at home against coach Tab Baldwin's Hawke's Bay club.
The return of a Canterbury team, after a three-season absence, means each side will have nine games at home and nine away, with the finals provisionally scheduled for early July.
The Giants have drawn their first two games at home, against Wellington and Canterbury, then face their first road double-header when they travel to Taranaki and a revamped Waitakere side in week three.
Four teams play on Easter Monday but the Giants get that day off, returning to their home floor to meet Manawatu on April 26.
The need to compress the season to allow time for international competition in mid-winter means most weeks see two games scheduled.
A nasty little stretch in April and May sees Nelson play eight times in a month between that first Taranaki-Waitakere double header to the dreaded southern swing in week 6, on the road to Otago (May 9) and NBL champions Southland the following evening. Southland won their first championship when they beat the Giants in the final this year and appear, at this early stage, to be the most likely team to chase the hosting rights for finals weekend in 2014.
A late run at home will see Nelson hosting, in order, Waikato under new coach Pero Cameron, Otago, Waitakere (with Dillon Boucher and Daryl Corletto) and Southland leading into the playoffs.
The game against the Sharks will be the final regular season home match, on Friday June 27.
The Giants have made a solid start as they assemble their side for next season, with Allstar Five player and the NBL's leading scorer, American swingman Josh Pace, the first to sign.
He was followed in quick succession by guards Phill Jones, Josh Bloxham, Brook Ruscoe and swing forward Sam Dempster.
Former Junior Tall Black Chris Duthie will join the squad as will big man Bronson Beri, who has been out for more than a season while he recovered from a knee reconstruction. Beri was having the best game of his career against Manawatu in 2012, when he tore both his ACL and MCL and had to sit out 2013.
Beri has worked to reshape his 2.04m frame and will need to provide some solid frontcourt minutes after the Giants opted not to re-sign centre Rory Fannon and forward Darryl Jones.
Finn Delany is expected to be in Nelson for another winter before pursuing scholarship options in the US while centre Angus Riley's future is unclear as he faces a choice between the Giants, Otago University and possibly a college career. Both will see ample court time in 2014.
The Giants are still considering forward options, with Mika Vukona unlikely to be able to play the full season, if at all. If there are no big Kiwis available, they will need to use their second import slot for a tall American or Australian player, at the regrettable cost of popular forward Erron Maxey.
Head coach Liam Flynn is due to leave his current post in Germany before Christmas and will be in Nelson in time to run an extended pre-season training programme, which will include Nelson's younger players and others on the fringe of cracking the Giants' squad for 2014.
The full Bartercard NBL draw for 2014 is online at basketball.org.nz or at giants.co.nz.
- The Nelson Mail