Southland Sharks into NBL Final Four playoffs
The Southland Sharks' 2014 National Basketball League playoffs spot has been confirmed.
With two games to play in the round-robin series, the Sharks' place in the semifinals has been locked in after the Canterbury Rams upset the Otago Nuggets yesterday in an overtime victory in Christchurch.
The Canterbury win pushed Otago out of contention and has eased the pressure on the Sharks in their two road games against Nelson and Canterbury this weekend.
It is second straight year the Sharks have headed to the playoffs under coach Paul Henare.
Henare was delighted his team was able to bank another playoffs spot this year despite the many obstacles in their way.
He has lost four frontline players from the start of the season, with Reuben Te Rangi, Leon Henry and Shea Ili all suspended following an assault charge in New Plymouth on May 25 while Gareth Dawson was stood down because of a positive test to a banned drug.
"Obviously, with everything that has gone on this season and to now be two wins away from another possible title, I'm very happy and proud of the guys as well," Henare said yesterday.
"It's credit to the guys who have been through everything and have played on and stepped up their games, stepped up their minutes and played through injuries and all those sorts of things. I've got to take my hat of to Luke [Martin], KB [Kevin Braswell] and Brian [Conklin] especially, with the way that they have conducted themselves over the last few weeks."
Henare said it was a massive effort to make the semifinals but stressed it wasn't job done for the Sharks in 2014.
"It is great reward getting to the final four but our focus now is trying to win another championship," he said.
With this weekend's games now not having a lot riding on them in terms of semifinal qualification, Henare has some freedom as to how he approaches the fixtures.
He said it was unlikely he would rest players completely but conceded he may look at reducing some of the minutes for certain players who had carried a big workload lately.
One of those players is Conklin, who has played through an ankle injury in recent weeks.
"You never want to sit a guy out and totally lose match fitness and match form. [Brian] did seem to bounce back pretty well this week with the ankle, he got a training under his belt and got some of the explosiveness back against Canterbury in the game. It's definitely something we will look into if time off and reduced minutes will help but, if it's not going to help, we'll carry on with business as usual."
Last season the Sharks went into the final round-robin weekend in the same situation and dropped both games before going on to win the title with a semifinal and final win.
"The luxury we have now is we can have our eye totally focused on [the semifinal] in Wellington. We still have two games where we'll try to compete and win to carry on some form but, from a results point of view, they don't matter. We can just focus on getting everything right."
The 2014 semifinalists will be the Bay Hawks, Wellington Saints, Nelson Giants and Southland, with just who will play whom to be determined next week.
- The Southland Times