No favours in Final Four, says Saints coach Heal
Wellington Saints coach Shane Heal doesn’t give a hoot about the identity of his Final Four opponent.
With a place in the July 4 semifinals secure, tonight’s home game against the Taranaki Mountain Airs and Sunday’s away trip to the Waikato Pistons will merely help determine the playoff pecking order.
A win would ensure the Saints finish second or third and avoid a date with NBL leaders Hawke’s Bay, who boast an imposing 14-3 record.
The Saints (10-6) are equal second with the defending champion Southland Sharks while the other semifinalists are the 10-7 Nelson Giants.
Wellington’s TSB Bank Arena will host the July 4-5 televised tournament.
‘‘I don’t think there was any doubt we were going to be in the Final Four,’’ Heal said.
‘‘All three teams are very tough. While the ladder suggests Hawke’s Bay are better than the other three teams, I’m not sure that’s the case. We were worried about how we were playing going into the Final Four, rather than whether we were going to make it. We want to finish as high as we can. We certainly want to win at home and take winning form into the playoffs. If we could take a four-game winning streak into the Final Four we would be the hottest team going into the playoffs.’’
Heal suggested that bench players Dion Prewster, Damien Ekenasio, Jordan Ngatai, Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa and Jordan Mills were likely to see increased court-time against Taranaki and Waikato.
‘‘How we handle these last couple of games is going to be different in terms of desperation to win games but we certainly want to win. We’ve got four games in eight days so we would be silly to be loading up key guys going into the Final Four. We will be spreading the load around a little bit more.’’
The Saints had five players named on Wednesday for the Tall Blacks trials in Auckland on July 8-9: Ngatai, Mauriohooho-Le’afa, Lindsay Tait, Corey Webster and BJ Anthony.
Prewster can count himself a little bit unlucky not to get a look in for the 24-man squad, which will be whittled down to 16 for next month’s home series against Korea.
‘‘Dion’s had a solid year and he’s proved he’s one of the better defenders in the competition,’’ Heal said.
‘‘I don’t know who has made it ahead of him but he’s had a great year defensively."
AT A GLANCE
What: NBL, round 13
Where: TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
When: 7o’clock tonight
TAB: Saints $1.14, Taranaki $5
Saints: Lindsay Tait, Corey Webster, Brandon Bowman, BJ Anthony, Bryan Davis, Dion Prewster, Damien Ekenasio, Jordan Ngatai, Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa, Jordan Mills
Taranaki: Aled Jones, Dane Brooks, Brad Anderson, Aaron Bailey-Nowell, Suleiman Braimoh, Derek Albertsen, Willie Banks, Kaye McKee, Beauden Giddy, Quintin Bailey, Cameron Kissick, Daniel Cunningham
The Dominion Post