Giants relying on run home to rescue season
The current national basketball league season might be memorable for being fairly forgettable.
It started too soon, will end too soon and, due to a massive overlap with the Australian season, was stripped of its star power.
Crowd numbers, even in basketball strongholds such as Nelson, have taken a battering while television showed no interest in screening a diluted product up against the high drama of the New Zealand Breakers' title defence.
If it were a kitten, this edition of the NBL would be put in a cardboard box and abandoned at the SPCA gates.
And yet Fico Finance Nelson Giants captain Phill Jones wants the current campaign to continue.
"We're finally drawing all the threads together and it's almost over," he said. "It's going to be a long winter at this rate."
The Giants play what might be the second-last weekend of their season when they host Wellington at 7pm on Saturday and Manawatu in a 4pm Sunday match rescheduled from earlier in the season.
They are coming off their best performance – a strong win over league leaders Hawke's Bay – and will have their full squad together for training and their last three games. It's an unfortunate and untimely twist that, if results don't run their way, Nelson's season could end next weekend.
"Some teams benefited from the way this season was scheduled, we were one of the teams who didn't," Jones said.
"We waited on Mike H [Harrison, who was in Cyprus], and JB [Josh Bloxham, who was in and out as the Breakers allowed] and finally we will get Mika [Vukona] in town for a couple of training sessions and our last three games.
"The disruptions aren't excuses but they are real. You take players of that calibre out of any team and they'll struggle to win games consistently."
Wins are what the Giants need. Auckland and Hawke's Bay are already in the final four in a fortnight's time. Manawatu, Taranaki, Wellington and Nelson are sniffing around but need to win on the run home as their nearest opponents stumble once or twice.
A playoff series without the Giants is a rare event – it has not happened in the past eight seasons – and Jones is determined his team will be in Wellington for the semifinals and finals at the end of the month.
"Friday's game [the win over the Hawks] showed us how good we can be when we accept that we aren't going to win without putting in the effort.
"If we sit back, we generally have got ourselves in trouble but that one win was an example of everyone leaving it on the court and the results coming off that effort."
The Giants' first game against Wellington's Saints came in the midst of Nelson's mid-season slump. They were consistently beaten by the Saints' transition game with Casey Frank and Arthur Trousdell getting a swag of dunks as they beat Nelson defenders to the spot. But the Giants still managed to make a match of it after conceding a huge lead, before running out of legs late in the game.
Wellington have endured their own drop in form and Saturday's game will see two hungry sides going at it.
"Pero [Cameron, Wellington's coach] will have lit the fire under them, they got a good win against the Bay and they need wins as badly as we do," Jones said.
The compressed league schedule means Saints will have played last night (an 81-64 win over Harbour) and tomorrow before travelling here on Saturday, while the Manawatu team will pop in on their way home from a game in Invercargill. They should have faced Nelson back at the start of the season but couldn't fly due to high winds in the lower North Island.
Their squad has a lopsided look about it with Josh Pace, Marcel Jones, recent returnee Chris Hagan and forward Dustin Mitchell all playing in the two import slots at various times, while Nick Horvath is pure Minnesota beef but has obtained NZ residency. Jeremiah Trueman and Zane Meehl are the best of the domestic Jets.
Nelson scored a good win over the Manawatu team in Palmerston North, with Bronson Beri leading the way until he suffered an horrendous knee injury in the third quarter. The key is to limit Pace and do the best job possible against the powerful Horvath.
"It's a great time to be playing because every game has so much riding on it for every team," Jones said.
"You know that whatever we are planning, something similar is going on for the Saints and the Jets.
"That's why we want this season to go on longer and why the playoffs mean so much, because we really feel like we can do some damage now, if we get there."
The Nelson Mail