'Hoops Highlights': NBL top-four taking shape
In the opening game of the round, the Wellington Saints had the chance to get one step closer to sharing the top spot with the Otago Nuggets as they took on the Hawke's Bay Hawks in Wellington.
The Saints lead by seven at halftime (47-40), but after a third quarter charge lead by Brian Greene and Paora Winitana, the undermanned Hawks levelled the scores at 64-all entering the fourth.
Import forward Darko Cohaderovic fouled out in the fourth with the Hawks trailing by six with five with five minutes remaining, and all hopes of a late comeback were extinguished.
The Saints bigs we dominant - Rick Rickert had 17 points and 14 rebounds in just 18 minutes while fellow import Bryant Markson added 19 points and 7 rebounds as the Saints scored their fifth consecutive victory, 92-80.
On Friday, the Waikato Pistons were in search of a second consecutive win against the SuperCity Rangers but a game that was very winnable for the Pistons got ugly fairly quickly.
The visitors took raced out to a 26-14 first quarter lead and with Garrius Holloman making just one of his first eleven shot attempts, the Pistons trailed by 14 at halftime with Rangers captain Houston O'Reilly making three of his five attempts from downtown.
Halfway through the third quarter, the struggling Holloman suddenly transformed into a basketball god and hit eight shots in a row to spark a comeback and bring the game within one point with five minutes left in the final quarter.
But the Pistons' and Holloman's amazing run came to an abrupt end, giving the Rangers their second win of the season and leaving the Pistons poised for the wooden spoon, despite another double-double from centre Zack Atkinson (14 points, 18 rebounds).
The Nuggets won their third straight, capitalising on a hot start to beat the Manawatu Jets. Otago Nuggets led 41-20 at the end of the first quarter and by 22 at the half before easing up late.
Their big three of Beny Anthony, Akeem Wright and Antoine Tisby proved too much for the Jet, despite strong offensive performances Chris Hagan, Marcel Jones and Nick Horvath, who scored 28, 27 and 21 respectively. The victors shot 61% from the field, including 13/23 from deep.
However, the Nelson Giants upset the Nuggets the following day to bolster their playoff standing.
The match was only separated by two points at halftime after another shining effort from Anthony, but the Giants always had an answer from either Josh Pace, Erron Maxey or Mika Vukona, with that trio combining for 60 points in an 87-82 win.
The Jets rebounded the next day against a woeful offensive display from the Hawks, who shot just 35%. Horvath continued his potential MVP form for the Jets, recording 23 points and 16 rebounds with 3 blocks. The Hawks had just 10 assists for the game, amazingly all belonging to Jarrod Kenny.
The big movers from round nine were the Southland Sharks, who won both matches on their two-game 2 road trip, extending their winning streak to four and helping solidify their place in the final four.
In their opener, the Sharks pulled away late from the Taranaki Mountain Airs with impressive import Brian Conklin, who converted 10 of his 15 shots while making 7 of 10 free throws to finish with 27 points.
The Airs were led by import Kenny Gabriel, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while veteran forward Link Abrams had another nice outing with a 20 points and nine boards.
Conklin and his team-mates maintained their momentum the next day against the Rangers, registering 25 points and 15 rebounds in an 82-69 win in which the Sharks and Rangers shot just 39% and 32% from the field respectively.
Player of the Week:
No surprises then that is week's prize goes to Conklin, who continues to make a strong case for the MVP award and is also playing a huge role in carrying the Sharks to a spot in the final four.
Veteran Hawks swingman Paora Winitana is this week's bricklayer, despite what seemed like a respectable 9/22 for 20 points against the Saints. That's until you see that he shot 1/9 from three-point range, then continued his shooting woes against the Jets, connecting on just four of his fifteen attempts from the field.
A rough week for a player who was named to the All-NBL first team last year and will be looking to prove a point this week against the Pistons.
ROUND TEN (Predicted winners in CAPS):
Friday June 21
Sharks vs NUGGETS, Southland Stadium, 7pm
Pistons vs HAWKS, Hamilton Boys' High School, 6pm
SAINTS vs Rangers, TSB Stadium, 7pm
Saturday June 22
Hawks vs MOUNTAIN AIRS, Pettigrew Green Arena, 7pm
GIANTS vs Rangers, Trafalgar Centre, 7pm
Sunday June 23
JETS vs Pistons, Arena Manawatu, 3pm