They are assured of their playoffs spot, and are playing the bottom-of-the-table side, but the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic have motivation to be ruthless against the Northern Mystics tonight.
The teams square off in the last round of the ANZ Championship's regular season at ASB Arena in Mt Maunganui and the hosts need a convincing win to earn home advantage for the minor semifinal after the Adelaide Thunderbirds yesterday beat the Queensland Firebirds 54-52 and the Melbourne Vixens hammered the West Coast Fever 69-39. The Thunderbirds were already guaranteed top spot and if the Magic win tonight, they will finish equal on points with the Vixens and Firebirds, and goal percentage will be used to split them.
The Magic can swap places with the Firebirds and jump into third if they win by about 25 goals or more tonight, with the margin of victory required varying slightly, depending on how high scoring the game is.
Second place is now out of the question for the Magic, with something like a 50-goal margin needed, so the Thunderbirds will host the Vixens in the 1 v 2 major semifinal.
The Magic will meet the Firebirds in the 3 v 4 sudden-death match but they will be eager to gain home advantage for it, otherwise to defend their title they would have to play three playoff matches across the ditch.
It is ironic that the Magic go into tonight needing to do plenty, as when they met the Mystics a fortnight ago they should have downed them by far more.
"The game that we had against Mystics was probably the worst game that we had, even though we beat them by 10," Magic coach Noeline Taurua said. "And I think probably in the whole season it was. Because even though we lost to [West Coast] Fever and also to Adelaide Thunderbirds, we were fighting, and some of the structure that we put out there was very good as well, whereas I thought we lost our way very fast against Mystics."
Taurua said her players were not as switched on as they needed to be for that game and that post match the team had felt "quite uncomfortable".
But after putting on a good display against the Vixens, the Magic's confidence should be high. They have worked on becoming less clumped on attack and have looked at their centre pass defence to try for more ball off the set play.
Although they are chasing a big win, Taurua said the game plan would not change and they could not focus too much ahead of each pass.
Unlike the Mystics, who have been ravaged by injury, there are no niggles in the Magic camp, which Taurua puts down to a bigger emphasis on recovery.
"Whether it be the [longer] ice baths or longer period of time [about nine or 10 minutes] warming down and stretching and putting a clear process on that.
"And when I look at our players, that's one of the things that has really stood out, the bodies are fantastic.
"That's something a bit different from the previous year. That's one of the things we pride ourselves on in Magic.
"Some injuries you're going to have, but some of them are preventable and it really comes down to what you do post-training and post-game, or don't do."
Mystics coach Ruth Aitken, meanwhile, has had to watch a procession of players become unavailable. "We think that there must be a curse in our defence circle really," she said. This is the last game for the former Silver Ferns boss before she takes up a national coaching role in Singapore.
While it had been a woeful season, she said, it had gone quickly and she admired the gutsiness shown by her players. "I've been really heartened by the approach that the players have taken to this adversity. In the last few weeks, especially, it would have been pretty easy for them to have decided that the season was all but done."
- © Fairfax NZ News