United’s destiny is in their own hands. They can leapfrog South East Melbourne on percentage — if, on Sunday afternoon, they can somehow hammer Adelaide 36ers by about 40 points.
The Sixers are unlikely to wave the white flag, given they are still a mathematical chance to make it, so the more-plausible scenario that puts United in the play-in is a win over Adelaide and a Perth loss against Sydney later Sunday. The Wildcats shot blanks in a Friday night 84-71 defeat to Cairns that dropped them out of the top six and put United in — by just .04 per cent, or a solitary free throw.
Coach Dean Vickerman is keen to do what it takes to take the Kings-Wildcats game out of the equation, but now faces a dilemma — push for the big margin and potentially leave his team exposed or just try to bank the win and then pray for a Perth loss.
“The only result that gets us in right now is to win by 40,” Vickerman said.
“Certainly, there’s been chatter about that one. How do you do that?”
Vickerman hopes his squad can find inspiration in other remarkable results, specifically the 2020 clash where the Bullets had to win by 34 to keep their finals hopes alive.
“We saw they game Brisbane v Cairns a couple years ago where (then Bullets coach) Andrej (Lemanis) went all out to try win that game (they won by 36). We’ve shown some clips of that game.
“We look at Boston playing the Nets (Thursday) where they put up 46 in the first quarter and were up by 30 at the quarter (and won by 43).
“We’re just looking at … if we need that result to go ahead and try to make the finals, we’re prepared for it.”
The Sixers have kept their dream alive with back-to-back wins and now need a 20+ point win over United, coupled with a 20+ point loss by Perth to steal a play-in berth.
“There’s a super-aggressive mindset that’s required to get the number of possessions and to shoot the basketball willingly and supporting it with rebounding,” Vickerman said.
“Part of it is where our defence (will be) really trying to force bad shots. We’re actually going to give you (Adelaide) some early ones and dare you to shoot some of those to try to increase the pace.
“We’ve changed our structure defensively to have more aggression in a lot of different areas so it’s been fun.”
United will have to do it again without Kiwi talisman Shea Ili and David Barlow, both out with concussion.
Ili’s absence presents an opportunity for versatile bucket-getter Xavier Rathan-Mayes to go deep in his bag of scoring tricks, while the faster pace will suit import Rayjon Tucker, who is one of the best athletes — especially in transition — ever to play in the league. Expect shooting star Chris Goulding’s three-point attempts to be in double-digits as United chase a cricket score.
Win or lose, John Cain Arena has been sold out for the club’s first home game in 44 days and Vickerman says his players will pay tribute to those fans before they turn their attention to the other game.
“Someone asked me ‘will we get together and watch the game’ and I was like ‘nah, we’ll let that one play out’,” Vickerman said.
“We’ll do what we normally do after the game, we’ll thank our fans, we’ll get to the functions, we’ll do everything that we need to do to make sure that our fans feel appreciated.
“They’ve been great all year.”
ROWDY QUASHES RETIREMENT RUMOUR, BUT WILL HE BE FIT FOR ‘NIX FINAL?
South East Melbourne star Ryan Broekhoff has quashed speculation he was planning to retire at season’s end.
And the gun forward says he is a big chance to suit up for the Phoenix in next week’s play-in game as he races the clock to recover from the January 22 adductor injury he suffered against Perth.
There was some suggestion in basketball circles this week the 32-year-old, who is out of contract at season’s end, might have been considering retirement, given his new off-court interest in a Hoops City franchise with fellow former Boomer David Andersen and wife Katie expecting baby No.2.
“I’ve got no plans to retire,” Broekhoff confirmed to New Corp.
“I do have something going on with Dave Andersen with a Hoops City franchise, but no, I don’t know where this rumour has come from.
“I’m focusing on getting back and finishing the season right now and maybe it’s just because I’m out of contract at the end of the season.
“That might be just what has sparked it all.”
Broekhoff said he’d held preliminary talks with the club about staying on for NBL24 but that was secondary to reaching full fitness for next week’s sudden-death eliminator.
“Both sides were just like ‘let’s go through the season and see how everything goes’ and I’m sure once finals are done and dusted we’ll approach that (his contract),” Broekhoff said.
“That’s the last thing the club or myself want to be focusing on. It’s more ‘let’s worry about getting back on the court, let’s get healthy, let’s help the team’.
“I’m starting to do some running and some different things on the court away from the team and the recovery’s been going pretty well so I’m optimistic and hopeful.”
The 32-year-old is a hugely-popular figure in Melbourne’s south east Heartland but has struggled to consistently stay on the court in his three seasons with the Phoenix.
South East Melbourne boss Tommy Greer said the club was confident of re-signing the former Dallas Maverick in the off-season.
“We absolutely want him back next year and we’re confident of getting something done but we’ll start that conversation at the end of the season,” Greer told News Corp.
“We love him and we feel like he’s been a huge part of our club for the past three years and we want to keep building with him.”
The Phoenix face a weekend of uncertainty as they await the results of Sunday’s Melbourne United and Perth games, which will determine who they will face in next week’s play-in, set to be on either Wednesday or Thursday.
Originally published as NBL news 2023: Latest news and happening in the Australian league ahead of the final round of the season