NBL’s biggest talking points ahead of round 20, with Matt Logue.
HAWKS: WE’RE NOT SYDNEY’S “LITTLE BROTHER”
Brian Goorjian’s Illawarra Hawks are happy for their arch rivals Sydney Kings to be championship favourites for now, but the Hawks want to prove they are no longer “little brother” when they host the high-flying Kings on Thursday night.
The Kings are charging on the back of 12 straight wins, prompting experts to hand the boys from the Harbour City title favouritism.
The Hawks are also performing strongly on the back of six consecutive wins, including two victories over defending champions United in Melbourne.
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The Kings and the Hawks have been at each other all season, starting in the off-season when Sydney co-owner and president Paul Smith labelled Illawarra “scumbags” and “idiots”.
Hawks coach and Sydney’s most successful mentor Goorjian hit back at his former team, declaring: “We’re under their skin”.
The Kings then accused Illawarra of spying on one of their training sessions during the pre-season – a claim strongly denied by the Hawks.
Illawarra co-owner and president Dorry Kordahi slammed the Kings’ spying accusations at the time, saying: “Sydney are jealous, they’re insecure and I’m going to stay classy. I’ll let the pigs roll in the mud.”
The Hawks have beaten the Kings twice this season heading into Thursday’s blockbuster.
Kordahi was co-owner at Sydney in 2007/2008 when the Kings went 27-3 in the regular season – the best record in franchise history.
He is now a Hawk and says his side is ready to show the in-form Kings their best punch.
“It is always good to beat your old club,” Kordahi said.
“For us, right now the Hawks is a club that we are focusing on.
“We’re excited about what we are doing south of Sydney and for us it is all about taking to the big brother as they say. They always call us the little sibling of the NSW rivalry, but this is our chance to prove we also deserve big brother status.
“We finished third last year and one win from a grand final and that set a high benchmark about who we want to be.
“Also, having Brian (Goorjian) there as coach makes a massive difference and this year will be two years in a row that the Hawks have made the playoffs, which is a massive turnaround for the program and what it is striving to do.”
Kordahi is happy for experts to label the Kings the team to beat following their impressive winning streak.
“We like being the underdogs,” he said.
“That is something that Brian has always pushed.
“We’re happy to give the Kings that title at the moment, but Thursday night will be a true test of where the favourites are going to sit.
“I’m more excited for this Kings game then when we beat United twice.”
Thursday’s blockbuster will go a long way to deciding the final ladder heading into the playoffs.
The Kings are in second spot, one loss ahead of the third-placed Hawks, so Kordahi understands the importance of a win over their rivals.
“This game could decide the second or third spot and we want home court advantage,” he said. “We’ve had a good trot and won six in a row. We’ve beaten United twice, but for us playing the Kings twice and Perth down the home stretch is going to really test where we are.
“The players are very fired up and excited for this clash. Both sides will be keen to see who has the upper hand heading into the playoffs.”
Star Kings guard Jaylen Adams can’t wait to take on the Hawks after missing the two previous clashes due to injury.
“It’s going to be a special game,” Adams said. “I don’t think we caught them when we were healthy, and I don’t think they’re the same team [we played previously].
“They are playing really good basketball and they may be just as hot as us. It’s going to be real good fun.”
GOVERNMENT OPEN TO CANBERRA TEAM TALK
Talk of a Canberra team in the NBL continues to build momentum, with government officials set to meet key stakeholders about the possible return of a team in the nation’s capital.
League boss Larry Kestelman sparked discussion this week when he declared: “What we have done in Tasmania could be a blueprint for Canberra. There have been meetings, but we need the federal government to deal with the (territory) government on it. Canberra could be Hobart 2.0.”
The NBL is looking to strike a deal for further AIS Arena upgrades while I’m told well-placed basketball officials will meet the government to discuss the possibility of a Canberra team rejoining the league.
Canberra hasn’t had an NBL team since the Cannons folded after the 2002/2003 season, but this could change.
The nation’s capital already has the globally respected AIS and the NBA Global Academy, which has produced rising Aussie stars Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels.
Canberra has the pathways and the history – now it needs to be a sustainable business venture to receive the green light.
Watch this space.
ILI THE MAN
In a year when NBA and Boomers guard Matthew Dellavedova has returned to the NBL with Melbourne United, it’s a fair effort for Shea Ili to be widely praised for his defence.
Dellavedova has made his name on the back of dogged defence throughout his illustrious career, which makes it even more special when Ili produces a defensive masterclass season.
Of course, Delly deserves credit for helping Shea take his game to another level with tips and competitive play at training. Regardless, Ili is seriously in the conversation for defensive player of the year, which combined with Dellavedova is a major reason why United can defend their championship this season.
DIENG ATTRACTING NBA EYEBALLS
New Zealand Breakers Next Star Ousmane Dieng is attracting the attention of NBA fans and experts alike following his standout form.
Dieng, a 6’9 French-born wing, has scored in double-figures in five of his past six games, including a breakout 22 point, six assist and six rebound performance against the South East Melbourne Phoenix.
The 18-year-old’s form hasn’t gone unnoticed in America, with one Toronto Raptors reporter writing this positive feedback ahead of June’s draft.
“Dieng has a rare combination of athleticism, ball-handling, and scoring ability at his size that would surely get a team to take a swing on him.
“The Raptors are currently set to pick at No. 33 by virtue of owning the Pistons’ second-round pick, putting them in range to take a chance on Dieng.”
The Sydney Kings will play their 1000th NBL game against arch rivals Illawarra Hawks on Thursday night
NBL ROUND 20 DRAW
Thursday, April 14
Illawarra Hawks vs Sydney Kings — 7.30pm (AEDT) at WIN Entertainment Centre and Live on ESPN and Kayo.
Perth Wildcats vs Adelaide 36ers — 9.30pm (AEDT) at RAC Arena.
Friday, April 15
New Zealand Breakers vs Tasmania JackJumpers — 7.30pm (AEDT) at MyState Bank Arena and Live on ESPN and Kayo.
Saturday, April 16
Melbourne United vs Brisbane Bullets — 5.30pm (AEDT) at John Cain Arena and Live on ESPN and Kayo.
Perth Wildcats vs Cairns Taipans — 8pm (AEDT) at RAC Arena and Live on ESPN and Kayo.
Sunday, April 17
South East Melbourne Phoenix vs Tasmania JackJumpers — 1pm (AEDT) at John Cain Arena and Live on ESPN, 10Peach and Kayo.
Sydney Kings vs Adelaide 36ers — 3pm (AEDT) at Qudos Bank Arena and Live on ESPN, 10Peach and Kayo.
Monday, April 18
Melbourne United vs Cairns Taipans — 7.30pm (AEDT) at John Cain Arena and Live on ESPN and Kayo.