Cigna Saints (15-3) v Taylor Hawks (12-6) When: Saturday, 4th August, 5pm Where: TSB Bank Arena, Wellington Referees: Dallas Pickering, Ryan Jones, Yalla Edwards
The two time defending champion Wellington Saints created history by being the first NBL team to go through the whole season unbeaten. But they face a Taylor Hawks side with tons of experience with the likes of Jarrod Kenny and Everard Bartlett who have played a combined 433 NBL games which included the last time the Hawks made the playoffs which was 2014 when they lost to the Saints in the Grand final.
The Hawks have come a long way from only two seasons ago when they finished with a franchise worse 0-18. This off season they made all the right moves signing experienced NBL players Dion Prewster and Ethan Rusbatch who are notable three point shooters and have playoff experience, Prewster in particular was a member of three Saints teams that have won the title.
Most notably the Hawks recruited former long time Saints assistant, Zico Coronel, to become the Head Coach. Coronel won four titles in his tenure with the franchise which included two under Kevin Braswell.
Braswell has etched himself as arguably the best coach in Saints franchise history winning two titles with a record of 50 wins and only eight losses at a winning percentage of 86.2%.
This will arguably be the toughest playoffs yet for Braswell whose side is quite different from last years unbeaten squad with no Corey Webster and Tai Wesley. They have been replaced with former Georgetown Hoya, LJ Peak and Brisbane Bullet guard Shaun Bruce.
Tall Blacks point guard, Shea Ili, has certainly carried the load averaging 22.2 points and 6.1 assists per game. Last year’s fi-nals MVP should have a tough battle against Tall Black team mate Jarrod Kenny.
Both teams have recruited Australian centres, the Hawks signing current Australian Boomer, Angus Brandt, who leads the team in points at 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. The Saints centre is Ma-jok Majok who is third in the league in rebounds at 10.6 a game.
Saints do have returning players Leon Henry and Jordan Ngatai from last years title winning team. Henry has won five NBL titles, four with the Saints.
PLAYOFF HISTORY Titles: Saints 10, Hawks 1 Playoff Appearance: Saints 29th, Hawks 16th Playoff Record: Saints 31-22 , Hawks 16-19
LEADERS Points: Saints Shea Ili (22.2), Hawks Angus Brandt (15.2) Rebounds: Saints Majok Majok (10.6), Hawks Angus Brandt (8.6) Assists: Saints Shea Ili (6.1), Hawks Jarrod Kenny (5.7) Steals: Saints Shea Ili (1.7), Hawks Jarrod Kenny (1.2) Blocks: Saints Majok Majok (0.8), Hawks Jamie Skeen (0.5)
TEAM STATS Points: Saints 94.2 (3rd), Hawks 88.9 (6th) Points Allowed: Saints 85.6 (2nd), Hawks 83.0 (1st) FG%: Saints 48.3 (2nd), Hawks 47.6 (4th) Opp FG%: Saints 45.9 (4th), Hawks 43.2 (1st) 3pt%: Saints 45.9 (4th), Hawks 36.3 (2nd) Opp 3pt%: Saints 32.9 (5th), Hawks 32.0 (2nd) FT%: Saints 78.1 (1st), Hawks 71.7 (6th) Rebounds: Saints 41.8 (4th), Hawks 42.3 (3rd) Off Rebounds: Saints 11.8 (8th), Hawks 12.8 (3rd) Assists: Saints 17.3 (5th), Hawks 16.1 (7th) Steals: Saints 7.1 (4th), Hawks 4.8 (8th) Blocks: Saints 2.3 (5th), Hawks 1.9 (8th) Turnovers: Saints 10.6 (1st), Hawks 12.9 (5th) Forced T/O: Saints 12.2 (6th), Hawks 10.0 (8th)
HEAD TO HEAD @Saints Saints 93-85 @Saints Saints, 80-77 @Hawks Saints, 86-76
Mike Pero Nelson Giants (14-4) v SIT Zerofees Sharks (13-5) When: Saturday, 4th August, 7pm Where: TSB Bank Arena, Wellington Referees: Melony Wealleans, Marty Davison, Gavin Zimmerman
The Giants return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, and finished the regular season with a winning percentage of 72.2% which is the best for the franchise since 1998 when they went 19-1, eventually winning the title.
Nelson has recruited former Cairns Taipans assistant coach, Jamie Pearlman, who has helped turnaround a club that finished with their second worst finish in franchise history last season with a 4-12 record.
Giants retained Australian point guard, Kyle Adam from last sea-son and he is averaging 19.4 points per game. Adnam has teamed up with fellow Australian, Damon Heuir, in the backcourt and he has been impressive in his first NBL season averaging 19.2 points per game.
Arguably Nelson’s biggest recruit in the off season is Tall Black veteran Mika Vukona who has returned to his home franchise where he began his career in 2000. Vukona has won multiple titles in the Australian NBL and will be looking to win his second NBL title with the Giants, winning one in 2007.
The Southland Sharks franchise started only in 2010 and have quickly been one of the most dominant teams in the NBL with two titles and three grand final appearances during that span.
This is the third season under coach Judd Flavell who has im-proved each season taking the side to the semi-finals in 2016 and then the final in 2017. The Sharks have had success in Wellington, winning the title in 2015. Personally, Flavell has also had success, leading the Auckland Pirates to the title in Wellington back in 2012.
The Sharks have retained most of their NZ core from last season with Reuben Te Rangi, Alex Pledger, Luke Aston, Derone Raukawa and James Hunter returning.
It is a new import core of Australian Jarrad Weeks, Canadian Conor Morgan, and American Orlando Coleman. All three are the top scorers for the Sharks.
Point guard, Weeks, has averaged 17.1 points per game and is third in the league in steals (2.1) and fourth in assists (5.8).
Coleman has been one of the best forwards in the competition averaging 17.8 points and and 9.7 rebounds. Coleman will face Tall Black forward Finn Delany who has had a great season averaging 19.4 points and 7.9 rebounds.
PLAYOFF HISTORY Titles: Giants 3, Sharks 2 Playoff Appearance: Giants 23rd, Sharks 8th Playoff Record: Giants 24-23, Sharks 4-5
LEADERS Points: Giants Finn Delany (19.4), Sharks Orlando Coleman (17.8) Rebounds: Giants Finn Delany (7.9), Sharks Orlando Coleman (9.7) Assists: Giants Kyle Adnam (5.8), Sharks Jarrad Weeks (5.8) Steals: Giants Kyle Adnam (2.1), Sharks Jarrad Weeks (2.1) Blocks: Giants Tohi Smith-Milner (0.6), Sharks Alex Pledger (0.9)
TEAM STATS Points: Giants 95.1 (2nd), Sharks 101.4 (1st) Points Allowed: Giants 85.7 (3rd), Sharks 90.7 (4th) FG%: Giants 47.4 (5th), Sharks 48.9 (1st) Opp FG%: Giants 45.4 (3rd), Sharks 44.8 (2nd) 3pt%: Giants 36.2 (3rd), Sharks 36.6 (1st) Opp 3pt%: Giants 30.9 (1st), Sharks 32.2 (3rd) FT%: Giants 77.9 (2nd), Sharks 75.0 (4th) Rebounds: Giants 42.5 (2nd), Sharks 45.8 (1st) Off Rebounds: Giants 15.4 (1st), Sharks 15.0 (2nd) Assists: Giants 18.9 (3rd), Sharks 19.5 (2nd) Steals: Giants 7.5 (3rd), Sharks 6.0 (7th) Blocks: Giants 2.0 (7th), Sharks 2.7 (3rd) Turnovers: Giants 13.6 (7th), Sharks 11.8 (3rd) Forced T/O: Giants 13.5 (2nd), Sharks 12.6 (3rd)
HEAD TO HEAD @Giants Giants 103-100 @Giants Sharks 103-95 @Sharks Giants 103-87