If Bullets fans could do one thing for coach Andrej Lemanis this week it might be to give him an open line to the psyche of Illawarra Hawks coach Rob Beveridge.
Why? Because it might help Lemanis unlock the key to containing Adelaide 36ers scoring machine Jerome Randle in Sunday’s crunch game at Titanium Security Arena in Adelaide.
Randle, who led the NBL in scoring last season at 23.0 points per game and was named in the League’s All Star First Team, has taken things to an even higher level this year, posting consecutive hauls of 30-20-34-23-20-40 points after a relatively quiet 13 points to open the season.
His career-high 40 against Perth in Round 5 is the highest score in the League this year, while his 34 is the second-highest and came against the Bullets in Brisbane in Round 2, when Adelaide came from 11 points down midway through the final quarter to win in overtime 96-93.
After seven games Randle was averaging 25.71 points. He was shooting at 56.4%, including 30.6% at the three-point line, and was 38-39 (97.4%) at the foul line. Plus, he was averaging 5.4 assists per game – second highest in the League.
But against the Hawks in Adelaide last Saturday it all turned a little pear shaped for the electrifyingly quick 29-year-old from Chicago. He had a season-low 11 points in his side’s 11-point loss, shooting 5-17 (29%), including 0-7 on triples and 1-2 at the line, and had only two assists and a season-high four turnovers.
It started normally enough for one of the leading early contenders for League MVP honors. He made his first two shots and had four of the 36ers’ first six points.
But after he missed just his second free-throw for the season mid-way through the first term it was almost as if somebody had put gladwrap over the hoop. He missed 12 of his last 14 shots as the home side turned a 42-26 lead into a 74-85 loss.
It might be as simple as an off night. It happens. Even to the best of them.
Or it might be that the Hawks did something a little special defensively to unsettle Randle and get the win despite the fact the 36ers pulled down an NBL record 29 offensive rebounds, including a record 20 offensive boards in the first half.
Certainly, Illawarra’s relentless zone defence in the second half impacted significantly on Randle, who is arguably the best one-on-one player in the League.
He found it much harder when, having beaten his direct opponent, he was confronted by a second and even a third opponent guarding space between him and the basket.
Whatever, the ever-astute Lemanis will be all over it. And if it’s not the done thing for one coach to trade secrets with another no doubt Lemanis will have spent plenty of time studying video tape of the Adelaide-Illawarra game hoping to plot a repeat Randle performance.
It is a crunch game for the Bullets. Coming off an outstanding Round 6 in which they beat the League-leading Sydney Kings at home before getting the better of the Cairns Taipans in Cairns, they have a chance to stretch their win/loss record to 6-4.
In a competition as tight as this, whereby an overall success rate of anything above 50% might be good enough for a play-off berth, a “plus two” in the win v loss column is gold.
Similarly, another win on the road would be like double points.
Adelaide coach Joey Wright, who led the Bullets to the 2006-07 championship, says he already knows what to expect from the Brisbane defence this week after they capitulated against the Hawks. Zone, zone and more zone.
In his post-match media conference last week Wright said: “We’re going to see a lot more zone. You can count on that. We hadn’t seen a lot of zone, and rightly so — we’ve been shooting fairly well.
“They (Illawarra) did a good job of taking us out of our offensive game-plan from the middle of that second quarter onward. We just didn’t make the mental adjustment,” Wright lamented. We fell into it. We just never (consistently) attacked it.”
Very quickly Wright had diagnosed the answer. “When we attacked it, we got something good out of it. We called a couple of time-outs and talked about penetrating and getting to the hole.
“With young players, especially young players, if you penetrate on the zone, you’re not the one shooting. You’re not getting the shot.
“A lot of times that’s why they don’t penetrate cause automatically they’re not getting the shot because that means two people will double them and we’ve got to kick-kick.
“We’ve just got to be unselfish to the point where we can feel like that other guy’s going to get me a shot and I can get him a shot.”
The Sixers, seventh on the ladder with a 3-5 record, are on a three-game losing streak after losses to fifth-placed Illawarra (home), second-placed Perth Wildcats (away) and third-placed New Zealand Breakers (away).
Missing injured captain Mitch Creek, who has been sidelined since Round 2, they are likely to regain power forward/centre Daniel Johnson from a hamstring problem.
But as much as Johnson will bolster the big man department it wasn’t inside that they struggled against the Hawks,.
After 29 points in his first seven games of the season 211cm Ipswich-born centre Matt Hodgson, a graduate of Ipswich Grammar School in his second season with the 36ers after a US college stint, had 18 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
Also, consistent import Eric Jacobsen, averaging 8.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, had 15 rebounds – the third-highest single-game tally behind the Bullets’ Torrey Craig (17) and Sydney Kings’ Greg Whittington (16).
The athletic Nathan Sobey, averaging 15.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists and a standout since being elevated to the starting line-up to replace Creek, had a rare ‘double double’ with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
There were reports in Adelaide earlier in the week that Randle was carrying an injury and may not even play against the Bullets, but coach Wright dismissed any such thoughts entirely, and said it was all about keeping him ‘fresh’.
“If we had a game (on Tuesday), he would have played. As for Saturday, he should be his normal self,” Wright said on Monday.
The Sixers have used eight different starters in eight games this season – Randle, Sobey, Creek, Jacobson, Johnson, Hodgson, Brendan Teys and Anthony Drmic.
Only the mercurial Randle and Teys, who averages 5.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, have started every game.
Last weekend Wright opened with Randle, Sobey, Jacobson, Hodgson and Teys, with Drmic (4.4ppg and 2.8rpg), NBA-bound teenage import Terrance Ferguson (6.7ppg and1.6rpg) and former Sudanese refugee Majok Deng (4.4ppg and 2.6rpg) coming off the bench.
Bullets pair Adam Gibson and Anthony Petrie will step onto the court in Adelaide in opposition colors for the first time since 2012, having played the last four years in the red, blue and yellow of the Sixers.