WEEK 17 of the Men’s SBL could hardly open with three more fascinating Friday night contests with the Perth Redbacks and Joondalup City Wolves fighting over top four spots, the South West Slammers out to topple the Willetton Tigers and the Stirling Senators looking to hold out the Lakeside Lightning.
Those three Friday night fixtures really set the scene for what could be a season-defining round of SBL action as the final month of the regular season gets underway.
The three Friday night games feature the Perth Redbacks hosting the Joondalup City Wolves, the South West Slammers taking on the Willetton Tigers and the Stirling Senators battling the Lakeside Lightning.
Then on Saturday, the Perry Lakes Hawks and Kalamunda Eastern Suns lock horns in Northam before the Geraldton Buccaneers host the Mandurah Magic, the East Perth Eagles play the Rockingham Flames and the Goldfields Giants tackle the Cockburn Cougars.
The action doesn’t let up on Sunday with two more terrific contests with the Perth Redbacks facing the Stirling Senators and the Lakeside Lightning playing the South West Slammers.
The Redbacks and Wolfpack both entered the 2017 Men’s SBL season deserving to expect to be championship contenders and little has changed with a month to go in the regular season as they prepare to lock horns at Belmont Oasis on Friday night.
Perth comes into the game on its home floor still in fourth position with a 12-8 record but having lost its past two matches against Perry Lakes and Cockburn. That sees the Redbacks three games back of the Wolves in third spot but more worrying just clinging to fourth spot.
The Wolfpack, meanwhile, bounced back from losing twice in three games to Geraldton and Perry Lakes to beat Goldfields and Lakeside last weekend.
That steadied the Wolves in third spot at 15-6 and a win on Friday night would all but lock up that spot and keep them an outside chance of breaking into the top two.
With the Redbacks needing to win to avoid dropping from the top four and the Wolves needing the win to remain clear in third, and with both looking to challenge seriously still for the championship, plenty is on the line at Belmont Oasis.
The Slammers are then back at Eaton Recreation Centre for their first home game on a Friday night for the season up against the league-leading Tigers.
The Slammers will be set to unveil a surprise return for the contest and for the rest of the regular season while all eyes will be on Tigers star Ray Turner to see how he pulled up from a heavy collision in the last seconds of Sunday’s nail-biting home win over the Buccs.
That win for the Tigers on Sunday saw them move a game clear on top spot with an 18-3 record and having the series split over the Buccs so the minor premiership is theirs to lose from here. But the Slammers’ form since the opening month of the seasons stacks up with anyone’s.
The Slammers have won 12 of 16 games since losing the opening four and they bounced back from a surprise home loss to Kalamunda beating Rockingham by 30 points last Saturday.
A win for the Tigers and they further consolidate top spot and a win for the Slammers and they close in on the top four. Not to mention given the form of both teams they could expect to meet at some point during the playoffs setting the stage for a cracking contest.
Their first meeting didn’t fail to deliver with the Tigers just holding on against the fast-finishing Slammers at Willetton to win by four points.
Slammers coach Charles Nix is looking forward to welcoming the Tigers on a Friday night.
“We are excited that we are playing the No. 1 team on our home floor on a Friday night. This is our first Friday home game so we are excited to see what sort of crowd it brings,” Nix said.
“We are just looking forward to testing ourselves against the best in the league and right now, they are the best in the league.”
Friday’s other game features a team trying to remain in the top eight and one looking to break in when the Senators host the Lightning at Warwick Stadium.
Stirling stopped a troubling losing run to have won three straight over the Flames, Eagles and Giants to now sit in seventh position at 11-9.
Lakeside has lost four of its last five to now be in 10th spot at 8-12 meaning it’s a virtual must-win game for them on Friday night.
The Lightning pulled off a stunning comeback earlier in the season at home to beat the Senators. Coach Sam Oatman will be hoping for a similar performance this time around and the fitness of point guard Devon Atkinson will be pivotal in that.
“They are a good team and are really well coached. I think we caught them at kind of a good time because they had just added their import and were really trying to build some chemistry,” Oatman said.
“I know they’ve been up and down this year, but they seem to be playing well now and I just think they have a good squad. That last game was one where Devon took over and just willed us to victory in the fourth quarter.
“We really hope he’s back to 100 per cent and I think he can make a difference for us. James (Padgett) has been phenomenal with how steady and consistent he’s been all year, and we believe Devon can be a real difference maker for us in a game like that.”
Saturday’s Men’s SBL action sees Northam Recreation Centre host Perry Lakes taking on Kalamunda.
The Hawks had been on their first winning run of the season beating the Wolves, Cougars and Redbacks before a shock loss in Mandurah on Saturday night. That left Perry Lakes vulnerable in eight position with a 9-11 record.
Kalamunda’s finals hopes might have ended with a loss to Willetton last Friday, but that was an encouraging performance on the back of a good run that has seen the Suns beat the Redbacks, Giants and Slammers, and only lose to the Flames and Wolves.
It sets the stage for a terrific game in Northam with Perry Lakes needing to win to stay in the eight but Kalamunda in good enough form to cause the upset.
The Buccs return home to Active West Stadium to host the bottom placed Magic on Saturday night, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
Geraldton lost its first game on the road for the season on Sunday at the hands of the Tigers to drop to second position. They now need to win a game more than Willetton this season to be a chance of claiming the minor premiership.
The Buccs should have too much firepower for the Magic with Dwayne Benjamin, Jackson Hussey, Mo Barrow, Aaron Ralph, Matt Hancock and Mat Wundenberg, but the Magic continue to fight hard despite sitting on the bottom.
They broke through for their third win of the season over the Hawks on Saturday night and would love another upset in Geraldton.
Buccaneers coach Ray Evans certainly won’t be taking the Magic lightly.
“We only just beat them in Mandurah earlier in the season. They’ve been playing great of late and they had a really good win on the weekend over Perry Lakes. It will be great with Trahair coming back to Geraldton after coaching the team last year too,” Evans said.
“He is a good friend and I know he will be pretty determined to get their team up for a good game in Geraldton. We definitely won’t be taking them lightly. There’s only four weeks in the season and we still have improvement to make, so we have to keep working and hopefully play an even better game on Saturday night.”
East Perth and Rockingham are two teams who are just about in the last chance saloon in terms of playoff hopes as they meet at Morley Sport and Recreation Centre.
Certainly the Eagles have to win all their remaining four games to have any chance of making it. They currently sit in 11th spot at 7-15 having lost five straight since a strong win over the Wolves.
The Flames aren’t quite in the must-win territory, but they can’t afford to drop too many more of their last four matches either heading into the clash with East Perth at 9-13 in ninth and having lost three on the trot.
Saturday night’s action concludes at Neils Hansen Basketball Stadium with the Giants hosting the defending champion Cougars.
Goldfields is another team who can’t afford to lose too many more games or their playoff dream is over. Realistically they might need to win all six from here to go from 6-14 to making the finals so it’s a crucial home clash for them against Cockburn.
The Cougars’ rollercoaster season continues with them sitting sixth at 12-9 having won four of their past five. A road win in Kalgoorlie and they are still a chance for a top four finish.
It’s another crucial clash on Sunday at Belmont Oasis as the Redbacks host the Senators.
Perth will have played Joondalup on Friday meaning Sunday’s game could see them needing to win to return to the top four while the Senators will be coming off playing Lakeside on Friday.
The last game of the round is later on Sunday afternoon at Lakeside Recreation Centre with the Lightning hosting the Slammers.
Again both teams will have played on Friday night. Slammers coach Charles Nix won’t go into Sunday’s clash expecting anything to come his team’s way unless they play well.
“Everyone is now in that win-now attitude at this point of the season so there’s no easy games,” Nix said.
“These two games on the weekend are just as important for us as the game against Stirling next week and then Perry Lakes and Goldfields after that before we play Joondalup on their floor in their last ever home game there.
“Every game we play to this point is going to be vitally important for seedings and placings. We’re not even guaranteed playoffs yet so we will go into Sunday’s game like Lakeside, needing to win so I expect both teams to come out with some fire.”
WEEK 17 MEN’S SBL FIXTURES
Perth Redbacks v Joondalup City Wolves – Belmont Oasis 8.30pm
South West Slammers v Willetton Tigers – Eaton Recreation Centre 8.30pm
Stirling Senators v Lakeside Lightning – Warwick Stadium 8.30pm
Perry Lakes Hawks v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Northam Recreation Centre 4pm
Geraldton Buccaneers v Mandurah Magic – Active West Stadium 8pm
East Perth Eagles v Rockingham Flames – Morley Sport and Recreation Centre 8pm
Goldfields Giants v Cockburn Cougars – Neils Hansen Basketball Stadium 8pm
Perth Redbacks v Stirling Senators – Belmont Oasis 2pm
Lakeside Lightning v South West Slammers – Lakeside Recreation Centre 5pm
Photo by June Halliday