THE difference between wins and losses on Friday night in Round 19 of the Men’s SBL couldn’t be more significant for the Rockingham Flames, Lakeside Lightning, Kalamunda Eastern Suns and Willetton Tigers setting the stage for a season-defining weekend.
It is the second last round of the 2018 SBL season with the significance of games increasing significantly as the battle for a spot in the playoffs, and then positions inside the top eight heats up significantly.
That’s never more evident than with the two matches on Friday night with the Rockingham Flames hosting the Lakeside Lightning at Mike Barnett Sports Complex with both teams needing a win to stay in the top eight, and remain a chance of finishing as high up as possible.
The Kalamunda Eastern Suns then return home to host the Willetton Tigers at Ray Owen Sports Centre in what is a must-win game for the home team but a loss for Willetton puts them in danger of missing the playoffs too.
That all leads into a monster Saturday night with six matches beginning with the Cockburn Cougars playing the Mandurah Magic, the South West Slammers facing the Geraldton Buccaneers and the Goldfields Giants taking on the Perth Redbacks.
The Joondalup Wolves then also play the Rockingham Flames, the Lakeside Lightning face the East Perth Eagles and the Willetton Tigers host the Perry Lakes Hawks.
There are still then two more matches on Sunday afternoon with the Mandurah Magic playing the Geraldton Buccaneers and the South West Slammers hosting the Stirling Senators.
SUNDAY MEN’S SBL RECAP – WEEK 18
FIELD KEEPS TAKING PRIDE IN BEING HEART AND SOUL OF COUGARS
TRAHAIR SEES BRIGHT FUTURE IF MAGIC GROUP STICKS TOGETHER
REDBACKS AIMING BIG DESPITE THE TARGET AS DEFENDING CHAMPS
Round 19 in the Men’s SBL begins on Friday night at Mike Barnett Sports Complex with the eighth placed Flames hosting the fifth placed Lightning.
Rockingham comes into the game having lost three straight, including last Saturday night to the Perth Redbacks by 14 points, to be 11-12 holding on to eighth position. But a loss on Friday really leaves them vulnerable with two games remaining.
The Flames will be buoyed by the presence of Sunday Dech for their final three regular season games too as they attempt to secure a playoff position with Luke Travers departing for college and Jarryd Griffin injured.
Lakeside heads to Rockingham with a 13-10 record in fifth position having lost their past two matches since a horror leg injury to Jack Isenbarger. But the Lightning did have their chances to win against the top two teams, Geraldton and Joondalup.
A top four finish might not be out of reach for the Lightning, but a win on Friday will go a long way to them securing fifth place.
The other Friday night game takes place at Ray Owen Sports Centre with plenty on the line as the ninth placed Eastern Suns host the seventh placed Tigers.
Kalamunda is playing its first home game in over a month and they now need to win both their remaining matches to be any chance of taking part in the playoffs in 2018.
The Suns get back home sitting ninth at 10-14 but they kept their finals chances alive beating the Magic by 53 points in Mandurah last Saturday night.
Willetton, too, heads to Kalamunda needing to win on Friday to secure their own playoff position. The Tigers currently sit seventh at 12-11 and they won twice importantly last weekend at home to the Magic and away to the Eagles to steady their place in the top eight.
Attention then turns to Saturday night in the Men’s SBL starting at Wally Hagan Stadium at 6pm with the Cougars hosting the Magic.
Neither team can reach the playoffs with Cockburn 11th at 9-15 and Mandurah 13th at 5-18, but it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be an entertaining affair with plenty of firepower on either side.
The Slammers then host the Buccaneers at Eaton Recreation Centre. Again the Slammers can’t reach the playoffs sitting 12th at 6-17, but they did play well to beat Cockburn by 19 points on the road last Saturday night.
Then with the Buccs having to drive down from Geraldton to Bunbury on Saturday to play that night, the Slammers will be looking to make it a fast-paced, up-tempo contest.
But the Buccaneers just can’t afford a slip up with top spot theirs if they keep winning, with them coming into Round 19 in top spot at 20-3 having won five straight.
Buccs coach Ray Evans certainly won’t be taking the Slammers lightly on Saturday night or the Magic then on Sunday afternoon with him well aware of just how important home court advantage could be come playoff time.
“We were in a situation last year with an opportunity to finish top two but we got pipped over the last few weeks of the season. There was a loss to Mandurah there that was costly and we lost to them at home again this year too,” Evans said.
“Every year looking back on the years I’ve been involved, there are always games you reflect on and think that hurts us. But all credit to Mandurah, they beat us on their merits that night and we can’t say we stuffed up, they beat us.
“We’ve lost three games for the season and we’ve won some close ones which is a good sign. Finishing top two obviously gives you a great advantage of having home-court and if you can win that first game on the road, hopefully you can take care of business at home.
“We’re obviously playing good enough basketball to win enough games to be in the position we are in at the moment but there have been so many games that the opposition have had their chance. But we’ve got some good players in our team who have made good decisions at the right times to get us over the line.
“To be honest, we’re not totally happy with the way we’re playing at the moment and we haven’t shot the ball overly great for the best part of five or six weeks. We are still looking to improve that little bit more and we know finals are going to be a lot tougher than things are now.
“The good thing about it is that we’ve been able to find ways to win games without shooting well. Obviously if we shoot well it’s going to make it a whole lot easier, but we have definitely found ways to win games and that’s important.”
Also on Saturday night, the Giants play host to the defending champion Redbacks at Kalgoorlie’s Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium.
Goldfields are another team out of the running for a playoff appearance in last place at 5-19 having lost twice on the road last weekend to Perry Lakes and East Perth. But the Giants did beat the Wolves at home two weeks ago so they are no easy beats.
The Redbacks look just about locked into third position but they do need one more win to ensure themselves of that and they would like to make that happen on Saturday night in Kalgoorlie.
Greg Hire and his Rockingham Flames then come to HBF Arena for the first time with the former championship winner and MVP of the Wolves playing against the Wolves for the first time as an opposition player upon joining the Flames in 2018.
It will be a big game for the Flames too coming off their game on Friday at home to Lakeside while the Wolves look certain of finishing second having beating Lakeside in another thriller last Friday night after equally nail-biting losses to Perry Lakes and the Giants.
The Lightning then back up their trip to Rockingham on Friday night by hosting East Perth at Lakeside Recreation Centre on Saturday night.
It will be another important game for the Lightning but unfortunately for the Eagles, they are all but out of the playoff hunt at 9-15 in 10th position despite a win over the Giants last Sunday at Morley.
The last game on Saturday night should be another cracker with the Tigers hosting the Hawks at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
Willetton will have already played at Kalamunda on Friday while Perry Lakes are the hottest team in the league right now and will go into the contest on a 10-game winning streak with a top four finish now looking all but secure.
There are then two more matches on Sunday starting at noon with the Magic hosting the Buccs at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre.
Then at 2pm, the Slammers play host to the Senators at Eaton Recreation Centre. It’s a crucial game for Stirling who make their only appearance of the weekend coming into the round in sixth position with a 13-11 record and coming off an overtime loss in Geraldton to the Buccs last Saturday night.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 2
Rockingham Flames v Lakeside Lightning – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 8.30pm
Kalamunda Eastern Suns v Willetton Tigers – Ray Owen Sports Centre 8.30pm
Cockburn Cougars v Mandurah Magic – Wally Hagan Stadium 6.00pm
South West Slammers v Geraldton Buccaneers – Eaton Recreation Centre 7.30pm
Goldfields Giants v Perth Redbacks – Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium 7.30pm
Joondalup Wolves v Rockingham Flames – HBF Arena 8.00pm
Lakeside Lightning v East Perth Eagles – Lakeside Recreation Centre 8.00pm
Willetton Tigers v Perry Lakes Hawks – Willetton Basketball Stadium 8.00pm
Mandurah Magic v Geraldton Buccaneers – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 12.00pm
South West Slammers v Stirling Senators – Eaton Recreation Centre 2.00pm