WITH a fascinating top four battle between Geraldton and Joondalup along with the Willetton Tigers, Goldfields Giants and Kalamunda Eastern Suns all having crucial double-headers, it’s shaping up to be a fascinating Round 18 in the Men’s SBL.
It is the third last week of the regular season in the Men’s SBL as well heightening the stakes for all match ups and Round 18 features five of them on Friday night, five more on Saturday and then another on Sunday.
With the Wolves, Lightning, Flames, Buccs, Hawks and Senators still jostling over top four positions, and then the Eastern Suns, Giants, Tigers and Redbacks fighting out for the other two spots in the top eight, plenty could be learned over the next three days.
Round 18 in the Men’s SBL begins on Friday night with the Kalamunda Eastern Suns hosting the Cockburn Cougars at Ray Owen Sports Centre, and the Mandurah Magic facing the Willetton Tigers at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre.
The Perry Lakes Hawks also play the Perth Redbacks at Bendat Basketball Centre marking Shawn Redhage’s first game against the team he won the 2017 championship with.
Also on Friday night, the Lakeside Lightning take on the South West Slammers at Lakeside Recreation Centre, and the East Perth Eagles play the Rockingham Flames at Herb Graham Recreation Centre.
There are another five matches taking place on Saturday night starting with the Willetton Tigers playing the Goldfields Giants at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
The Geraldton Buccaneers and Joondalup Wolves also lock horns in Geraldton in a tantalising match up while the Warwick Senators play the East Perth Eagles at Warwick Stadium.
The South West Slammers play the Perry Lakes Hawks at Eaton Recreation Centre with the Rockingham Flames hosting the Kalamunda Eastern Suns at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
The round then concludes on Sunday at midway with the Cockburn Cougars hosting the Goldfields Giants at Wally Hagan Stadium.
The Eastern Suns host the Cougars at Ray Owen Sports Centre on Friday night looking to keep their hot form going.
They have now won four straight matches even in the absence of Louis Timms and Logan Viskovich, with Javion Blake, Josh Braun and Ryan Blanchett all in outstanding form.
But to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012, they do need to keep winning and it’s not going to be easy to overcome a Cougars team shorthanded but still led admirably by Gavin Field and returning championship-winning guard Julian Pesava.
The game is also the last regular season one at home for the Suns this season and doubles as the 200-game milestone for captain Jono Diaz as he becomes the first player to reach the milestone with Kalamunda.
But Diaz is just concerned about the team’s performance.
“It’s obviously a big one as far as our season’s concerned but with the way we’ve been going, we have been trying to take it one game at a time because every game the last few weeks has felt so important,” Diaz said.
“It’s all been building towards the end of the season and it’s a bit interesting obviously with Willetton going quite well, Goldfields are still a very good team and it’s between us and we need to just keep winning and playing well.
“We just have to focus on us and every game gets that little bit more and more important as we’re finishing up the regular season.”
Willetton is another team in that playoff mix ahead of their trip to Mandurah on Friday night.
The Tigers are coming off an impressive road win in Kalgoorlie last Saturday night and a win on Friday in Mandurah will be another step towards them booking a spot once more in the playoffs ahead of a must-win home clash with the Giants on Saturday.
Mandurah is coming off scoring just 48 points last Friday at home to Rockingham in a game where they did lead 19-9 after seven minutes.
For the first time in his three seasons as coach, Aaron Trahair found himself questioning the commitment of his players and now he is keen to see how they respond this week.
“Time will tell how they respond. It’s always difficult I guess at this time of year to stay up and about when there’s only three or four weeks left. Then a performance like this can make you go either way for the remaining three weeks,” Trahair said.
“We can man up and embrace it, and come to compete for the last four games which is all I ask for and I’ll be happy with that. But if this game was the sign of things to come for the rest of the season then it’s going to be tough.
“From my point of view, there should always be something to play for and there’s always a future. Finals is obviously out of the equation this year, but moving forward individually first and foremost they should just come out ready to play irrespective of our win-loss record.
“That’s a personal pride thing and we didn’t have that in the last game so I’m as interested as anyone to see the attitude and who steps up to come and compete next week.”
Tigers captain Andrew Black celebrated his 200-game milestone with the win in Kalgoorlie and is glad at least that his team’s future is in their own hands over the last three weeks.
“This weekend is really the culmination of just an amazing effort that we’ve put in to get ourselves to a position where it’s sort of in our own hands now,” Black said.
“If we keep winning we’ll get in and if we lose, we’re out. It’s good to have it in your own hands and not have to keep relying on other teams. It’s on us over these last three games and we really appreciate the opportunity we’ve given ourselves.”
Another fascinating Friday night match up will take place at Bendat Basketball Centre with the Hawks hosting the Redbacks.
The teams are the past two SBL championship winners and Perry Lakes is still trying to break into the top four and need to keep winning to do that while the Redbacks need to win all their remaining games if they want to still be a chance of taking part in finals action.
Perry Lakes has won four straight coming into the clash but Matt Parsons knows the Redbacks will be fired up not only with their season on the line, but to come up against 2017 championship-winner Shawn Redhage for the first time.
“I think they’ll be pretty fired up for it. They’ll have some extra motivation there to prove Shawn wrong for not choosing to go back to Redbacks, but he made a call which suits and benefits of him, and we were lucky enough to be on the right end of that,” Parsons said.
“But I don’t think they need any added motivation other than wanting to win to keep their season alive.
“Knowing what a good motivator Nik is, he will get them geed up and we’ll have to survive the onslaught and hope that the little bit of class that we have as a unit can come through when it needs to. We just have to sustain our effort for the full 40 minutes.”
While Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic has nothing but respect for Redhage after coaching him the last two seasons, he will have his side primed for the challenge come Friday night.
“I’ve never coached that way and I love Shawn. Shawn’s been a great contributor to our club from when he was here and we would have loved to have him again this year, don’t get me wrong,” Lackovic said.
“But there’s no animosity to Shawn from anyone at our club and we respect his decision for how he made it. But we are still fierce competitors and I can tell you that we’ll be going out there to measure ourselves against another really good team.
“They are defending champions and then they’ve added a tremendous amount of talent this year. They aren’t sitting in the top four but they’re a team that has expectations to be there and they’ll have expectations to be playing for another championship.
“That’s what I keep teaching our young guys, you want to play against good teams to measure yourselves against where you stand. Shawn, we know better than anyone, what he’s capable of doing so for guys like Maj and Zac, it will be a great experience for them.
“We know that when we play smart and committed basketball, we’re as good as anyone on our night. We are just excited to play a really good team who is well coached and the reason they won a championship is because they have talent, play hard and we’re excited about taking them on after this win over Geraldton.”
The action doesn’t stop there on Friday night with the Lightning also hosting the Slammers.
Lakeside is in some impressive form right now having won six games in succession to be in second position at 16-5 so they will look to keep that going.
But the Slammers are much more competitive than their 1-20 record suggests with Terrell Carter, Michael Lay and Tyler Livingston playing some good basketball.
Then also on Friday night at Mirrabooka’s Herb Graham Recreation Centre, the Eagles host the Flames.
East Perth is another dangerous team who despite being out of the playoff race can cause some upsets while the Flames are looking to bounce back to a loss to Geraldton and scoring 66 points in both their matches last weekend.
Willetton then backs up its trip to Mandurah on Friday night by returning to Willetton Basketball Stadium on Saturday night to host the Giants in a rematch of last Saturday’s thriller in Kalgoorlie where the Tigers prevailed by three points.
With both teams locked in a fight over seventh or eighth spot, this will be a significant game with the Giants trying to snap a three-game losing slide and desperate to welcome back Jay Bowie who has missed the past four matches.
Active West Stadium will play host to what could well be a Grand Final preview when the Buccs take on the Wolves on Saturday night.
Geraldton went 1-1 last weekend on the road beating the Flames and losing to the Redbacks to come into Round 18 in fourth position on the table at 15-6 while the Wolves remain clear on top at 18-5.
It’s a big game for both teams with a win for the Buccs further securing a top four finish and keeping them in the top two hunt, but a loss does make no guarantee of them finishing in the top four.
While for the Wolfpack, they can go a long way to sewing up top spot with a win while a loss leaves them fighting it out for positions in the top four.
Buccaneers coach Dayle Joseph is fully aware of how big a game it is for both clubs.
“It’s a big game obviously. They beat us by three last time and we had a few out then as well so we’ll come up against them again without Marcus (Alipate) this weekend. It’s good that we look like we can adapt and Brendan (Dinardo) came in and ran that role for us pretty well,” Joseph said.
“I think we’ll be OK and obviously for both teams it’s an important game. I know Joondalup have a fair bit of pride and they’ll be wanting to finish in that top two for sure and we’re finding out that teams love coming to Geraldton to play. They prepare themselves to beat us and we have to be prepared for teams to come and take it up to us.”
East Perth backs up hosting Rockingham on Friday night by taking on the Senators at Warwick Stadium on Saturday.
The Senators are proving the great enigma of the season but their form slump has come at the worst possible time with them having now lost four of their past five to slip to a 14-8 record in sixth position with top four slipping away.
Two more teams backing up from playing on Friday night is the Slammers and Hawks when they do battle at Eaton Recreation Centre on Saturday.
The Flames and Suns are in the same boat with Rockingham having played East Perth on Friday while Kalamunda will have hosted the Cougars.
With the Eastern Suns needing to keep winning to stay in the top eight and the Flames trying to solidify their top four spot, it’s another significant match up.
The round then concludes on Sunday at midday at Wally Hagan Stadium with the Cougars hosting the Giants with the game especially important for Goldfields’ playoff prospects.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 18
Kalamunda Eastern Suns v Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars – Ray Owen Sports Centre 8.30pm
Mandurah Magic v Willetton Tigers – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 8.30pm
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks v Texture WA Perth Redbacks – Bendat Basketball Centre 8.30pm
Lakeside Lightning v Print Sync South West Slammers – Lakeside Recreation Centre 8.30pm
CMTG East Perth Eagles v Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames – Herb Graham Recreation Centre 8.30pm
Willetton Tigers v Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants – Willetton Basketball Stadium 7.00pm
Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers v Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves – Active West Stadium 7.30pm
Bethanie Warwick Senators v CMTG East Perth Eagles – Warwick Stadium 8.00pm
Print Sync South West Slammers v ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks – Eaton Recreation Centre 8.00pm
Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 8.00pm
Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars v Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants – Wally Hagan Stadium 12.00pm