WITH Friday night highlighted by the Senators and Flames locking horns along with the Lightning hosting the Eastern Suns, and then Saturday night including a tantalising Hawks-Lightning match up, Mental Health Awareness Round in the Men’s SBL should be a tremendous one.
Round 19 doubles as Mental Health Awareness Round in the SBL with the aim of increasing awareness of not only the importance of looking after your own mental health, but also checking on each other.
In support of the occasion, players, coaches and referees will wear blue armbands for all games in Round 19 to increase awareness and let the community know that we care and to prioritise mental health.
The Mental Health Awareness Round is being conducted with support from Youth Focus, The Happiness Co. and A Stitch in Time.
Then with the action on the court, the Lightning, Wolfpack, Buccaneers, Flames and Hawks can all still finish in any of the top five positions while the Eastern Suns, Giants and Tigers remain locked in a tussle over the seventh and eighth positions.
It’s a monster Friday night in the Men’s SBL with the Willetton Tigers playing the South West Slammers at Willetton Basketball Stadium, and the Joondalup Wolves facing the Cockburn Cougars at HBF Arena.
The Warwick Senators then play host to the Rockingham Flames at Warwick Stadium while the Lakeside Lightning play the Kalamunda Eastern Suns at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
There are four more match ups on Saturday night with the Perth Redbacks playing the Mandurah Magic at Belmont Oasis and the Perry Lakes Hawks taking on the Lakeside Lightning at Bendat Basketball Centre.
The South West Slammers also host the Geraldton Buccaneers at Eaton Recreation Centre and the Goldfields Giants take on the East Perth Eagles at Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium.
The round concludes on Sunday with the Mandurah Magic facing the Geraldton Buccaneers at Waroona Recreation Centre.
Friday night gets underway with the Wolves returning to HBF Arena to host the Cougars.
Joondalup conceded top spot with a narrow loss in Geraldton last Saturday night but finishing the season with wins at home to the Cougars and Eastern Suns could see them regain top spot, but the Buccs and Lightning do have four games remaining opposed to their two.
The Wolves will regain import centre Kevin Davis after he was too unwell to play in Geraldton last Saturday night as they look to improve on their 18-6 record on the season.
The Cougars will be glad to welcome back starting centre Jaarod Holmes and point guard Seva Chan to offer some support to Gavin Field and Julian Pesava who have been doing a power of work chasing that seventh win of the season, and just the second away from Wally Hagan Stadium.
Wolfpack coach Ben Ettridge is looking forward to now spending the last two weeks on their home court with just the one game a weekend, but he knows the Cougars and Suns won’t be handing them anything.
“We always look at the schedule and balance things out, and look at where we’re at in the season and what we need to do to challenge the guys and get them ready to play. Having two home games to finish off puts us in pretty good stead,” Ettridge said.
“Starting with Cockburn this week, they are always well coached and Gav Field in an MVP, NBL-calibre player who can turn a game on its head in three possessions so you have to be ready for him. Jaarod and Seva have had good seasons too and Adam has a good bunch of kids down there who play hard.
“And Mark has done a great job with the Kalamunda guys. Braun and Javion are as good as they get in the SBL so that’s a pretty dynamic back court. They are two good challenges for us and we’ll have to be at our best to get them both if we are lucky enough.”
Cockburn coach Adam Nener can’t fault the fighting quality of his team as he weighs up the best way to approach the last fortnight of the season.
“Obviously we’ve got the Wolves on Friday night and they are still fighting for top spot so it doesn’t get any easier for us,” Nener said.
“It’s a tough one to finish the season out and as a coach you always want to win games and go out on the best note possible, but you also have some good young guys who have been training their butts off all year.
“So you weigh up giving them a bit of a crack to see how they go, and see what kind of position they will be in for next year. We have the Wolves and then Redbacks and East Perth to round it out. We do want to try and finish off strong, whether that means we can win those games we’ll have to wait and see.”
Willetton also plays host to South West on Friday night with the Tigers needing the win to keep their finals hopes alive.
A win for Willetton and they will return to eighth position ahead of the Giants with the Tigers to then finish the regular season next Saturday night at home to the Hawks.
While it’s a must-win game for the Tigers who have now won their past three matches with two against the Giants and another against the Magic, the Slammers have nothing to lose and will put everything into their second win of the season, and first away from Bunbury.
Also on Friday night, it’s a tantalising match up between the Senators and Flames.
Warwick returned to winning form last Saturday night beating East Perth by 30 points on the back of a run of losing four of the previous five games. But they do look a vastly different team with new Perth Wildcats signing Wani Swaka Lo Buluk in it as they prepare to host the Flames on Friday.
While the Senators most likely look set to remain in sixth position, Rockingham needs to keep winning to stay in fourth place where they currently are courtesy of a 17-7 record but with just one game remaining after Saturday night next Friday against Lakeside.
The last game on Friday night should be another cracking contest too with the Lightning facing the Eastern Suns.
Lakeside rose to top spot last week with a big win over the Slammers as they improved to a 17-5 record on the season with tremendous momentum behind them with seven straight wins.
But Kalamunda is in equally hot form having now won six straight matches too to suddenly shoot up into seventh position at 13-11 despite being without Louis Timms and Logan Viskovich, and last week Ryan Blanchett too.
With the Lightning and Eastern Suns both in such hot forms but also needing to win to retain the positions they currently hold, it is going to be quite the fascinating match up and potentially a quarter-final preview on top of that.
Lakeside coach Dave Daniels is now looking forward to two tough weekends of double-headers to close the regular season starting Friday against Kalamunda.
“I think it’s an advantage with this last two weeks we have against desperate teams. It’s going to be like that second weekend in the playoffs this weekend when we play four really good teams,” Daniels said.
“I think it’s really good for us especially as I’m still hoping that we can tighten some things up, and the best way to do that is to play against good competition.
“I don’t feel a lot of pressure to win these last four games, but I feel an urgency to get better building into the playoffs. I’m excited about the way we’ll be leading into finals.”
Saturday night’s action in the Men’s SBL gets underway at Belmont Oasis with the Redbacks hosting the Magic.
Both teams are out of playoff contention with the Redbacks sitting at 9-15 having lost six of their past seven and the Magic 5-18 having lost six straight.
However, there will be some tremendous match ups in the game including the Redbacks back court of Marshall Nelson and Joel Wagner against the Magic’s Shaun Stewart and Jerami Grace while Lee Roberts and Marvin Smith have the potential for big nights for their respective teams.
Then at Bendat Basketball Centre, two of the teams jostling over top four positions lock horns with the defending champion Hawks hosting the Lightning.
Lakeside will be coming off playing Kalamunda on Friday night while it will be Perry Lakes’ only appearance of the weekend as they attempt to stretch their winning run to seven and improve on their 17-7 record.
The Buccaneers then begin their run of four road games to close the regular season up against the Slammers at Eaton Recreation Centre.
The Slammers will have already played at Willetton on the Friday night while the Buccs will be hoping to be at full strength for the run home with the return of Marcus Alipate and with young gun Alex Ducas having returned last week in the win over the Wolves.
It’s a crucial game for the Buccaneers who currently sit third at 16-6 but could still finish anywhere from first to sixth.
Then in Kalgoorlie, the Giants return home to East Perth and need to back up their win on the road to Cockburn on Sunday.
It was an impressive return to form for the Giants to snap a four-game losing slide with Patrick Burke delivering another 33 points, but Dave Humphries striking form to deliver 33 points and Jay Bowie getting closer to being healthy on his troublesome knee.
East Perth will look to make the Giants’ hopes of returning the playoffs for the first time since 2015 tougher with the upset road win as they attempt to snap a five-game losing skid.
Goldfields coach Wayne Creek knows that even if they do finish the regular season at home to out of contention teams, if they hope to reach the finals they are going to have to play well to earn their spot.
“You can’t take anything for granted. East Perth and Bunbury are both teams with nothing to lose and that makes them very dangerous because they can just come out and let it fly, and they can create their own lucky by doing that,” Creek said.
“When you have more on the line you become more cautious and if you get something wrong he can compound into something bigger. But part of the message I have to the guys is to just keep it simple, have fun and enjoy being here and getting to do something that a hell of a lot of other people don’t.
“I’m encouraging them to enjoy the experience and at the end of the day it will be an interesting couple of weeks, but we still have to follow our own path of how we get to where we’re going to be. Obviously I’m hoping that means we make the playoffs but whatever the end result is, it is what it is.
“We just have to go out and play our best, and if we play our best I have no doubts that we can win the next two games and make the playoffs, and then at our best I wouldn’t want to play against us. Good luck to whoever meets us in the finals if we make it.”
The round then concludes on Sunday in Mandurah with the Magic hosting the Buccs in Waroona as Aaron Trahair tries to put a dagger in the top two or top four hopes of the team he coached to the semi finals in 2016.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 19
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves v Prestige Honda Cockburn Cougars – HBF Arena 8.30pm
Willetton Tigers v Print Sync South West Slammers – Willetton Basketball Stadium 8.30pm
Bethanie Warwick Senators v Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames – Warwick Stadium 8.30pm
Lakeside Lightning v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Lakeside Recreation Centre 8.30pm
Texture WA Perth Redbacks v Mandurah Magic – Belmont Oasis 6.00pm
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks v Lakeside Lightning – Bendat Basketball Centre 7.00pm
Print Sync South West Slammers v Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers – Eaton Recreation Centre 7.30pm
Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants v CMTG East Perth Eagles – Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium 7.30pm
Mandurah Magic v Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers – Waroona Recreation Centre 12.00pm