November 16, 2012

Article at SportsNewsFirst

36ers make statement in Perth Arena

IT was a night of statements in the NBL with the league's best area unveiled, a title challenger and MVP candidate emerging and defending champions winning a seventh-straight match.

The Round 7 action began at Auckland's Vector Arena with the champions of the last two seasons, New Zealand, proving far too strong for the still winless Townsville Crocodiles.

The Breakers won 93-63 for a seventh straight victory on the season after a horror start to the campaign with a 21-point defeat at home to the Perth Wildcats.

All eyes were then on Perth with the launch of the brand new, $550-million Perth Arena as it hosted its first ever NBL match less than a week since its official opening.

It signalled the return of basketball to the heart of Perth and the fans responded in droves with tickets selling out, and then 11,562 turning up on the night with the arena passing with flying colours and the atmosphere of the biggest ever crowd for the sport in Western Australia incredible.

However, nobody told the Adelaide 36ers that it was a celebration for the Wildcats with the Sixers running out thrilling 69-65 winners as they continued their recent run of dominance over the 'Cats and also signalled themselves as championship contenders.

Adelaide improved to a 5-3 record with the victory and not only did the team send a message to the league with its second win over the Wildcats in five days, but big man Daniel Johnson showed that he is now one of the genuine guns of the competition.

He already had a breakout season in 2011-12, but now the 24-year-old has taken his game another step further this season and the WA-product revelled in his return home on Friday night putting on a show in the first game inside the Perth Arena.

Johnson was a monster at both ends of the floor finishing with 21 points and 15 rebounds, including a massive basket that proved to be the match-winner with 35 seconds remaining.

Sixers coach Marty Clarke continues to be impressed with the development of Johnson into one of the best, and most versatile, bigs in the league.

"With the group we had last season we needed him to be a big-time scorer, but this season that's not necessarily the case. He had 20-odd today, but has had big impact on games this season when he's only had seven or eight points but 10 or 12 points," Clarke said.

"He is an interesting player in that he's not a conventional big. He can put it on the floor and once he gets a bit more of an ability to play off two feet in the paint he's going to be very difficult to defend because he can shoot the three, put it on the floor and he's got all those crafty little Pat Reidy-type moves around the basket."

Point guard Jason Cadee also came up big all night long. He started the night with the first ever points inside the new stadium and then finished the game with a dagger three-pointer and then held his nerve to ice the win at the free-throw line for the 36ers.

It continued a tough run of form for Perth and the loss somewhat soured the opening of the Perth Arena, but the buzz created by the sold out crowd and the stunning new stadium still won out on the night.

However, the Wildcats have now lost three straight games after winning their first three of the season, and shooting remains a concern with the team managing just 24-of-78 from the field at a shocking 31 per cent.

Last season's league MVP Kevin Lisch (5-of-13), six-time club MVP Shawn Redhage (3-of-13), guards Damian Martin (1-of-7) and Everard Bartlett (1-of-6), and forward Greg Hire (1-of-6) all had shooting nights to forget.

Coach Rob Beveridge couldn’t hide his disappointment after the loss.

"To be honest I am absolutely gutted because the guys are really, really working their butts off and they are not rewarding themselves. To me they are playing scared and that's the thing that I'm gutted about," Beveridge said.

"I don't know where it's come from and down the stretch we are tentative rather than just going out and playing. It's very frustrating at the moment and I'm gutted that we lost our first game at home. We deserved better than that.

"Our players have to man up, it's as simple as that. We had a team with great potential three years ago, that's what I recruited, and now it's actually time to perform right now. We have the team that can win the championship, but we're just not getting it consistently enough right now."

Earlier, the Breakers showed that a third straight championship is well in the reckoning with a dominant 30-point win over the Crocs. Five players scored in double-figures led by 18 points and seven rebounds from Alex Pledger while point guard Cedric Jackson was superb once again with 10 points and 11 assists.

The win means that the Breakers remain on top of the NBL ladder, but also ensured that Townsville remains winless after nine games in a horror start.

The best news was that import Larry Abney had his best game of the season with 11 points and eight rebounds, but the Crocs now will be hoping the upcoming three-game home stretch against Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne can bring about at least one victory.

NBL Round 7 continues on Saturday night with the Wollongong Hawks (5-1) hosting the Cairns Taipans (3-4) and then on Sunday the Melbourne Tigers (2-4) face the Sydney Kings (4-4) at Hisense Arena.