Mission to mine Nuggets' record
Story by: PETE McNAE - Photo by: Shuttersport
Does one game count as a winning streak?
If so, the Nelson Giants are determined to keep the streak alive when they host Otago Nuggets in the Trafalgar Centre tomorrow.
Until last Saturday's road win in Manawatu, things had been a little ugly for the Fico Finance Giants in the Bartercard national basketball league.
They had lost consecutive games to Hawke's Bay, Auckland, Taranaki and Wellington – all away – and were already losing touch with the playoff pace-setters.
But, in a close league, one win can make a major difference.
The Giants are up to sixth, two points behind fourth-placed Taranaki but with a game in hand. Beat Otago, for the 17th time in a row in the league history of the two teams, and Nelson are back in the game.
Centre Gareth Dawson said the ridiculously lopsided record between the two teams could be a mixed blessing.
"They'll come here trying to stop us getting 17 straight over them," Dawson said.
"The other side is that they haven't found what it takes to beat us, so the pressure goes back on them."
Dawson had something of a mixed weekend himself as the Giants split the Wellington-Palmerston North doubleheader.
After scoring a solid 17 points (club officials are still considering arguing over a disallowed last-second three-pointer that would have given him 20) against the Saints, Dawson surrendered his starting spot to Bronson Beri for the win over the Manawatu Jets.
Far from having his nose out of joint, though, Dawson is looking ahead to Otago, rather than stewing about Manawatu.
"It really doesn't matter who starts, as long as the team comes away with a win," he said.
"Toops [Giants coach Chris Tupu] felt we needed to change what we were doing and Bronson went bloody well until he was hurt.
"Whatever Chris wants for the team is fine with me."
Beri's injury – a season-ending knee blowout – and the absences of Darryl Jones (calf), Mika Vukona and Josh Bloxham (Breakers) tomorrow, will mean the Giants will want all able hands on deck against the Nuggets.
Centre Antoine Tisby and forward Akeem Wright form one of the more potent import duos in the league and point guard Mark Dickel had been making sure his team-mates got the ball where and when they wanted it.
However, a recent knee injury has ruled Dickel out for the season. Stepping into his shoes is former Nelson Giant Mike Fitchett, who is on a short-term contract to fill the Nuggets' point position for the rest of the season.
Fitchett played for the Nuggets while studying law and has since turned out for Waikato and Nelson, while he coached the Auckland Pirates to a win over the Giants just over a week ago.
He has been training recently with the New Zealand Breakers and will bring similar playmaking qualities to those found in fellow Tall Black Dickel.
But Otago drop away markedly after that top trio, with Sam King and Riki Buckrell the only other contributors of note. Former Giant and first-year Otago University student Tom Ingham has not yet been given any playing time.
A Nelson team boasting the league's leading scorer in Phill Jones – his 25.4 points a game average is his best in a career spanning almost two decades – and leading shotblocker in Mike Harrison (2.8 a game, after his nine against Manawatu tied a 12-season-old league record) should be good enough to keep their unbeaten home run intact.
But they will need to start better and keep control longer than they have shown so far this season.
The Giants have regularly found themselves in 15-point troughs, slumps that have cost them three or four possible victories.
"Once we start playing, we come all the way back and look like the team we can be, but we have created some real problems for ourselves with poor play, especially at the start of games," Dawson said.
"I'm sure Toops will have a game plan for us that will do the job, if we stick to it."
The initial emphasis should be on defensive transition. The Giants are capable scorers but have given up some hefty scores, and Fitchett will be salivating at the thought of pushing the ball at pace with Wright on the wing and Tisby trailing.
"It's been a communication thing and partly an effort thing, too," Dawson said.
"We have been too passive, but we saw last weekend that good stuff happens when we stay aggressive."
Nelson Giants versus Otago Nuggets, national league basketball, 7pm tomorrow, at the Trafalgar Centre. Door sales from 6pm.