THE stage is set for the one of the most anticipated finals series in the 41-year history of the Hungry Jack’s National Basketball League.
After an incredible regular season, the Perth Wildcats, Sydney Kings, Cairns Taipans and Melbourne United are preparing to chase championship glory.
The Wildcats will be looking to defend their title and win their fourth championship in the past five years, a challenge NBL MVP Bryce Cotton is looking forward to.
“To try and go back to back, I would say it makes it very difficult,” Cotton said.
“You have a target on your back the whole year but that’s what makes the season fun. Once you get to the top of the mountain, I guess you want to see how long you can still there.”
Perth faces Cairns in the semi-final series, as the Taipans rose from last to third in a remarkable campaign. Cotton is weary of a Cairns team coming into the finals with little pressure or expectation.
“I’m assuming they’re going to come in with a nothing to lose attitude,” Cotton said.
“When you come in free minded like that without really a care, teams can be dangerous.”
Star Taipans point guard Scott Machado, who finished second in MVP voting and set a new assists record in the 40-minute NBL era, believes this Taipans group can cause an upset and deliver the club its first ever championship.
“We know it’s basically a new season,” Machado said. “We know a lot of people didn’t expect us to be here, a lot of people don’t expect us to win. I think the NBL needs a history change, so we are here to make something happen. Everyone is coming in to fight.
In the other semi-final series, arch-rivals Sydney and Melbourne are set to renew hostilities.
The Kings created history this season by becoming the only team to stay first throughout an entire campaign, but that counts for little come finals according to Casper Ware.
“It’s a new season,” Ware said. “We were number one but the only thing that says is we play at home first. That’s the only thing that means.”
Ware is entering his first finals campaign as a King and is looking to leave a legacy, as the club aims to break a 15-year title drought.
“I want to be that person. That guy where you’re like, oh Casper is in Sydney, they won three, four…they’re good, they’re good. It’s not about just now, I want to leave a legacy,” Ware said.
It took until the last game of the regular season for United to book their finals spot but now that they’ve qualified, captain Chris Goulding says they’re going into Sydney full of belief.
“We are full of confidence, no one expects us to win so we are going in there, we are going to give it a crack and see if we can do it,” Goulding said. “They’ve been in first place from start to finish and now it’s our job to try and change that.”
The schedule for the semi-finals of the Hungry Jack’s NBL Finals presented by MG is:
PERTH WILDCATS v CAIRNS TAIPANS
Game 1: Friday 28 February – Perth Wildcats v Cairns Taipans at RAC Arena, 9:30pm AEDT / 6:30pm local
Game 2: Sunday 1 March – Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats at Cairns Convention Centre, 5:00pm AEDT / 4:00pm local
Game 3: Thursday 5 March – Perth Wildcats v Cairns Taipans (if required) at RAC Arena, 9:30pm AEDT / 6:30pm local
SYDNEY KINGS v MELBOURNE UNITED
Game 1: Saturday 29 February – Sydney Kings v Melbourne United at Qudos Bank Arena, 7:30pm AEDT / 7:30pm local
Game 2: Monday 2 March – Melbourne United v Sydney Kings at Melbourne Arena, 7:30pm AEDT / 7:30pm local
Game 3: Thursday 5 March – Sydney Kings v Melbourne United (if required) at Qudos Bank Arena, 7:30pm AEDT / 7:30pm local
All finals games will be broadcast on SBS VICELAND and ESPN.