Fifty-five games down, just one to go. It was back on June 23rd that the Sal’s NBL Showdown kicked off its residency at the Trusts Arena in Henderson, with the Taranaki Mountainairs taking on the Nelson Giants. What followed was five weeks of round robin action, played five nights a week, as teams jockeyed for position on the ladder. On Tuesday this week, the Finals Week began with all seven teams still involved and now we’re down to two. On Saturday night, the Otago Nuggets will take on the Manawatu Jets, to bring this unique season to a conclusion.
Although Finals Week has given all teams a chance to make their run at the title, we have ended up with the top two sides from the regular season ladder making the finale. The Nuggets, coached by Brent Matehaere, finished top of the table, winning nine of their fourteen games, with the Jets just behind having won eight games under the tutelage of Tim McTamney.
The teams met three times in the regular season, with the Nuggets victorious each time (104-100, 130-94 and 97-85). They also met at the start of this week in the Qualifying Final, although the Nuggets win by 105-80 needs to be viewed in the right context; Season MVP Tom Vodanovich didn’t take the court at all for the Jets and both teams gave their bench players more minutes than usual, safe in the knowledge they would both get their chance again in Thursday’s semi-finals, where Otago beat the Canterbury Rams 97-79 and the Jets defeated Taranaki 105-95.
Both starting line-ups look settled, with the Nuggets likely to go with Jarrod Kenny, Josh Aitcheson, Jordan Ngatai, Kane Keil and Jordan Hunt and the Jets seeing Jayden Bezzant, Ashton McQueen, Hyrum Harris, Tom Vodanovich and Taane Samuel take the court for tip-off.
For the Nuggets, expect the experienced trio of Ngatai, Kenny & Hunt to maintain their strong performances this season. Hunt and Ngatai are averaging 19.5 and 18.6 points per game respectively this season with Kenny making 5.1 assists per game. Overall, the squad’s shooting and assists are the strongest in the league. They have great experience and a slightly stronger bench than the Jets.
The Jets have the ability to get on runs and score quickly, but they can also get into foul trouble and in a Grand Final environment, they need to avoid that as much as possible. Vodanovich and Samuel are at 22.3 and 18.4 points per game for the Jets, with Harris leading their average assists with 6.6.
The Nuggets have never made a Grand Final and the Jets have only been to the big dance once, losing to the Canterbury Rams all the way back in 1992, so history will be made whoever wins. Hopefully it’s a close game with both sides bringing their best to round off the season.
Prediction: Nuggets to repeat their previous wins and eventually win by 10.
The Grand Final starts at 7.30pm on Saturday 1st August and will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 9, Sky Sport Now and the Tribe App. Delayed coverage on Prime starts at 9.40pm.
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