Talking Points after Round 9, Corey Webster vs New Zealand Breakers revenge game, JackJumpers MVP candidate Milton Doyle

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Sportem
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Corey Webster torched his former side in the Perth Wildcats’ best NBL23 performance, a Tasmania JackJumpers import put himself in MVP discussions and an Australian basketball legend wants to remain coaching his club in just some of the Round 9 talking points.

It was yet another round of NBL action full of drama with plenty happening as the Wildcats lost to the struggling Brisbane Bullets but then knocked the New Zealand Breakers out of top spot.

The Adelaide 36ers likely got their answer that they need that new import to do anything this season while the Bullets showed heart under Sam Mackinnon, the Sydney Kings went back top and Melbourne United fell to a fourth successive loss.

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Round 9 in the NBL got underway back on Thursday night with the New Zealand Breakers firstly hammering the South East Melbourne Phoenix 110-84, and then the Brisbane Bullets stunning the Perth Wildcats 106-95 in overtime.

Friday night then saw the Adelaide 36ers overrun the Cairns Taipans at home for the 78-75 victory.

There were two games on Saturday and it began with the Perth Wildcats pulling off perhaps the upset of the season given the form of both teams. They ended the New Zealand Breakers’ five-game winning streak by winning 92-84 at Spark Arena.

Second up on Saturday was the Throwdown where the South East Melbourne Phoenix defeated Melbourne United 78-72.

It was another double-header on Sunday with the Sydney Kings too good at home for the Adelaide 36ers, winning 97-78, and then the Tasmania JackJumpers defeated the Brisbane Bullets 99-84.

There’s still one game in Round 9 to go and it’s Monday night in Wollongong with the Illawarra Hawks hosting Melbourne United.

WEBSTER TURNS IT ON WITH ADDED MOTIVATION

It was always going to be a memorable occasion with Corey Webster playing his first ever game against the New Zealand Breakers, but his match-winning performance for the Perth Wildcats was spurred on by his old team.

Webster is one of the finest servants the Breakers have ever had. He played 237 games with the New Zealand club, was part of three championships and even though he’s now part of the Wildcats, a large part of his heart will always remain there.

That’s why it stung when the Breakers social media team poked fun at him leading into his first ever game against his old team with the Wildcats at Spark Arena on Saturday.

Just to add to the occasion and Webster and his Wildcats were fresh off a tough loss to the shorthanded Brisbane Bullets on Thursday night as they arrived in Auckland to take on the league-leading Breakers on a five-game winning streak.

However, ‘Cats coach John Rillie shook things up and threw Webster into the starting line-up for the 249th game of his NBL career and first ever against the Breakers.

It worked. Whether it was the motivation provided from the Breakers, the special feeling of being back home in front of his old fans and his family, or just wanting to win, Webster turned it on for his best performance of the season.

Webster piled on 16 points in the third quarter alone and finished the night with a season-best 26 points while also icing the game late with a trademark fadeaway jumper, and then two free-throws.

The 34-year-old admitted afterwards that the Breakers social media post leading into the game stung, but whether it added too much motivation or not, he was going to come to play no matter what.

“I was pretty surprised by that to be honest after I’ve given my heart and soul to this club for many years,” Webster said.

“For them to personally go at me was a bit surprising, but I don’t need extra motivation when it comes to basketball. This is a game I love and I’m a pro, and this is something I’ve done for a long time so I didn’t need extra motivation.

“It was still definitely there in the back of my mind and before the game I really wanted to have a great performance, and come in here and get the win. It was a little bit of extra motivation for sure.”

Meanwhile, Breakers coach Mody Maor would have none of it when hanging the club’s social media manager out to dry. It’s one in, all in when it comes to the Breakers.

“We are one team. Players, coaching staff, front office, social media, marketing – you choose whatever you want,” Maor said.

“Within this team, everybody has the privilege to go and make mistakes. The way we are judged is how we respond to those mistakes. Players make mistakes, they’ll learn from it and the same with me.

“Social media make mistakes and they’ll learn from it, and they’ll be better. This is what growth looks like in every aspect. It’s not him or us or them, it’s all of us taking this mistake in stride, learning from it and moving forward.”

JACKJUMPERS GUN ANNOUNCES HIMSELF TO MVP RACE

His very own mother got the discussion started, but then on Sunday Tasmania JackJumpers gun Milton Doyle showed just why he deserves to be in the NBL MVP discussion after a match-winning performance against the Brisbane Bullets.

When Doyle arrived at the JackJumpers for this NBL season, he replaced their superstar from last season, Josh Adams, who was fresh off a dazzling playoff performance to help lift them into the grand final, and then ensure they were competitive against the Sydney Kings.

Adams was somewhat an enigmatic force. When the JackJumpers were recruiting his replacement, they were after a bit more of a consistent scoring star and Doyle is now more than living up to that bill.

Not only did Doyle finish the game where the JackJumpers beat the Brisbane Bullets 99-84 on Sunday with 33 points on 12/19 shooting with nine rebounds and three assists, but he played match-winner when it mattered most.

Brisbane was leading 80-78 with five minutes to go but then Doyle took over. The JackJumpers scored the next 14 points with Doyle scoring three of those, but more importantly he set up a bucket for Jack McVeigh, and then found Will Magnay twice for finishes at the rim.

Doyle then sealed the deal with another basket to see him go to 33 points and eclipse the 32 he scored against Brisbane earlier in the season and to be averaging 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game now.

After a tweet this week from his mother asking her son to be in the MVP discussion, Doyle backed it up with another clutch performance fresh off inspiring Tasmania to the win down the stretch against Melbourne United last Saturday.

JackJumpers coach Scott Roth expected big things from Doyle and loves the way he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder to show what he’s capable of.

“I think he’s really, really good. He fits the MO of this group and we did a lot of homework on him before bringing him in,” Roth said.

“He’s well-travelled and been in a lot of different situations, and played in a lot of big games. He’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder to want to come here and prove himself, and he fits our culture that we have here.

“He’s a quiet assassin and leader for us, and he’s just reliable and has done a fantastic job. I see nothing but great things ahead for him.”

NBL LEGEND PUTS HAND UP TO KEEP COACHING BULLETS

He might have stepped into the role through necessity, but Australian basketball great Sam Mackinnon is now keen to continue coaching the Brisbane Bullets the rest of the season as he adjusts to the hot seat.

Things were looking decidedly bleak this time last week for the Bullets and on a personnel front, things are worse now.

Big men Aron Baynes and Tyrell Harrison missed their two games in Round 9, Tanner Krebs was just stepping up for his best basketball in the NBL and went down injured and that’s with Kody Stattmann still out injured and no replacement import yet to be signed.

Throw in the axing of coach James Duncan and then a 37-point loss in Mackinnon’s first game in charge and it was hard to see much light at the end of the tunnel.

However, Brisbane showed their most spirit and heart of the season in both Round 9 games at Nissan Arena. First up on Thursday night, they pulled off a stirring overtime win against the Perth Wildcats.

Even though they lost to the Tasmania JackJumpers on Sunday, it was a game they led with five minutes to go before running out of gas.

Whether the playing group is doing it for Mackinnon or it’s their own personal pride kicking in, they showed great heart this weekend and that’s with only seven players really there for the coach to use in a meaningful role on Sunday.

Mackinnon had initially stepped back from a coaching role at the Bullets to be the GM of basketball, but when Duncan was released, he put his hand up temporarily for the role.

The club’s management and ownership is still weighing up what to do with the coaching role for the rest of the season. The only other option outside of Mackinnon would be Anthony Petrie, who finished his NBL career in Brisbane and coached Gold Coast to an NBL1 North championship.

However, with the spirit Mackinnon has found in his team and what appears to be a reignition of his coaching ambitions, he put his hand up to stay in the role after Sunday’s game.

It now appears a decision is imminent that he’ll remain in the role for the rest of the season.

“It’s been a busy nine days but now we’ll get a day off and get to take stock a little. I’m really enjoying it though,” Mackinnon said.

“When I got out of basketball I missed the friendship and mateship, and getting back as an assistant coach allowed me to do that. Being the GM is a little bit different, but now I feel like I can finish off the season here as the head coach.

“We need to let the dust settle a little bit, but it’s definitely something I’m really enjoying. It’s an ownership call but hopefully that will be resolved in the next 24-48 hours.”

DELAY OF GAME FRUSTRATION CONTINUES

The officiating of the delay of game calls has come back to a bit more sense the last couple of weeks, but don’t tell Perth Wildcats coach John Rillie that who unloaded following Thursday night’s loss to the Brisbane Bullets.

One of the more contentious aspects of this NBL season has been the officiating that has cracked down on delay of game warnings.

That’s if someone shoots the ball after the whistle is blown, holds the ball a little long or basically does anything that the referee determines delays the game.

The first time it happens the team gets a warning and from there it’s a tech foul. In theory it’s designed to speed up the game, in reality stopping the game to deliver the warning and then deal with the arguing actually slows the game down significantly more.

It reached a point after Thursday night’s loss that rookie Wildcats coach Rillie couldn’t hold it in anymore.

Now clearly the frustration from a disappointing loss played a part in his emotions, but he didn’t miss in his criticism of the league’s crackdown, but also the inconsistencies in applying the decisions.

“I’m frustrated right now as a coach, but I’m a fan watching the games when our team doesn’t play, and when the biggest thing players and coaches are worried about is holding the ball, the game’s in a bad of spot,” Rillie said.

“The delay of games, you watch anytime someone touches the ball every player and coach. I’m embarrassed that I get sucked into it. We need to make a decision if they are going to call it every time a player touches the ball because we don’t understand, players can manipulate the game.

“That is something in the game that players can manipulate very well but it’s embarrassing when I turn on the TV with players and coaches complaining about delay of game, and I’m a culprit. It makes our product look very bad.

“We have a great product but when that becomes a centre of the game, I don’t want to be involved in that product and I get agitated by it, and sucked in. It’s a bad look and we either have to go all in on it or leave it alone.”

MUST WIN MONDAY FOR STRUGGLING UNITED

Melbourne United has now been hit with Covid on top of everything else they are dealing with, but if they want to remain a chance of pulling this season out of the fire, they simply must beat the Illawarra Hawks on Monday night.

It continues to appear a season where things just continue to spiral downward for Melbourne. Just as they were working new import Marcus Lee back into the line-up and he was showing good signs, they lose fellow big Isaac Humphries for their two Round 9 games through Covid.

Clearly their barometer is championship winning point guard Shea Ili as well and there’s nobody to really set the tone defensively and with the intensity with him sidelined with on-going concussion symptoms.

Then in the third Throwdown of the season on Saturday night, while it was a close loss to South East Melbourne Phoenix, everything felt a struggle as they slipped to a fourth successive defeat.

That has the 2021 champions and the 2022 regular season champion’s NBL23 on life support at 5-9 at their halfway mark. With 14 games to go, coach Dean Vickerman is fully aware that at the very least they need to turn that record around to 9-5.

Before worrying about the big picture, they just need to find their identity and flow to their game, which needs to start against the also struggling Hawks at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Monday night.

It will be Illawarra’s first game since a 34-point loss last Sunday to South East Melbourne with the Hawks on a nine-game losing streak to be 1-10.

On paper, it appears the ideal game for Melbourne to get to try and build some confidence, and to get a win, but the game isn’t played on paper. Vickerman is just hoping to see his team start to enjoy themselves, and play with a bit more freedom.

“We’re never losing hope, we’ve got half a season to go. Until there’s a point where you’ve got 15 losses or something like that where it becomes tough you are going to stay positive,” Vickerman said.

“The scenario right now is that we’ve probably got to go 10-4 or 9-5 to get in and make the playoffs. We will have to be one of the best teams the rest of the way.

“There were some encouraging things but obviously ‘Ice’ getting Covid this week wasn’t a great one for us. Shea has made good progress and Cal Dalton has had a week of practice after a full year out with injury.

“There are some positive things and I did get to a pretty dark place a few weeks ago, but I turned myself around to continue to find the positives in our group. I want to continue to try and get people confidence because there was a part of me who got down about the way people were playing.

“As a leader, I think I have to shake that off and turn up to practice every day and to every game being positive because we need to have fun playing basketball right now.”

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