Tagged in: NBL
Grant Chapman – Auckland Pirates
James Blond Auckland Pirates coach Judd Flavell still isn’t sure which opponents will turn up for this week’s Bartercard NBL semifinals.
His team has shared their two regular-season encounters with the Telecom Business Hub Manawatu Jets this year, erasing an early 10-point road setback with a 96-83 victory at ASB Stadium three weeks later.
But that was half a season ago now and the Jets have since proved a movable feast, swapping and changing players around like that old sleight-of-hand trick with the ball and the cups.
Gone is American power forward Dustin Mitchell, who helped hammer the Pirates in March. In his place comes former Tall Black Jeremiah Trueman and livewire American point guard Chris Hagan.
Lurking in the wings is forward Marcel Jones, an import whom the Jets still hope to qualify late as an NZ resident. But it’s Hagan that has Flavell really scratching his head.
“I haven’t seen too much of him, but I know he’s a very good player,” says Flavell. “He’s turned that team around to make them real contenders.
“He’s pretty small and pretty quick. He complements what they already have and fills a big hole – he’s made them a well-balanced team.”
Hagan has only logged four NBL games and while that’s a small sample size, his performances see him leading the league in assists (9.3), steals (3.5) and three-point shooting (50.0). His clash with Lindsay Tait should prove key to the outcome
But the other head-to-head offering some spice can be found at centre, where reigning MVP Alex Pledger goes up against Manawatu’s Nick Horvath. The former Duke University captain has defended his rebounding title, held before him by Pledger, and has put together a portfolio that should see him challenging for top individual honours when the NBL awards are handed out.
“Horvath is always a handful, but this year, he’s playing as well as I’ve ever seen him,” says Flavell. “That matchup between him and Pledge will be a good one.”
The Pirates bring the league’s best road record (6-2) into the TAB Top Four and, crucially, they took out a tough encounter against defending champions Wellington Saints last week, so they’re now very familiar with the playoff hoops.
Saturday, May 26
Semi Final One
James Blond Auckland Pirates v Telecom Business Hub Jets, 6pm
Referees – Melony Wealleans, Gavin Whiu, Shane Nikora