The Crocs, seventh on the ladder, are only two wins away from the second spot, and the bottom-placed Sydney Kings are only two games out of the top four.
Every week is tough in this competition, but it’s amplified for the Wildcats this week with two away games, starting on Wednesday night in Wollongong against the Illawarra Hawks, before flying to New Zealand to take on the Breakers on Friday night. And they’ll be doing it without the services of their Captain Damian Martin.
Wildcats vs Illawarra Hawks
The Hawks will be pumped up and ready to atone for their horror outing against the Wildcats, in Perth, two Friday’s ago. Add in the earlier loss to the ‘Cats in dramatic fashion and you know the Hawks are going to be fired up for this one.
With the excellent outside shooting of Kirk Penney, Oscar Forman, Kevin Lisch and Tim Coenraad mixed with the inside presence of AJ Ogilvy, this Hawks team is one hard unit to stop. The Perth Wildcats did a great job of that in the last meeting but in their first encounter, in Wollongong, Perth conceded 99 points for the game. That can’t happen this time around if the ‘Cats want to come out of Wollongong victorious.
Nathan Jawai vs AJ Ogilvy
Ogilvy is in MVP form – averaging 17 points and nine rebounds – stop him and winning the game becomes a whole lot easier. The Hawks will be thinking the same with Jawai, who at times seems like the only Perth player able to create any offense. With no Damian Martin for the next 2-3 months, Perth needs big Nate to elevate his game even further.
Jermain Beal vs Kirk Penney
“Dolla” Beal has been more “Rupiah” Beal of late, culminating with the horror outing, on his birthday no less, against the Crocs in Townsville – where he didn’t score his first points until the dying seconds of the game. He was better in the return leg versus Townsville in Perth, but not terribly efficient – his 16 points coming from 13 shots.
Beal probably won’t get the first crack at Penney on the defensive end, Casey Prather, more than likely, will have that task but in the same way the sharp-shooting Kiwi is the go-to perimeter man on offense for the Hawks, Beal is that guy for the Wildcats.
Keys to the game
Perth needs to regain their dominance on the boards – outrebounded by the Crocs in the past two games – Townsville doubled Perth’s tally of offensive rebounds in last Fridays matchup. That’s unacceptable for a lineup featuring Matty Knight and Nate Jawai. If the Wildcats don’t dominate the glass on Wednesday, they don’t stand much of a chance.
On the defensive end, Perth can’t give up open 3-pointers, not to this Hawks outfit who have the best 3-point percentage in the league. The Wildcats did an outstanding job of curtailing their dangerous shooters in the last encounter – replicating that is crucial.
Wildcats vs New Zealand Breakers
Perth beat the Breakers in a close one, in their first and so far only meeting this season, but the defending champs were without their star man, Corey Webster, who’s returned and playing brilliantly – averaging 23 points per game.
Breakers Center, Charles Jackson, did an unbelievable defensive job on Jawai last time out – he went one-on-one with “the beast” and came out on top. No other player has been able to do that this season, which has forced sides to double team Nate to keep him in check. Jawai, who seemed rattled that night in “the jungle” against the Breakers, will be out to make amends.
Keys to the game
Obviously stopping Corey Webster is critical, but he’s not the only offensive threat on this Breakers team. Tom Abercrombie and Everard Bartlett are killer 3-point shooters, Cedric Jackson still does Cedric Jackson things, and New Zealand have a nice inside game – with the strong finishing ability of the other Jackson, Charles, and brilliant post play of Tai Wesley.
This team is hard to stop, especially in New Zealand and without the excellent defensive play of Damian Martin, it’s a difficult task for the Perth Wildcats. It’s a task made even harder by having to back up with just one day of rest, and facing a relatively fresh team.
Fighting through adversity
With their inspirational captain nursing a broken jaw, and a difficult week ahead, the Perth Wildcats face testing times. But as we know, there are no easy games in this league and every team, at some point in this season, will face similar scheduling and injury challenges.
If the ‘Cats can split this week, with a 1-1 record, most pundits would consider that a success. Can they get a little more from Nate Jawai? is Casey Prather ready to take off? Is Jermain Beal a star of this league?
For the Perth Wildcats to succeed, in the short term – without Damian Martin – and in the long term – competing for a title – the answer to those questions needs to be a yes.