Basketball: Nuggets coach welcomes early run of home games

Alf Arlidge.
Alf Arlidge.
Otago Nuggets coach Alf Arlidge is a glass-half-full kind of guy.

So when he discovered his side would be playing six of its opening eight games at home he could only see the upside.

The Nuggets open their campaign against Waitakere at the Edgar Centre on April 20.

The following week there is an away double-header against Hawkes Bay and Waitakere and then five consecutive home games.

''I think the draw is really good for us,'' Arlidge said.

''We've got a run of five games at home and I actually don't mind that. I know some other franchises prefer to have their home games more evenly spread so you don't lose the home crowd. But I think it is an opportunity for us to get off to a good start.''

Waitakere is new to the league this season. It replaces the Auckland Pirates who have pulled out citing financial concerns. The Pirates were part of the league for just two seasons and won the 2012 title after assembling an all-star cast featuring Tall Blacks Alex Pledger, Lindsay Tait and Hayden Allen and former international Dillon Boucher. Waitakere will not have the same firepower and the Nuggets are perhaps fortunate to strike the rookies twice in their first three games.

The down side to all those early home games is the Nuggets have a difficult back end to the season. The Nuggets play the highly-rated Wellington Saints in the capital on May 28 and two nights later strike Waikato, which is back after a year out of the league.

The franchise will host the Manawatu Jets on June 6 and then has three away games before returning to the Edgar Centre to host the Saints on June 30 and rounding out the regular season against Taranaki in New Plymouth.

The Southland Sharks entered the league in 2010 and their clashes with the Nuggets in Dunedin on May 19 and Invercargill on June 21 promise to be highlights.

The game always feels like watching two brothers arm-wrestle. Last year two brothers were actually on opposite sides with Richard Dickel coaching the Sharks and Mark Dickel running the point for the Nuggets. The game is never short on feeling and has developed into a classic fixture. The Nuggets are gunning to make their first appearance in the playoffs since 1997 and have put together a strong roster. American Antoine Tisby was the tournament's leading player last season and is returning for his fourth stint with the franchise.

Mark Dickel had the Nuggets humming before he got injured part way through the season and is fit and fizzing again.

Former Tall Black BJ Anthony made an immediate impact in his debut with the Madgeburg Eagles in the German league. He scored 33 points and added eight rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot in 36 minutes to power his side to a 98-93 win.

Leon Henry is chipping in from the bench for the Breakers, locals Sam King, Riki Buckrell and James Ross are all expected to return, and Allen is returning to the Nuggets after a long absence. His deadly outside shooting game will be warmly welcomed.

American swingman Akeem Wright is still on the radar but the Nuggets have not made a decision on their remaining import slot. Wright, though, was a big contributor for the franchise and fitted in well with the team culture.

He is keen to return so it would not be a surprise if he did end up back in a Nuggets singlet. Wright's outside shooting game was a little patchy but he is an excellent defender and rebounder and Allen's return would lift the pressure on Wright.