Critical time for Nuggets

Nuggets guard Michael Harris goes up against Hawks defender Ethan Rusbatch during their National...
Nuggets guard Michael Harris goes up against Hawks defender Ethan Rusbatch during their National Basketball League game at the Edgar Centre last Friday. PHOTO: BASKETBALL NZ
The Otago Nuggets have reached the midway point in their National Basketball League campaign and are nicely placed, despite losing their past two games. Basketball writer Adrian Seconi assesses the season so far.

Worst performance

That first-up effort against the Manawatu Jets in Dunedin was sketchy. The Nuggets kept themselves in the game with some tenacious defence and eked out a one-point win.


Best performance

Restricted a talented Auckland Tuatara team to just 36 second-half points to ground out a 93-89 win on the road.


Leading performer

Long queue for this accolade. Both Michael Harris (20.7 points) and JaQuori McLaughlin (21.6) mount a solid case. Sam Timmins is good for a double-double most nights. But Todd Withers(18) is at the heart of this Nuggets team. His defensive prowess and ability to hit three-pointers down the stretch has been instrumental.


Surprise package

Robbie Coman has stepped up to a starting role this season and gets stuck in doing the unglamorous work. An unlikely hero across the first nine games.


So far, so good

Those recent pair of losses might turn out to be quite helpful.

The Nuggets set the benchmark during the opening half of the season with a dream 7-0 start to the campaign.

Wins over the Auckland Tuatara and the Franklin Bulls on the northern road trip were a clear indication the defending champions had not just fluked their way to the top of the standings. They were serious contenders despite some seasoned observers still clinging to nagging doubts about their credentials.

But the back-to-back losses have removed some of the shine.

The loss to the Tuatara in Dunedin was pretty conclusive. The Nuggets were not able to find a way to shut down Rob Loe (19 points, 16 rebounds).

They came out with more intensity in the final quarter to cut the margin to nine. That was a little flattering for the Nuggets, who had been clearly outplayed.

Timmins and Withers got into early foul trouble in that game, and the Nuggets’ lack of depth was exposed.

That highlighted just how critical those two players are to the Nuggets’ fortunes.

They need to stay healthy and stay in the fight if the Nuggets are going to back-up last year’s title.

The 95-94 loss to the Hawke’s Bay Hawks was not as concerning. The Nuggets were without star point guard McLaughlin, who pulled out late with a knee complaint.

The offensive sets suffered in his absence. But with Tai Webster set to arrive late in the season, the Nuggets will be less reliant on McLaughlin to set the tempo on attack.

How those two similar players gel together remains an unknown quantity. It could be spectacular.

The Nuggets will certainly move the ball with more speed when they are both on the court.


Playoff picture

Teams needed 10 wins to make the final six last year. That sounds about right again this season. The Nuggets are well on track with seven wins already. The question is where the next three come from.

Normally, you would just look at the standings and pick on the teams at the bottom of the table. But this competition is so evenly balanced, picking a winner with any certainty is basically impossible.

The Nuggets have a critical stretch ahead. It starts with a local derby against the Southland Sharks in Invercargill on King’s Birthday. Then they have the Manawatu Jets in Palmerston North three days later and the Wellington Saints in the capital the next night.

It could be a season-defining week.

Three questions

■Will McLaughlin bounce back from the knee complaint that prevented him from taking the court during the loss to the Hawks?

■Tall Blacks guard Webster will join the Nuggets for their last five regular games. What impact will he have?

■Can the Nuggets lift their shooting percentages and be more of an offensive threat?



Played 9, won 7, lost 2

W Jets, 68-67 (home, April 9)

W Sharks, 76-68 (home, April 16)

W Airs, 97-79 (away, April 22)

W Giants, 90-83 (home, April 27

W Tuatara, 93-89 (away, May 4)

W Franklin, 91-72 (away, May 6)

W Saints, 103-94 (home, May 13)

L Tuatara, 93-84 (home, May 18)

L Hawks, 95-94 (home, May 26)



Canterbury Rams 14

Auckland Tuatara 14

Otago Nuggets 14

Franklin Bulls 12

Hawke’s Bay Hawks 10

Wellington Saints 8

Southland Sharks 8

Nelson Giants 6

Manawatū Jets 6

Taranaki Airs 4

*As of May 30