Nuggets facing crunch encounter

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
This one counts twice.

The Otago Nuggets’ playoff prospects are in the balance.

A loss at home to the Hawke’s Bay Hawks might be enough to end their post-season ambitions.

The Hawks are in sixth — the last playoff spot — with a record of 6-7. The Nuggets (5-8) hold down eighth place.

A win against the Hawks will essentially count double. The Nuggets will lift their win percentage while lowering the Hawks’.

The Nelson Giants (5-8) and the Tauranga Whai (5-8) are also chasing that last playoff spot.

They play tomorrow in what shapes as a crucial game as well.

The Auckland Tuatara (12-2), Canterbury Rams (10-2), Taranaki Airs (9-3), Wellington Saints (9-4) and Franklin Bulls (8-4) occupy the top five spots, while the Manawatū Jets (1-12) and Southland Sharks (1-13) are out of the running.

Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere stressed how important the fixture shapes.

"I’m viewing it as a playoff game. If they take this game off us then that makes our playoff hopes really, really challenging," he said.

"We are well aware of our situation in terms of the table and Hawke’s Bay snuck a win [on Thursday night] in the dying seconds against Southland and that did not help us.

Brent Matehaere
Brent Matehaere
"But we are still in control of our own destiny and that is always a bonus."

The Nuggets started the season well but have won just two of their last 10 games. The win against the Jets in Palmerston North on Sunday was a much-needed boost for a side struggling for confidence.

"In that game I felt we played a really good fourth quarter which we hadn’t really done for a while ... and were able to finish that game off.

"It is always good to get a win under your belt and to get that confidence that you can actually get it done.

"It had been five games since we’d actually won, so that always puts a little bit of pressure on and individuals in the team feel that."

The Hawks started the season poorly, but have added some personnel and are arguably a stronger side than their position on the competition table suggests.

"They are an elite shooting team, so we have to continue to put pressure on them and make sure they are taking tough shots."

The trio of Jordan Ngatai, Keanu Rasmussen and Isaiah Moore are major scoring threats.

"Their whole starting five is pretty elite. They all seemed to be able to score the ball ... so they will certainly be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it."

The Nuggets lean heavily — perhaps too heavily — on Kimani Lawrence to score in the paint and they play an up-tempo game designed to get off a lot of shots.

Ben Henshall’s and Zaccheus Darko-Kelly’s outside shooting will be key.

The Nuggets will also be focused on reducing their turnovers, and their defensive rebounding is another statistic under the spotlight.


Dunedin, 4pm today

Otago Nuggets: Jack Andrew, Kimani Lawrence, Ben Henshall, Dontae Russo-Nance, Darcy Knox, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly, Robbie Coman, Matthew Bardsley, Josh Aitcheson, Caleb Smiler, Matt Pyper, Michael Ruske/Benji Freeman.

Hawke’s Bay Hawks: Joshua Roberts, Lucas Sutherland, Jordan Ngatai, Keanu Rasmussen, Isaiah Moore, Jackson Ball, Jarrod Kenny, Kobe Kara, Jacob Murphy, Harry Keighley, Tanae Lavery, Ryder Moore.