Nuggets facing an uphill battle

Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere talks to his players during the game against the Saints at the...
Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere talks to his players during the game against the Saints at the Edgar Centre last month. PHOTO: BLAKE ARMSTRONG
The Otago Nuggets are midway through the regular season and will have to play catch-up to make the NBL playoffs, reports Adrian Seconi.
Something has to change, and soon. The Otago Nuggets have lost six of their past seven games.

The playoffs are drifting away and hope is pretty much the last crutch the Nuggets have to lean on.

Their problems have become clear.

The import mix is not working. The Nuggets are not hitting their outside shots often enough. The offence can go quiet for lengthy stints and former Tall Blacks guard Tai Webster has left for the United States.

The loss of Sam Timmins and Todd Withers are being sorely felt as well.

They were key contributors in the championship run in 2022 and instrumental in helping the team reach the playoffs last year.

They brought a quality which is missing this season.

Withers put the starch in the Nuggets’ defence and Timmins gave the side another offensive option in the paint when the outside shots were not dropping.

Personnel changes seem unlikely. The Nuggets have not displayed a willingness to be ruthless.

They carried injured American guard JaQuori McLaughlin for the bulk of last season.

Unless there is a surprise policy rethink, the Nuggets will stick with their import trio of Kimani Lawrence, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly and Ben Henshall.

Lawrence has been great value on the inside. But he needs Darko-Kelly and Henshall hitting shots from the outside so they can help stretch the defence.

The bench crew might be overdue some extra minutes as well. They have looked hungrier than some of the starters. And the Nuggets need that kind of passion because they have a big task ahead.

It is unclear how many wins teams will need to make the playoffs. But if we assume it is 10 or 11 then the Nuggets will need to win six or seven of their next 10 games.

That will not be easy given the trajectory they are currently on.

But there are some certainties ahead. They simply must beat the Hawke’s Bay Hawks and the Nelson Giants.

They shape as the other two teams who will be contesting the sixth and final playoff spot.

A win against those teams will count double in a way. The Nuggets will get to improve their win percentage while damaging their rival’s percentage.

They have to play the Giants in Nelson in July and they have not been able to win away from the Edgar Centre so far, so that match will be a challenge.

The other games the Nuggets can ill-afford to drop are against the Southland Sharks, the Manawatu Jets and the Tauranga Whai.

Two of those games are away fixtures.

Should the Nuggets post wins in all of those games, they will still need a win or two from the other matches.

They have to play the Taranaki Airs twice and that will be a difficult match-up. Centre Sam Froling has been dominant and is near the top in rebounding and scoring.

They have rematches with the Franklin Bulls and the Auckland Tuatara. Those two teams have set the benchmark through the first half of the round-robin, and the rematch with the Wellington Saints is in the capital and will be a tough assignment.

The Nuggets surprised the Saints in Wellington last year and that gave them a much needed boost at a time when they had been struggling. Something similar is needed this year, and they did beat the Saints in Dunedin last month.

If the Nuggets are going to turn their campaign around then they need to take better care of the ball.

They have to do a better job of boxing out and they are the worst team in the league at the free throw line by an unhealthy margin. They are successful just 58.2% of the time from the stripe.

Their three-point percentage (31.6) is not terrible, but a couple more going in each game would be helpful.

Sometimes all it takes is a few small changes to make a big difference.


Otago Nuggets

Remaining games
May 25: v Southland Sharks, Invercargill
May 31: v Taranaki Airs, New Plymouth
June 2: v Manawatū Jets, Palmerston North
June 8: v Hawke’s Bay Hawks, Dunedin
June 12: v Taranaki Airs, Dunedin
June 19: v Auckland Tuatara, Auckland
June 23: v Tauranga Whai, Dunedin
June 29: v Wellington Saints, Wellington
July 5: v Nelson Giants, Nelson
July 13: v Franklin Bulls, Auckland