Nuggets out to again rise to occasion

Otago Nuggets forward Kimani Lawrence skips past lunging Wellington Saints defender Malik Benlevi...
Otago Nuggets forward Kimani Lawrence skips past lunging Wellington Saints defender Malik Benlevi during a National Basketball League game at the Edgar Centre last month. PHOTO: BLAKE ARMSTRONG
Otago Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere likes to choose his words carefully.

His team are in a trough.

They have lost five of their past six games and have slipped out of the top six. It is not a happy spot.

The painful 70-69 loss to the Whai in Tauranga last week still burns.

But there will not be any roster changes. There will not be any panic. And there will not be any harsh words unless you find something buried between the lines.

"There are other words you could probably use but disappointing would be one," he said in reference to the loss to the Whai.

"We had chances to close that game out and we were in a position where we felt we were more talented but we didn’t gel as a team.

"But we’ve had a chance to catch up and have a chat and I thought our performance against the Hawks was at a much superior level to how we played against the Whai. It just happened to be that we played them on a night where their performance was also high.

"Obviously there is some disappointment and frustration but we are tracking in the right direction with how we are working as a group."

Star Nuggets import Kimani Lawrence hobbled off late in the 116-105 loss to the Hawke’s Bay Hawks in Napier on Saturday, but he is fine. It was just a cramp and he has been cleared to play in tonight’s home fixture against the NBL-leading Auckland Tuatara.

They have won six straight games and boast a formidable starting five featuring the likes of Rob Loe and Corey Webster.

"They are a super-talented team and they are running really hot. But we’ve tended to rise to the occasion and, if we can execute a few little bits and pieces that we’ve got up our sleeves, we feel like we’ll be in the hunt."

The Nuggets have been a tougher unit at home. They posted good wins over the Wellington Saints and the Nelson Giants at the Edgar Centre.

But the trajectory they have been on suggests they will need an awful lot to go right to beat the Tuatara.

Import Zaccheus Darko-Kelly has been struggling to connect from the outside and that has allowed teams to compress their defence and put more attention on Lawrence, who has proven hard to stop when he gets close to the rim. Ben Henshall has not had the space he enjoyed earlier in the season, either.

Matehaere ruled out making any changes to the import slots. But the mix is not working at the moment.

"If we were wanting to make changes then as an organisation we could. But we are certainly not looking to make any changes."

The Nuggets are near the top in two damaging statistics. They give up more points per game than every team other than the Jets and the Hawks, and they make more turnovers than every team other than the Jets and the Sharks.

Tai Webster shapes as instrumental in helping turn that around. He is a quality ball-handler and defender, and the captain can certainly score as well. He notched 40 points during the Nuggets’ 96-85 loss to the Rams in Christchurch earlier this month.

He can take over a game when he is in the mood.


Dunedin, 7.30pm

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

Auckland Tuatara: Cam Cliddon, Reuben Te Rangi, Corey Webster, Tom Vodanovich, Rob Loe, Tukaha Cooper, Chris McIntosh, Joshua Leger, Reuben Fitzgerald, William Leger, Charlie Dalton, Nic Barrow.