Whatever the cause of South East Melbourne’s recent crisis, the Phoenix must pledge to give up “flesh and bones” if they are to avoid a lost season. It’s too late?
It’s the stark reality South East Melbourne are watching after another chance to restore their footing in the NBL22 Final ‘dogfight’ was begging.
A loss to Adelaide on Sunday made it five losses in their last six games, putting the Phoenix on the brink of a season that will go down as a missed opportunity if they are unable to turn the tide.
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Were they scared by the moment?
“It’s the severity of what you’re playing for, sometimes, that affects,” coach Simon Mitchell said.
“With the seriousness of our situation, the importance of needing a win, it seemed like it was affecting some of our players.”
Now two out of four games with six remaining, Mitchell challenged his troops to rediscover the effort that had kept them counting for the title for the majority of the season.
“(It’s) fighting for positions on the floor, fighting for every square inch and just
giving up your body, giving up flesh, giving up bones on every possession,” Mitchell said.
He cited the example of his Tasmanian expansion team in a bid to inspire a response. In their first season in the league, the JackJumpers roster, on paper, lacks the prestige of South East Melbourne’s.
But, on the pitch, they carved an identical record under Scott Roth.
“You look at a team like Tassie and they go in every game and we take way too many games off and give up our physicality,” Mitchell said.
The bottom line is that the Phoenix, with so much at stake, didn’t — and didn’t — put their bodies on the line for the cause, a biting assessment from the coach.
Without towering center Zhou Qi and with talented reserve big man Brandon Ashley’s frustrating foul troubles now the rule, rather than the exception, the Phoenix were beaten on both sides by an Adelaide side playing only for the pride.
The Sixers, seventh in the NBL with about 80 points per game, put down 17 offensive rebounds — nearly matching the Phoenix’s 20 defensive boards — and made more than half of their field goals en route to 100 points.
This was a 36ers team that was last wiped out by Melbourne United by 27 points and hadn’t hit triple digits in any of its previous 19 games.
Three-ball hasn’t dropped all season — they’re second-worst in the NBL and made just eight of 35 attempts (22%) against the Sixers but still had 92 points. No wonder Mitchell is urging his proteges to get their feet in the paint more often and chase more points for the basket.
It’s been hard without Ryan Broekhoff. The injured striker is the X and Os man of the team. He’s the defensive marshal who knows every game, the team’s best rebounder and a threat to go deep at any time. In five games without him, if you get the win over struggling Cairns, the Phoenix have conceded 91 or more points in each, including 103 against Illawarra and 98 against United.
The Phoenix had worked hard to make the defense a calling card and, at first, it looked like a resounding success – they only conceded more than 88 points once in their first eight games.
To compound the loss, table top United spat out their clash with fourth-placed Hawks on Sunday.
Sydney is fast becoming unbeatable, only a dreamer could hope Perth would miss and the Hawks now look like the contenders many pundits thought them to be at the start of the season.
The good news for Phoenix is that Qi should be back in line-up for next week’s clash with Cairns. It will give them the protection and rim strength they lacked against the Sixers.
And the basketball gods have somewhat smiled on the Phoenix – the Hawks have a brutal homecoming – they face the Kings twice, United in Melbourne again and the Wildcats in Perth.
Four of the Phoenix’s last six games have been against teams below them on the ladder, with United and a trip to Perth looming.
“We have a lot of basketball to play,” captain Kyle Adnam said with a glimmer of hope.
“All the teams are going to provide aerial combat.
“I challenge the team, I challenge myself, to be ready for this.
“I feel like we have the group to do it.”
Adnam, since raining 24 points on the Wildcats a month ago, has scored just 30 points in the last seven games and the Phoenix bench has lacked punch.
Mind their own business and hope the Hawks struggle and maybe the Phoenix get a chance to make some noise.