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NBL News: Top awards candidates announced, Taipans slip up to … – The Roar

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Xavier Cooks, Mitch Creek and Bryce Cotton have been announced as the three nominees for the NBL’s most valuable player award.
The winners of the MVP trophy and the league’s other accolades will be announced on February 7, in the lead-up to the play-offs.
Cooks is in career-best form as a forward for the Sydney Kings, who sit atop the ladder and have been the most consistent team this season. 
On Sunday, he became the first player this season to record a triple-double and the first King since 2008.
Guard Cotton is a three-time recipient of the award and has been instrumental in helping the Perth Wildcats bounce back into play-offs contention under new coach John Rillie. 
No player this season averages more points per game than Cotton (23.9).
Announcing the finalists for the #NBL23 awards ????

Join us next Tuesday February 7th at the Andrew Gaze MVP Awards Night live at 8:30pm AEDT on ESPN via Kayo Sports & Foxtel

Read more here: https://t.co/qADf1cjlGL

MVP Finalists ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/BYzh3gBNKX
Forward Creek ranks second to Cotton in points per game (23.2) and has been South East Melbourne’s rock in another season challenging for play-offs qualification.
Creek was the Phoenix’s first-ever signing in 2018 and has become synonymous with the club.
Cairns Taipans big man Keanu Pinder had been considered a chance to earn an MVP nomination but has played only twice since Christmas due to injuries. He has been shortlisted for most improved player, an award he won last year.
Cairns Taipans coach Adam Forde and New Zealand Breakers’ Mody Maor have been nominated for coach of the year after guiding their sides back into play-offs contention after two seasons languishing at the bottom of the table. 
Kings mentor Chase Buford is also nominated on the back of his side’s strong title defence.
I’m gonna say this once and I’m done with it.

I don’t wanna hear it NO MORE!! pic.twitter.com/lZBbbNHcsR
Sam Froling, Luke Travers and Sam Waardenburg have been nominated for the new next generation award, presented to a player 25 or under. The accolade replaces the league’s rookie of the year award.
In addition to the awards categories, any player in the league is eligible to be selected for the All-NBL First Team and All-NBL Second Team, with the MVP nominees poised for inclusion in the former.
The nominees for each category were selected by a panel of former players, journalists and broadcasters including Andrew Gaze, John Casey, Casey Frank and Jo Healy. 
The coaches and captains of each of the 10 teams then voted on a preferred winner but were unable to select nominees from their own team.
NBL Most Valuable Player
Xavier Cooks (Sydney Kings)
Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)
Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
Lindsay Gaze Coach of the Year
Chase Buford (Sydney Kings)
Adam Forde (Cairns Taipans)
Mody Maor (New Zealand Breakers)
Most Improved Player
Sean Macdonald (Tasmania JackJumpers)
Keanu Pinder (Cairns Taipans)
William McDowell-White (New Zealand Breakers)
Best Sixth Man
Barry Brown Jr (New Zealand Breakers)
Rashard Kelly (Tasmania JackJumpers)
Tyler Johnson (Brisbane Bullets)
Damian Martin Trophy for the Best Defensive Player
Antonius Cleveland (Adelaide 36ers)
Shea Ili (Melbourne United)
Dererk Pardon (New Zealand Breakers)
Next Generation Award 
Sam Froling (Illawarra Hawks)
Luke Travers (Perth Wildcats)
Sam Waardenburg (Cairns Taipans)
The Adelaide 36ers have shaken up the race for the NBL playoffs with a hard fought 99-96 win over the Cairns Taipans to snap a five-game losing streak.
Antonious Cleveland came alive in the fourth quarter with 11 points as the 36ers held on in a frantic finish at the Cairns Convention Centre on Monday night to blow the race for second on the ladder and an automatic semi-final berth wide open, as well as keeping their playoff aspirations alive.
Cleveland missed two free throws to seal the game giving Cairns one last shot to tie it down with a three, but the reigning defensive player of the year redeemed himself and stripped Tahjere McCall and the game clock expired.
Cairns (17-10) entered the contest one game up on New Zealand (16-10) in the standings, but with an inferior points percentage, and now must win their remaining game against the Perth Wildcats for a chance at a second overall finish.
The lowest Cairns can finish is third with the Breakers ending their season with two games on the road against Illawarra and Brisbane. Two wins will ensure a semi-final berth.
“We sort of went all in on tonight with that (top-two) mindset,” Taipans coach Adam Forde said. “You would assume – no disrespect to other teams – but you would assume Breakers take care of business. So losing that top two spot now is a quick turnaround.”
Adelaide (8th) are 12-14 and trail Melbourne United (14-13) and the South East Melbourne Phoenix (15-13) in the final play-in spot.
They face the Sydney Kings at home then Melbourne United away to finish the season and are still a mathematical chance to qualify for the final post-season spot.
They had Cleveland’s late heroics to thank in a see-sawing contest as the American guard finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc.
Robert Franks also had an efficient night with 20 points on just nine shots to go with nine rebounds and five assists.
Adelaide’s stars thwarted a career-high night from Sam Waardenburg (26 points) and 26 from DJ Hogg as Cairns fell just short in their third game in six days.
“I liked the way the boys stuck with it and fought,” 36ers coach C.J. Bruton said. “The resilience to keep fighting from where we’ve been at to know that we’ve got a very slim chance.”
The Sydney Kings have survived a late scare to seal top spot on the NBL ladder with a 111-106 win over South East Melbourne Phoenix at Qudos Bank Arena.
After leading at every change on Sunday – and by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter – the Kings fell behind with little more than a minute to play before holding their nerve in the clutch.
Kings guards Derrick Walton Jr (22 points) and Dejan Vasiljevic (21) were outstanding, while captain Xavier Cooks (16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) produced the league’s first triple-double since current NBA star Josh Giddey in May 2021.
But when Cooks fouled out with more than three minutes remaining, the Phoenix – led by Mitch Creek (29 points, nine rebounds) – pounced.
Creek’s free throws with 1:15 left put his side in front but Sydney duly iced victory following a combination of Vasiljevic’s strong drive, an offensive foul against Phoenix big man Alan Williams and successful free throws from Jordan Hunter and Walton.
“We were able to get enough buckets to get it done but we need to be better defensively in the next couple of games,” Kings coach Chase Buford said.
“When we do play well defensively, we’re usually pretty dominant and that’s what we need to focus on.”
The Phoenix, who have finished with a 15-13 record and clinging to sixth position, will be eagerly observing next week’s final round of matches, hoping for results to go their way in games involving Perth, Tasmania and Melbourne.
Creek piloted an early 11-0 barrage to give the Phoenix the upper hand before the Kings responded with a 12-0 run of their own to lead 28-25 at quartertime.
Justin Simon threw down a ferocious slam over Creek in the second term as the Kings, despite some key plays from Phoenix’s little-known development guard Owen Foxwell, pulled ahead.
Williams, scoreless and sparingly used in the first half, went to work in the post in the third stanza as the visitors momentarily pinched the lead.
Walton, Cooks and Vasiljevic responded and gave the Kings some breathing space again before SEM mounted one last rally which fell just short.
“Disappointed in the fact we’ve lost and disappointed we haven’t secured our play-off spot just yet,” Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said. “It would have been nice to have our destiny in our own hands.”
An inspired 22-6 closing run has virtually guaranteed the Tasmania JackJumpers a second finals berth in as many seasons of their existence, in a vital 102-94 NBL win over the Perth Wildcats at MyState Bank Arena.
After a bright start in Hobart on Sunday afternoon, the JackJumpers were progressively outplayed across the middle terms, falling behind by nine points before steamrolling the Wildcats down the stretch.
Tasmania’s Milton Doyle (21 points) drained a huge three-pointer to just beat the shot-clock with a minute remaining, before Perth’s Jesse Wagstaff was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on the next possession after Rashard Kelly (18) stripped Bryce Cotton of the ball, sealing his side’s fate.
The result lifted the JackJumpers to 15-12 with a virtual lock on sixth place, which can only be unpicked if they suffer a landslide loss next Saturday to bottom-ranked Illawarra and seventh-placed Melbourne United (14-13) obliterate Adelaide next Sunday.
“There were moments where we bent but we didn’t break,” JackJumpers coach Scott Roth said. “I kept telling the guys at some point we’re going to have to dig in and play some defence.

“We made some big shots and big stops and the building became electric.”
TaShawn Thomas (19 points, 10 rebounds) led the way for the Wildcats who, with a 14-12 record and games to come against the competition’s two best teams – Cairns and Sydney – have left the door slightly ajar for United.
Behind the explosive attack of sixth man Jack McVeigh (18 points) and the elite rim protection of centre Will Magnay, the JackJumpers finished the opening term with a 19-3 burst to lead 32-21 at quartertime.
The home side led by as many as 13 early in the second term before Corey Webster gave Cotton some much-needed help to reduce the margin to 57-54 at halftime.
Perth carried that momentum into the third term, gradually seizing complete control and stretching their advantage to nine points before Doyle engineered Tasmania’s withering final burst.
“We let them dictate the pace of that last three or four minutes,” Wildcats coach John Rillie said.
“We had an eye on the scoreboard and the clock versus the pace that we were playing to get that lead.
“We bogged down a bit versus moving the ball and letting the opportunities come our way.”
Cairns Taipans have maintained their stranglehold on second in the NBL and clinched a playoff spot with an important 94-87 win over state rivals Brisbane.
Adam Forde’s side is now one win ahead of New Zealand in the standings, after the Breakers thwarted a late comeback in Saturday’s earlier game against Melbourne United.
Cairns relied on Tahjere McCall, DJ Hogg and Bul Kuol through three quarters as the trio tallied 21 points each and were the only scorers aside from Sam Waardenburg (five points) through 30 minutes of action.
McCall suffered a heavy fall just before halftime and departed the game briefly, but returned clearly hurt in the second half and played through the pain for the win in front of their home crowd. 
Heading into the final term with a two-point buffer, their bench finally got going, Majok Deng hitting three important triples and Shannon Scott adding seven vital points. 
The scoring trio would finish with 23 points apiece as Forde’s side held on by seven to register their 17th win of the season and eight consecutive against Brisbane in the sunshine stoush.
With just two games remaining and several players managing injuries, Forde said the extra time off from a top-two finish is paramount.
“We’re the walking wounded at the moment,” he said.
“If we can limp over the finish line it’s not that big of a deal -we’ve got a little bit more time to rest and recover with staying top two. So, these games are really important and that’s what we’re going for.”
For the Bullets, Nathan Sobey led the way with 27 points on 40 per cent shooting and Tyler Johnson added 20 of his own.
Brisbane pushed their rivals all the way through Saturday’s contest and trailed by only one at halftime following a high-scoring affair that see-sawed behind mini-runs by both teams.

Sobey lit up the Cairns Convention Centre with 13 first-quarter points while Kuol found his regular form in derby games for 12 of his own.
The Bullets enjoyed a six-point margin at first break after finishing the quarter on a 21-9 run but Cairns’ ability to find the painted area resulted in 20 first-half free throw attempts, of which they hit 17.
Brisbane dominated the opening half rebound count 25-11 and had 13 second-chance points but 12 turnovers proved costly and Forde’s side capitalised with 14 points coming from them.
Cairns finish their season with games against Adelaide at home and a road trip to Perth in round 18. 
New Zealand Breakers have punched their ticket to the NBL play-offs for the first time since 2017-2018 and are in the hunt for an automatic semi-final berth with just two games remaining following a second-half blitz against Melbourne United.
The Breakers trailed for the majority of Saturday’s contest in Auckland but frequently found their way to the free-throw line in the back end of the match and ultimately snapped United’s five-game winning streak with an 80-74 victory.
New Zealand got to the stripe six times in the third term and had 22 free throw attempts through 30 minutes of play.
With the score at 51-47 and their home crowd firing up, Mody Maor’s side went on a 17-5 run either side of the third and fourth terms to earn their first lead of the game.
Rob Loe (15 points) played a huge part in their comeback, nailing timely three-pointers after his side struggled from beyond the arc early on.
Jarrell Brantley (18 points) continued his purple patch of form and gave New Zealand the lead by three-quarter time before Izayah Le’afa and Loe rattled home three-pointers to begin the fourth period.
Brantley stuffed Rayjon Tucker at the rim in a momentum-shifting block, with Melbourne’s late game threes not enough as New Zealand held on to finish their NBL home games with a 7-7 record. 
They also clinched their 16th win of the season, ticking off a goal for coach Maor. 
“Sixteen wins has been up on my board for a very long time – a number one goal,” Maor said.
“Happy we accomplished it but we’re onto the next one now.”
United need results to go their way for a chance to make the inaugural play-in tournament, with one game remaining against Adelaide next week.
Dean Vickerman’s side enjoyed a nine-point lead at quarter-time behind some jitters from the hosts offensively and putting the clamps on at the defensive end.
New Zealand shot just 22 per cent through 10 minutes, making only four field goals as they struggled against the tall timbers of Marcus Lee and Isaac Humphries in the paint.
The Breakers face Illawarra and Brisbane on the road to finish their season.
It took a Herculean effort and a season-high points haul from Bryce Cotton as Perth Wildcats outlasted Illawarra in an offensive clinic to keep their play-off aspirations alive with a 106-86 win at RAC Arena.
Cotton played all but two minutes of Friday’s must-win clash with the Wildcats going into the Perth fixture clinging to the sixth and final spot in the play-in tournament on percentage. 
He registered a season-high 40 points, hit seven of his 11 three-point attempts and was an enormous plus 39 for his side.
Wildcats coach John Rillie says Cotton’s scoring is impeccable but it’s his work in other aspects on the floor that should earn him MVP consideration again.
“He’s been playing at a very high level all year, our team results have just not been at a high level. So I think that’s where it gets lost in the wash,” Rillie said.
“The scoring speaks for itself and it’s easy to notice that stuff. But you talk about the assists, the rebounding, defending, all those other things that go into it that get overlooked because he’s a phenomenal scorer. There’s a lot in his game that gets overlooked.”
With the win, Perth now move to 14-11 for the season and ahead of Tasmania into fifth following their loss to Sydney in Friday’s earlier game.
But it didn’t come easily in front of a packed house in Perth as Illawarra’s Tyler Harvey (23 points) duelled all game with Cotton, before the latter finally got a rest in the dying moments after Brady Manek emphatically shut the result out with a dunk through contact.
Illawarra simply ran out of gas in the final quarter and could only muster eight points with their defence set on denying Cotton the ball.
Harvey led his side in scoring with Sam Froling adding 21 points but their high-percentage shooting faded quickly in the second half as the Hawks remain bottom of the ladder with just three wins this season.
“I thought we battled. It sort of got away from us towards the end of the third and the fourth,” Hawks coach Jacob Jackomas said.
“I’m sure there’s some things we can work on and some things that let us down. But, I didn’t think we quit even though it did stretch out a bit at the end.”
The hosts were made to pay in the opening half particularly in the paint as Illawarra crashed the glass and leveraged their size on their way to a 22-17 rebound count.
Perth are last in the league in defensive rebounding and rebounds per game, but continued to find Cotton’s hot hand as his three pointer before halftime narrowed the deficit to five points.
Both teams exchanged the lead until Cotton’s tough layup at the rim midway through the third term which inspired a 11-4 run to close the quarter.
With Perth starting the fourth on another short six to zero run, Illawarra’s attempts stopped falling and the hosts’ lead grew to 20 at the final horn.
Cotton and his Wildcats teammates travel to Tasmania for a big clash with the JackJumpers on Sunday that will likely determine the inaugural play-in tournament seedings.

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