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Phoenix confident they can beat the Sydney Kings, but need more to … – Code

Sydney has sewn up top spot on the NBL23 ladder but the more than 13,000 fans through the gate at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday helped the reigning champs set a stunning record.
The Sydney Kings have set a franchise season-long attendance record and stitched up top-spot in another banner day for the reigning champions.
Qudos Bank Arena hosted 144,307 fans in NBL23, eclipsing the previous club record of 140,168, set during a 2019-20 season when LaMelo Ball’s visit with the Illawarra Hawks attracted more than 17,000 to a single game.
The bursting crowd numbers are another indication of basketball’s rapid rise in Australia and the work being done behind the scenes in Sydney and across the country to build the sport.
The Kings, in front of 13,273 on Sunday, held off a desperate South East Melbourne Phoenix, 111-106, to ensure they would be the No.1 seed in this year’s playoffs.
It was the sixth-largest home crowd in franchise history and eighth above 11,000 this season and comes on the back of the 14,232 who attended last week’s clash with New Zealand — the biggest crowd in the NBL this year.
Kings fans are clearly voting with their feet, with an average of 10,307 through the gate, keen to get a glimpse of the attractive brand of basketball that has them favoured to go back-to-back.
Proud Kings owner Paul Smith said the club was “grateful” to the supporter base that had helped it set a new record.
“This season has been an amazing run for the club,” Smith said.
“Last season, in winning the championship, we said that the Sydney Kings love Sydney and Sydney loves The Sydney Kings.
“We didn’t think Sydney loved the Kings this much. Thank you.”
It took the first triple-double since Josh Giddey was in the league from Xavier Cooks (16-10-10) and 20-point games from Derrick Walton Jr and Dejan Vasiljevic to hold off the Phoenix, who got 29 points from Mitch Creek.
The Kings could now drop both their remaining games against Adelaide and Perth and still finish on top, thanks to their gaudy percentage.
Beat Sydney, then hold your breath.
That’s the scenario facing South East Melbourne as they prepare for Sunday’s final game of their NBL23 season with a spot in the top six on the line.
Captain Kyle Adnam feels like the Phoenix’s playoff campaign began weeks ago, his side showing desperation to win three straight after a five-game losing streak, including a home heartbreaker against lowly Brisbane, put their top-six hopes on a knife’s edge.
The Phoenix are fighting with cross-town rival Melbourne United and the Perth Wildcats for a postseason berth, but enjoy the upper hand on percentage.
It doesn’t get much tougher, though — the reigning champs and top team on their home floor — before sitting and watching the last round as the other teams fight to push them out of the six.
“We’ve got to embrace it, Sydney has been the pinnacle of the league this whole season, no doubt about it, but, to have them as our game to all but secure ourselves a finals berth, I think it’s really, really important and a great challenge for us,” Adnam said.
“We’ve had three great games in a row as an early start to our playoff series but I think this is the momentum we needed to actually get to where we want to go.
“We’re hungry, it’s obviously a massive game for us and we know it’s going to be a tough task up there, but we’re ready to go.”
Phoenix has split the season series with the Kings, albeit both teams were missing members of their best line-up in each loss.
The two teams produced one of the greatest NBL games of all time in country Victoria when Mitch Creek (46 points) and Derrick Walton Jr (45) traded bucket after bucket in a double-overtime thriller won by the Phoenix 113-112.
Injured sharpshooter and defensive organiser Ryan Broekhoff will miss, but import Trey Kell stepped up at both ends in Wednesday’s win over Cairns and will look to fill that void again in Sydney.
The Kings, meanwhile, ended a two-game slump in style, crushing Tasmania on its home floor and look to have turned a corner as finals approach.
Dejan Vasiljevic caught fire against his nemesis with 24 points and five treys — all after quarter time and he looms as a serious threat after rediscovering his devastating shooting form in recent weeks.
Buckle up for another classic.
Sydney Kings sharpshooter Dejan Vasiljevic expects to be public enemy No. 1 when he returns to Tasmania to take on the JackJumpers, nine months after hitting a grand final dagger and receiving online death threats.
MyState Bank Arena harbours bittersweet memories for Vasiljevic despite it being the stage where he produced the biggest shot of his NBL career to give the Kings a 2-0 lead in last year’s grand final series.
The guard’s wild celebrations after his match-sealing three-pointer prompted boos from the JackJumpers faithful while he also received online abuse.
Vasiljevic knows the Tasmania fans will be baying for his blood again on Friday, although he doesn’t feel any personal angst towards the JackJumpers’ franchise.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if as soon as I touch the ball, there is a bunch of boos that come my way,” Vasiljevic said.
“It’s just part of the game. It (MyState Bank Arena) gets loud, and it is one of my favourite places to play, just because the fans get so involved.
“But I have nothing but respect for Tasmania and their island and what the CEO and others have done to bring them back and perform at a very high level.
“I’m looking forward to it – it will be a great match up either way.”
Vasiljevic is determined to take the higher road and focus on his own backyard following two straight losses to Perth and New Zealand.
He concedes the Kings had become “complacent” knowing their finals berth was secured.
“We know we’ve locked in a finals place, and we’ve taken our foot off the peddle,” he said.
“I think that may have played a part. We’ve made the finals, so let’s just play the finals.
“I think the whole group just needs to be a little bit more desperate and play with more hunger.”
Vasiljevic says Sydney made a “statement” when they beat Brisbane by 49 points in round 15.
He felt like the team was building momentum before taking a “backwards step” in a close win over Illawarra later that round.
Vasiljevic wants the Kings to rediscover their championship hunger against the JackJumpers on Friday.
“I feel like we’ve just got to come out there and show why we want to be the best in the league and why we’ve been the best for most of the season,” he said.
“We’ve just got to keep going at because we became too complacent.
“Again, anything can happen. If we lose the next four games, we might drop into that play-in, so you’ve just got to mentally come in every day and be professionals.
“Even though we’ve played every team a few times this season, you’ve still got to take them seriously because everyone is desperate and fighting for a playoff spot.
“We’ve got to come into practice, and it has to be our best practice for the year to show that we still mean business.”
Sydney lost to Tasmania back in round 10, so Vasiljevic knows the Kings must be at their best to beat the JackJumpers at home.
He is also bracing for a crucial home clash against the South East Melbourne Phoenix on Sunday.
“We have two challenging games coming up,” he said.
“In our first game against Tassie they came back and beat us, so they will mean business.
“Then we’ll have to back it up against South East Melbourne, who are probably playing their best basketball right now.”
Tasmania JackJumpers vs. Sydney Kings at MyState Bank Arena from 7.30pm (AEDT) and Live on ESPN and Kayo
Perth Wildcats coach John Rillie believes the sustained brilliance of Wildcats guard Bryce Cotton has been overlooked this season, leading to the star American being the forgotten man in the MVP race.
Cotton hasn’t featured highly in the MVP discussion until recently, with Xavier Cooks (Sydney), Mitch Creek (Phoenix) and Keanu Pinder (Taipans) the frontrunners.
Rillie isn’t denying the success of players like Cooks, but says a winning record shouldn’t be the reason a player wins the most valuable award.
“If you’re purely just wanting to reward someone who is on the best team on the ladder, that’s fine,” Rillie said on this week’s episode of The Basketball Show.
“But what really is the criteria and if it is who is the most valuable player to a team, then Bryce certainly has to be in the conversation.”
Rillie makes a valid point when you look at Cotton’s statistics, consistency and impact at Perth.
The American-born guard has averaged 23.54 points, 4.13 rebounds and 4.88 assists while he remains the Wildcats’ premier player.
Rillie says Cotton has also added layers to his game this season, especially when he encounters shooting slumps.
“A great example of the other night was his 11 assists against the Sydney Kings,” he said about Cotton, who has won three championships, three MVP awards and two grand final MVP awards.
“He has shown this year how he can carry a team in different ways.
“It is a great debate because if you truly believe who is the most valuable player to a team, I think it goes along way where Bryce cannot be in the conversation at the pointy end of the season.”
MVP discussion aside, Rillie regularly takes the time to stop and admire Cotton’s sublime skills at training and in games.
Although he concedes he doesn’t want his players to get caught up in Bryce’s majestic basketball.
“You have to appreciate it, but also as a coach and a teammate, you can’t just stand around and watch,” he said.
“You still have to do your job and not get caught up in the moment.”
It’s been a challenging maiden season as an NBL head coach in Perth for Rillie.
The Wildcats struggled for consistency earlier in the season, but they’ve won three of their past four games to sit in fifth position with two rounds remaining before the playoffs.
Rillie acknowledges there is pressure that comes with coaching Perth given the club had made the postseason for 35 consecutive years prior to last season’s fifth place finish.
“But to have the expectation, there is a privilege that goes along with that,” he said.
“It’s something that I haven’t shied away from and it’s something that I embrace.”
New Ep! Wildcats HC @johnrillie joins! Tight NBL ladder, who gets in? What now for 36ers? Is Bronny a legit NBL shot? Who won Simmons-Harden trade, NBL Pride Round & so much more with guest host @nathanstrempel & @mattlogue7!
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Rillie revealed he lent heavily on Boomers coach and NBL master mentor Brian Goorjian for advice this season.
He has built a close connection with Goorjian after working under him as an Australian assistant coach during the historic bronze-medal winning Tokyo Olympic campaign.
“I talk to Brian a lot about the ebbs and flows of it all and the momentum swings, not just in a game, but also in a season and how you can handle them,” he said.
“I also have a couple of close friends from college, and we help each other out throughout the midst of a season.
“And then my family is just so supportive in their own way.
“I have a very small circle. I trust what I do, and I think sometimes you can get caught up in noise, so if you start listening to everyone you can’t think straight and operate the way you need to operate.”
Originally published as Sydney Kings set franchise record for season-long home attendance
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