Six teams. Three spots.
The closest season in NBL history has come down to this: one final regular season round to decide who gets in and who misses out.
A season that began four months ago with eight teams holding championship aspirations has been ‘narrowed’ down to seven. Yes, after 106 of the regular season’s 112 games, only one team – the Brisbane Bullets – have had their championship hopes extinguished.
So with the Adelaide 36ers assured of finishing on top, this final round will decide which three out of Illawarra, Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, Sydney and New Zealand will advance to the Swisse NBL Finals. And, of course, which of those three will go home empty-handed.
The tie-breaking system works like this: when two or more teams finish the regular season on an equal number of wins, the games played between those teams will be used to separate them.
It’s a tie-breaking system deeply embedded in NBL history.
In fact, the participants in the league’s very first Grand Final, back in 1979, were decided via this system. The championship back then was decided by a sudden death Grand Final between first and second – there were no semi-finals. St Kilda (the eventual champions) finished that regular season on top with 15 wins but Nunawading and Canberra were tied in second with 13 wins apiece, with Nunawading advancing via the head-to-head tiebreaker (1-1, +2 points).
But let’s get to the question on the forefront of everybody’s minds: what needs to happen for teams to make the 2016-17 Swisse NBL Finals?
Well, first and foremost, teams need to win this weekend.
That’s the absolute bottom line for everybody except Illawarra. If you’re Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, Sydney or New Zealand and you go winless in Round 19, you will not advance.
Secondly, there’s a good chance they’re going to need a game or two to go they’re way.
Before we get to each team’s situation, let’s explore one intriguing scenario: every home team winning in Round 19.
If that occurs, Illawarra will finish second on 15 wins while Melbourne, Perth, Cairns and New Zealand will all finish tied on 14 wins. Sydney (13 wins) will pack up their things and head home. In that scenario, a mini-table will be created involving only the games played between the ‘Cats, Snakes, Breakers and United. A table which would look like this:
New Zealand 6-6
With New Zealand and Perth tied on 6 wins in the mini-table, the head-to-head between those two teams would decide fourth place. The Breakers would thus advance with a 3-1 advantage.
Breaking down the Teams:
ILLAWARRA HAWKS (14-13)
Round 19: v BNE
Series won: MEL (2-2, +9), NZ (2-2, +9)
Series lost: CNS (1-3), PER (2-2, -6), SYD (1-3)
Best-case scenario: Defeat Brisbane (which will guarantee Finals) and have Perth and Cairns each lose at least once. This will lock in second place.
Worst-case scenario: Lose to Brisbane and land in a mini-table involving Cairns and Sydney. That would be a nightmare and the Hawks could finish as low as sixth.
Who they will be cheering for: Having lost to Cairns three times, Adelaide eliminating the Taipans would be good news for the #Hawkheads.
MELBOURNE UNITED (13-13)
Round 19: @ NZ, v PER
Series won: CNS (3-1), SYD (3-1)
Series lost: ILL (2-2, -9), PER (0-3*)
Series undecided: NZ (1-2, +13)
Best-case scenario: Win twice and have Illawarra lose to Brisbane. Second place, baby!
Worst-case scenario: Two losses would obviously eliminate United. Also, landing in a mini-table involving the Wildcats would be dicey.
Who they will be cheering for: Brisbane upsetting Illawarra opens the door for a potential second-place finish. Also, Andrew Gaze could help United by leading the Kings to a win in the Jungle. That will give Melbourne a chance to eliminate Perth in the final game of the season.
PERTH WILDCATS (13-13)
Round 19: v SYD, @ MEL
Series won: CNS (2-2, +6), ILL (2-2, +6), MEL (3-0*)
Series lost: NZ (1-3)
Series undecided: SYD (2-1, +8)
Best-case scenario: Two wins will lock in a 31st consecutive Finals appearance and, if Cairns loses at least once to the Sixers, the ‘Cats will take second place.
Worst-case scenario: Defeating the Kings and still missing out. This will happen if all other home teams win in Round 19.
Who they will be cheering for: Brisbane, Melbourne (in New Zealand) and Adelaide. But really, the Wildcats have the chance to control their own destiny.
CAIRNS TAIPANS (13-13)
Round 19: v ADE, @ ADE
Series won: ILL (3-1), NZ (4-0)
Series lost: MEL (1-3), PER (2-2, -6), SYD (1-3)
Best-case scenario: Cairns will finish second if they defeat Adelaide twice and have Melbourne lose at least once. Win both games against the Sixers and the Snakes will finish no lower than third.
Worst-case scenario: Grabbing a win over the ladder-leaders but landing in a four-way tie with Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. If that happens, avoid Aaron Fearne until at least April.
Who they will be cheering for: A New Zealand win would help, as any potential mini-table involving the Breakers will almost certainly result in playoffs for the Taipans.
SYDNEY KINGS (13-14)
Round 19: @ PER
Series won: CNS (3-1), ILL (3-1), NZ (3-1)
Series lost: MEL (1-3)
Series undecided: PER (1-2, -8)
Best-case scenario: A win over Perth is a must. If they get it, here’s the perfect storm that could result in the Kings finishing second: New Zealand beat Melbourne, Brisbane beat Illawarra, Perth beat Melbourne and Adelaide get the better of Cairns at least once.
Worst-case scenario: No win, no finals. Also, if Sydney beat Perth but end up in a mini-table that involves Melbourne they’re a chance to still miss out.
Who they will be cheering for: Brisbane over Illawarra would be helpful. Also, United losses are very good news for the Kings.
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS (13-14)
Round 19: v MEL
Series won: PER (3-1)
Series lost: CNS (0-4), ILL (2-2, -9), SYD (1-3)
Series undecided: MEL (2-1, -13)
Best-case scenario: If the Breakers defeat Melbourne on Friday night they could finish as high as third. That will happen if – stay with us – Perth beat Sydney, Cairns lose both games to Adelaide and Melbourne defeat Perth.
Worst-case scenario: Defeating Melbourne but having Cairns split their games against the 36ers. Those 4 losses to the Snakes could be the death of the Breakers.
Who they will be cheering for: Assuming the Breakers beat United, they’ll be cheering for either Adelaide to win both games over Cairns or Cairns to win both games over Adelaide. This will help avoid the Taipans in a potential mini-table. A Perth win over Sydney will also help the Breakers cause.
So, who will make it? Tune in to NBL TV and Fox Sports 503 from Thursday night at 7.30pm AEDT to find out.