Throwdown XV between the South East Melbourne Phoenix and Melbourne United looks to be a big clash for both teams as they continue to make a push for a top-two spot.
Despite sitting second on the ladder, South East Melbourne has struggled against the teams around them in the top four. The loss against the Illawarra Hawks in Round 14 showcased its inability to get over the line in the tough matches.
Melbourne United was on a five-game win streak before it lost on Thursday to the Perth Wildcats.
Sunday’s game will be the third time these two teams have met each other this season, with the season series split 1-1. South East Melbourne won in Round 2, while United won the clash in Round 12.
Ahead of Throwdown XV, The Inner Sanctum looks at what each team must do to ensure they come out victorious.
For South East Melbourne
Operation slow down Jo Lual-Acuil
The first point of focus for the Phoenix will be to nullify Jo Lual-Acuil. The 27-year-old is averaging 23.5 points and six rebounds against South East Melbourne this season.
Zhou Qi and Brandon Ashley were tasked with the difficult job of guarding the United centre the last time these teams met, however, they were unable to contain him. This was especially clear in the first match-up when Lual-Acuil scored 30 points on 84 per cent field goal efficiency.
The potential MVP candidate was also influential in the last quarter of that game and was a big reason why United was able to secure a 94-87 victory.
If Qi and Ashley can keep themselves out of foul trouble early, it will go a long way in helping the Phoenix slow down Lual-Acuil and reduce his impact on the game.
Knock down open shots
If the Phoenix want to keep the encounter within reach against this elite United defence, they will need to knock out their open shots, especially from three-point range.
According to SpatialJam.com, the Phoenix are the third-worst three-point shooting team, only shooting at 31 per cent. This shouldn’t be the case with their roster filled with shooters such as Ryan Broekhoff, Cam Gliddon, Izayah Le’Afa.
If their shot isn’t falling, it will put a lot of pressure on their defence, an area they’ve struggled with since the club’s inception.
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For Melbourne United
Get Chris Goulding going early
We all know how dangerous Chris Goulding is when he catches fire. This season though, the 33-year-old has been hit and miss. While he is averaging 15 points per game, he is only shooting the ball at 38 per cent.
Goulding is one of United’s main offensive weapons alongside Lual-Acuil, and he will be essential to help Melbourne keep the scoreboard ticking along.
United’s star guard missed the first meeting in Round 2 due to injury, but was important in the Round 12 clash where he scored 15 points, including a three-point dagger.
Continue dominance on the defensive end
Despite conceding 97 points to the Wildcats on Thursday, Melbourne United is still among the best defensive teams in the competition. Before Thursday, United was only conceding 78.1 points per game.
In the two games, this season against the Phoenix, Melbourne has held its cross-town rivals to 94 and 87 points.
That defensive prowess was illustrated in the Round 12 clash when they found themselves four points down at three-quarter time. However, in the fourth quarter, United was able to hold South East Melbourne to 19 points while scoring 30 points of their own.
In the dying minutes of the contest, Melbourne was able to consistently get stops and force the Phoenix into tough contested shots.
If Melbourne continues to pile on the pressure defensively on Sunday, it will make life difficult for the Phoenix to score.
Win the rebound battle
In the two meetings, this season against the Phoenix, United managed to win the rebound count on both occasions (46-42, 47-34).
Even though Zhou Qi has been struggling recently, the battle of the boards will be key to limiting the number of shots the Phoenix take.
It will be up to Lual-Acuil who is averaging six rebounds across the two encounters, Next Star Ariel Hukporti and Jack White to keep Qi, Mitch Creek and Brandon Ashley off the boards.
Guard Caleb Agada has also shown this season that if you don’t put a body on him, he can also help on the glass.
If either team can execute some of these points on Sunday, it will go a long way to ensure they leave John Cain Arena victorious.
This game will be massive for both sides, Melbourne United will be looking to bounce back after a loss on Thursday. South East Melbourne will be fighting to stay in the top four, with a loss potentially dropping the Phoenix out of the finals picture.
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