The regular season is in the books and the stage is set for the Play-In Tournament. Sydney and New Zealand will now sit back and watch, as South East Melbourne, Perth, Tasmania and Cairns attempt to book their place in the final four.
Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley are on hand for this week's 3x3, where they uncover some under-the-radar rotation players, wonder who might present Sydney with the biggest challenge and take one last look back at the regular season for a favourite moment.
It's been a wild NBL23 thus far, but now the real stuff begins.
What was your favourite moment of the NBL23 season?
Kane Pitman: Tension in Traralgon.
I'd never ventured to Traralgon in my time so why not make the trip for a classic between Sydney and South East Melbourne. A WILD double-overtime classic ensued. In a game where key injuries took hold, players fouled out left right and centre and emotions were on full tilt, it was the Phoenix who outlasted the defending champs in an unforgettable afternoon. Mitch Creek poured in 46 points, while Derrick Walton Jr. tallied 45. A truly ridiculous game of basketball and one I was lucky to be in the building for.
Olgun Uluc: Tyler Harvey's game winner in New Zealand.
Out of every on-court moment this season, Tyler Harvey's damn-near-halfcourt three to beat the Breakers -- and to end the Illawarra Hawks' horror losing stretch -- was the only one to make me yell, then keep me in a stunned silence. It was just an incredible shot, coupled with an intense feeling of catharsis for the Hawks. The team went 3-25 but that, for some reason, didn't seem so bad because of that one shot.
Peter Hooley: Tyler Harvey's halfcourt game winner in New Zealand.
Illawarra suffered their fair share of heartbreak through NBL23, with the game winner in Sydney and the double OT game against United just two of those occasions. For the Hawks to feel elation when Tyler Harvey pulled up from the carpark to sink the Breakers was a terrific moment for all. They've been hampered with key injuries all season long yet showed down the final stretch of NBL23 that they wouldn't stop fighting. I think all NBL fans enjoyed seeing that ball go through the net in that moment.
Name an under-the-radar player to watch entering the Play-In Tournament.
Kane Pitman: Isaac White.
White is a ball of energy who has proven to be an impact player when called on by Scott Roth. White ranks 11th on the JackJumpers for total possessions played, but the team is outscoring opponents by 9.9 points per 100 possessions when the tenacious guard is on the floor (via spatialjam.com). He's unquestionably been a positive for the team and while the steady presence of Josh Maggette will be missed, the desperation of White could be valuable for a team that will have two attempts at booking a semifinal spot. Opportunity knocks.
Olgun Uluc: Angus Glover.
Every championship team has that sixth or seventh player who just feels like an extension of the starting unit because they lose nothing when he's on the floor, and that's exactly what Glover looks primed to do. Glover's minutes are actually slightly down, but his production is up, because his efficiency has been wildly impressive, shooting 44.8 percent from downtown, on 2.5 attempts a game. He played an important bench role in the Kings' title campaign last season, but there's a feeling he could be even more of a factor this time round, considering how much his game looks to have stepped up. He could be an under-the-radar difference-maker.
Peter Hooley: Sean Macdonald.
With starting point guard Josh Magette likely to miss the entire postseason, it is a massive opportunity for development player Sean MacDonald to once again step up and deliver. The youngster found his way into the rotation due to injuries to key players earlier in the season but played well enough to keep it when the squad returned to full health. Whilst Magette has had his inconsistencies in NBL23, he was the floor general and leader for Tasmania nearly every night. Whether it's setting up the offence or being a pest defensively and getting under opponents' skin, he will be hard to replace.
Which team would present Sydney with the greatest challenge in a playoff series?
Kane Pitman: Let's go with a team outside the top three. A healthy South East Melbourne.
The Phoenix might be done and dusted on Thursday night, but until they are eliminated, I will hold the belief that they can challenge if healthy. The Phoenix are unique. They shoot fewer threes than anyone and attempt more free-throws than anyone. They play inside and out, which would be a fascinating battle against a Kings team that protects the paint as well as anyone. It would be set up for a high scoring affair, but the question would be on the defensive end for the Phoenix in a three-game semifinal series.
Olgun Uluc: A healthy Phoenix.
We've seen the Phoenix cause the Kings bouts of trouble throughout the regular season and, from memory, they didn't have a full, healthy lineup for any of those matchups. With this team, it always seems like a big 'if' with regard to everyone being fit to play, but it's clear they'd genuinely compete with the Kings if they are. The Kings have them on depth, but the top-tier guys match up relatively well. The Phoenix have a long road to even get there -- they need to win two play-in games -- but Kings-Phoenix would be a hell of a series.
Peter Hooley: NZ Breakers.
Two completely contrasting styles of play will make for a fascinating GF Series if we get to that. The Kings play incredibly fast, where the Breakers use their physicality to slow things down. It would be a fitting end to an amazing season to have the top two battle it out for a title. The way they have battled all year and the particular pieces they have on this roster, could cause some issues for the Kings over a five-game series.