Basketball: Playoff race still alive in NBL

By Niall Anderson

Houston O'Riley had a career-best performance. Photo / Photosport
Houston O'Riley had a career-best performance. Photo / Photosport

In a season full of fluctuation, the National Basketball League playoff race has taken another sudden twist.

Just as it looked like the four playoff teams had been set in stone, the Southland Sharks' 88-85 loss to the Taranaki Mountain Airs today has reignited intrigue.

Beating the plucky Airs would have secured a playoff spot for the defending champions, but now the Sharks require a late surge to secure their playoff fate.

Such a scenario seemed unlikely when the Sharks came back from a 23 point deficit to seemingly crush the hopes of the Nelson Giants on Friday night. The result dropped the fast-starting Giants to 8-8, and left them needing a flood of results to go their way to have a hope of making their fourth straight playoff appearance.

However, a superb performance from the short-handed Airs has changed the calculations.

Missing import Marcus Johnson through injury, a career-high 25 points (and five rebounds, six assists and three steals) from Houston O'Riley was complemented by 21 points on seven shots from Tony Tolovae as the Airs came back from a 10 point deficit to prove potent spoilers.

Now the Sharks hold a 9-7 record, and face a tough finish, with clashes against the league-leading Wellington Saints and third-placed Supercity Rangers to conclude their season.

While both games are at home, it is likely that the Sharks won't be favoured to win either clash, and will certainly require classy performances to topple their fancied opponents.

Conversely, the Giants have a home game against the 0-15 Bay Hawks, before a final round clash with the Saints, who by then could potentially have locked up top spot and be resting for the playoffs.

While they have a glimmer of hope, the odds are still not in the Giants' favour, with both the Sharks and Rangers holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tim Fanning's side, which will come into play if there is a tie at 9-7 or 10-8.

Additionally, the uncertain return of injured key forward Finn Delany could hinder the Giants' performance down the stretch.

Elsewhere, the Rangers (9-6) still require one more victory to lock in a playoff berth. A home clash against the Airs in Whangarei could be their ticket, before they go on the road to face the Canterbury Rams and Sharks to finish their regular season.

The Rams and Saints have already booked spots in the Final Four, and will be fighting for seeding for the NBL finale, held in Invercargill over Queen's Birthday weekend.

Rangers (9-6)

Games remaining:
Airs (H)
Rams (A)
Sharks (A)

Sharks (9-7)

Games remaining:
Saints (H)
Rangers (H)

Giants 8-8

Games remaining:
Hawks (H)
Saints (H)

- NZ Herald

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