• It seems the Hawks are the sentimental favourites for many when the National Basketball League Final 4 playoffs tip off in Christchurch today but the Wellington Saints should march on through the strides of realism tomorrow.
• But if you ask Jeff Green what he sees in his crystal ball, the wily Supercity Rangers coach will sift through the haze to tell you it's the Canterbury Rams all the way to snipping the nets from the rims at Horncastle Arena.
Some National Basketball League coaches find Zico Coronel's three-point philosophy quite intoxicating and are hoping the Hawks will win their semifinal against the Canterbury Rams in Christchurch this evening. However, some of the NBL brains trust also feel the Rams' season-defining bunker mentality and the absence of Australian import centre Daniel Kickert in the Taylor Corporation Hawks equation make the hosts favourites to proceed to the final.
In fact, Supercity Rangers coach Jeff Green even believes the Cantabrians have the ability to go all the way to upset perennial favourites Wellington Saints in the final tomorrow. "I think that's going to be a one-sided match as well," says Green before the Jarrod Kenny-captained Hawks tip off against the Rams in the second semifinal of the Final 4 at Horncastle Arena, Christchurch, in a televised 6.30pm tip off today. The Paul Henare-coached undefeated Saints come in as pre-season bully boys who should grind down defending champions Southland Sharks in the 3.10pm affair.
It'll surprise Green if the Sharks will prevail but stresses that's the joy of having one-off matches where anyone can rise to the occasion.
"I'm not saying the Saints should win it easily but on form their 18 and oh means the Sharks are pushing uphill although the Saints know they have a big target on their backs so anything can happen," he says.
Green also reckons the home-court advantage will be massive for the Mick Downer-mentored Rams who can do the unthinkable against the Wellingtonians in the 6.30pm grand final tomorrow. "It could be a close match but the Hawks not only have to play well offensively but also some defence which I don't think they can in terms of a pressure game like that," he says. "I see it as a bit more of a one-way traffic so I find it hard to see the Bay Hawks getting up for that."
However, Green doesn't see Kickert's loss as a factor simply because he was part of the Hawks' offensive arsenal although he believes US import power forward Brandon Bowman will be a handful for any team.
While the Hawks' ability to drop threes from just about anywhere makes them a threat against anyone there's a tendency to limit the oxygen intake in the playoffs.
The frightening prospect, he says, is if the Hawks fail to find love with the rims which means they'll be in for a long night.
Manawatu Jets mentor Tim McTamney agrees Wellington have assembled a squad that has all the precursors to indicate they should be prevail.
"They've proven all season long that even when they are not at their best they are very difficult to beat just on talent alone so there's no questions they are the favourites," says McTamney.
Without Kickert, who had minor minutes because of a niggly back injury that saw him return to Sydney before the round-robin stage, he suspects the Hawks will lose ground.
"He is a massive piece, not just in terms of a talented basketball player but also in terms of play, he was crucial to the style of play to put in place.
"They [the Hawks] are still very good and, I think, they proved that in their final game against the Rams — they are very capable of winning but it'll be harder for them without Kickert playing," says McTamney.
The contrasting styles of the Hawks' in-your-face approach and the sit-back-in-the-trench manner the Rams adopt are in themselves intriguing.
"One is up tempo and is structured without being structured so there's a lot of freedom in the way they play and is great to watch, whereas Canterbury are very conservative and quite regimented in the way they play."
McTamney says Coronel is a good mate and someone who he has toiled alongside for almost 15 years so he respects his work ethics.
"I think he's doing an amazing job with a lot lower budget than some teams and with all the injuries they've had they've still won games despite all those problems."
However, he emphasises it isn't a case of choosing one philosophy over another because neither mentor neglects their lesser attributes.
"I think the Hawks are a better defensive side than people realise and giving up certain points per game isn't a measure of how good you are defensively."
McTamney says the Cantabrians' collective energy in defending is admirable but it'll be the side which can find a balance in both departments that'll progress.
While the home crowd should lift the Rams a little, he believes the Final 4 factor negates the need for oppositions to sweat on such variables.
Taranaki Mountainairs coach David Bublitz thinks the Sharks have improved with their young players, especially former Hawk Hyrum Harris, to add to their offensive weapon.
"I think it's hard to go past the Saints who have a lot of Tall Blacks in the business so to get past those guys and Paulie, who is very uncompromising in his ways," says Bublitz.
Canterbury, he says, proudly build their campaign on the platform of defence which has proved to be the best this winter.
"I guess it comes down to how well Canterbury are playing their offense with their defence ... "
Bublitz hopes the Hawks will prevail because he finds Coronel's three-point philosophy quite infectious and entertaining.
"He's stuck to his guns on how he wants to play basketball and he's done it right from the start and it's typically different from everyone else," he says but believes if the hosts sit on their defensive system to find a roll then it'll be tough for the Hawks to make inroads.
Sharks coach Judd Flavell confirms Wellington's favouritism but says the rest of the season was a dress rehearsal.
"The other games mean very little but, if anything, you take all that into consideration when you play do-or-die games," says Flavell, adding underdogs tend to need "weird things" to go their way to snip the nets tomorrow.
Southland have gone through six imports this winter but that has enabled the likes of Harris to showcase their skills to endorse the development programme works.
"When I recruited him I didn't foresee him as a starting member of our group ... but he's having a great season and proves he belongs there," he says, finding the Harris analogy fits the Sharks' resolve in the Final 4.
In the other semifinal, Flavell says the pace tends to traditionally go out of playoff matches although he relishes the one-off concept to the ANBL or NBA where qualifiers play final series.
"Look, Canterbury being at home probably gets the nod in my eye but there's little between them and it may even come down to a super over," he says with a chuckle after the Black Caps' loss to England in the ICC World Cup in London on Monday.