Melbourne United vs Illawarra Hawks game three preview, free throw issues, Perth Wildcats vs Tasmania JackJumpers, playoffs news


Melbourne United has been the NBL’s best team all season but must overcome its “mental” demons to beat the Illawarra Hawks and reach a fourth grand final series in seven years.

Seven-time MVP Andrew Gaze says that is United’s harsh reality and the league’s No. 1 side faces a battle of the mind to defeat the Hawks.

Melbourne has been the NBL’s benchmark but it has one weakness – free-throw shooting.

United is ranked last from the penalty stripe this season at an accuracy of just 69 per cent.

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The issue has plagued Melbourne throughout the playoff series against Illawarra.

United went 15-25 from the line in game one but held on in overtime to defeat the Hawks.

Melbourne wasn’t so lucky in the 113-108 overtime loss to Illawarra on Sunday when its 15-24 record from the line cost the side in a tight tussle.

Dejected Melbourne United players after defeat to Illawarra Hawks in the NBL semi finals. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.
Dejected Melbourne United players after defeat to Illawarra Hawks in the NBL semi finals. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.Source: Getty Images

Gaze believes United remains favourite to beat the Hawks but the side can’t afford to let its free-throw struggles cost it down the stretch.

“It’s one of those things that can be contagious,” Gaze said about United’s battles from the free-throw line. “The more you focus on it, sometimes it can play in your head.

“It’s not ideal but it shouldn’t be the determining factor, although it was on the weekend in such a close game.

“There isn’t much they (United) can do other than get more reps in and work more on the mind.”

Melbourne also faces the mental challenge of closing out a deciding playoff game at home, which the side failed to do two seasons ago against Tasmania.

United went into the clash as the red-hot favourite but the JackJumpers stole the show to win by three points.

Melbourne’s team is different now but Gaze said the deciding playoff clash against Illawarra on Wednesday night remained a franchise-defining game.

“Again, it’s more to do with the mind,” he said.

“When you’ve had such a dominant regular season, the ability to close out can play on your mind.

“You see it in all sports. Look at tennis. You dominate the game and a player can struggle to serve it out.

“Usually, despite those pressures, the regular-season form is a good indicator and you can work through any mental challenges.

“United go in as favourite but there are a few head games they have to get through.”

Jordon Crawford needs to regain some form for the JackJumpers. Photo: Steve Bell/Getty Images.Source: Getty Images

Gaze is leaning towards Perth beating Tasmania in the other playoff series decider but is refusing to rule out the JackJumpers.

He said Tassie’s potent back-court duo of Milton Doyle and Jordan Crawford shot just 11 of 34 from the field during the loss in game one.

Gaze holds hope for Tasmania to upset Perth at home in the decider if Doyle and Crawford can discover their shooting mojos.

“They only need to be marginally better and make some shots and that result is probably different,” he said.

“Perth are expected to win but like United they have some issues they need to address.”

WEDNESDAY NBL PLAYOFFS DOUBLE-HEADER (the winners progress to the grand final series)

Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks at John Cain Arena from 7.30pm (AEDT)

Perth Wildcats v Tasmania JackJumpers at RAC Arena from 9.30pm (AEDT)


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