Bullets’ playoff destiny in their own hands
DEFEND home court and go to the big dance.
That is the playoff equation for Brisbane who take on a LaMelo Ball-less Illawarra Hawks at 'The Armoury' on Saturday.
At the start of Round 16, the Bullets (10-11) were sixth on the congested NBL ladder with Cairns in third place at 12-10.
Five of Brisbane's last seven games are at home at Nissan Arena where they have already beaten reigning champion Perth twice and the league-leading Sydney as part of their 6-3 record on their home court.
If they avoided the stunning second-half capitulations against Sydney, South-East Melbourne and New Zealand, the Bullets would be undefeated in Brisbane this season.
Fifteen wins should be enough to qualify for the hotly-contested top four so taking care of business against the last-placed Hawks is an absolute must for Brisbane if they want to return to the finals.
The Hawks will be without teenage US star Ball who has ended his NBL stint due to bone bruising on his left foot which requires another six weeks of rehabilitation. Ball has already been sidelined since early December.
Given the Hawks are no chance of making the finals and Ball is staring down the barrel of being a top three pick in this year's NBA draft, it is not a surprise that he has pulled the pin on his Next Stars program journey.
Bullets assistant coach CJ Bruton said Brisbane knows it must make 'The Armoury' an impregnable fortress for the rest of the season but the primary focus was squarely on the Hawks.
"It (winning at home) definitely does (give Brisbane a shot at the top four) but it's about the Hawks game. You can't look past them,'' he said.
"There's a lot at stake every week in every round.
"Every possession counts and the room for error right now obviously gets magnified for every team that's in the playoff hunt.''
Bruton said the Hawks deserve respect with or without Ball.
"The last four weeks, from beating the Sydney Kings to being in every ball game all the way to the last minutes, you can't underestimate them,'' he said.
"They get second-chance points, their young guys off their bench continue to contribute and give second-efforts which is what every team wants to see.''
Brisbane has beaten the Hawks in all three meetings between the foundation clubs this season.
NBL - Round 16
Brisbane Bullets (10-11) v Illawarra Hawks (5-17)
Saturday, 4.30pm (Qld time)
Nissan Arena, Brisbane
TV: SBS Viceland
Ladbrokes: Bullets $1.16, Hawks $5.25