Why snakes are alive in NBL title hunt

Don't sleep on the Snakes.

The Cairns Taipans will not be just making up the numbers in the NBL finals.

They can legitimately win the whole damn thing.

Cairns officially clinched their playoff spot with the 99-80 win over Adelaide on Saturday - their 16th victory of the 2019-20 campaign with two regular season matches to go.

It is a remarkable achievement for the entire Taipans organisation given they took home the wooden spoon last season with just six wins.

As a smaller budget team from a regional centre, the Snakes have well and truly punched above their weight to be one of the genuine good news stories in the NBL.

The entertaining brand of basketball has been fun to watch. They have equal amounts hustle and muscle.

They have been described as everyone's second favourite team but that could change when the Taipans start taking names and kicking backsides at the business end of the season.

Former Snakes star and astute NBL commentator Cam Tragardh makes the point that this Cairns team is not a bunch of little scrappers hitting three-pointers from the carpark to carry them into the post-season, they are bona fide bullies.

Head coach Mike Kelly should be a stone cold certainty for the NBL's Coach of the Year gong.

Cairns head coach Mike Kelly during the win over Adelaide on Saturday.
Cairns head coach Mike Kelly during the win over Adelaide on Saturday.

As pointed out by the competition's stats guru late on Saturday night, Kelly is the first head coach in NBL history to finish last in his first season in charge of a team and then make the finals in his second.

And he could well have some company as an NBL award winner with import point guard Scott Machado one of the true contenders for the MVP award.

Machado was playing for the LA Lakers last year and his class has shone like a beacon. Whether it's been driving to the bucket, hitting long bombs or dishing assists, all the good things that have happened at Cairns have gone through Machado's trusty hands.

 

Taipans star and MVP candidate Scott Machado
Taipans star and MVP candidate Scott Machado

 

His fellow import Cam Oliver has been a beast in the paint at both ends of the floor while DJ Newbill has been a fine leader, great defender and underrated offensive threat.

And then you have Nate Jawai coming off the bench as one of the many contributors to the Taipans' success. Every player, coach and staff member has their fingerprints on this playoff run which is Cairns' greatest strength.

Cairns are likely to face Perth in the semi-finals. It is an indisputable fact in the NBL that the road to the title goes through the WA capital. Nine championships and 34-straight playoff appearances means the Wildcats are the benchmark.

That won't scare these Snakes. In Round 3, the Taipans claimed a record-breaking 23-point win over Perth in Perth. They beat them by seven points in Cairns five weeks later.

In Round 10, they accounted for league-leader Sydney in Sydney. They've beaten everyone this season. Nobody scares Cairns.

So why not them?

Nate Jawai in Cairns’ indigenous uniform from earlier this season. He has been nominated for the NBL’s Best Sixth Man award
Nate Jawai in Cairns’ indigenous uniform from earlier this season. He has been nominated for the NBL’s Best Sixth Man award