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Round 4 in the NBL is upon us and there’s no shortage of drama with Jesse Wagstaff sensationally cleared to play, the Adelaide 36ers ready to challenge the Sydney Kings, and more unwanted drama surrounding the winless Brisbane Bullets.

Perth Wildcats captain Wagstaff has seen his controversial suspension overturned just in time for Saturday’s trip to Tasmania with fellow big man TaShawn Thomas cleared to return for the ‘Cats as well.

Then you have Sydney Kings owner Paul Smith stirring the pot with the Adelaide 36ers, the Brisbane Bullets’ shining light so far this season suspended after a run in with his coach, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Round 4 begins with a double-header on Thursday night with the New Zealand Breakers back at home hunting a fourth straight win against a full strength South East Melbourne Phoenix with the availability of Gary Browne.

Second up on Thursday is Melbourne United looking to find some answers against the energetic and impressive Cairns Taipans at John Cain Arena.

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There is just the one game on Friday night but it’s a blockbuster with the defending champion Sydney Kings playing host to the Adelaide 36ers.

There’s then a double on Saturday beginning with the South East Melbourne Phoenix at home to the Brisbane Bullets before the Tasmania JackJumpers host the Perth Wildcats.

Two more games are to come on Sunday starting with the Cairns Taipans at home to the New Zealand Breakers before Melbourne United look for revenge on the Sydney Kings.

The round will wrap up on Monday night with the Illawarra Hawks playing the Brisbane Bullets in the battle of desperate teams in Wollongong.

36ers grab first win of NBL season | 00:50

COMMON SENSE PREVAILS

Perth Wildcats captain Jesse Wagstaff has escaped suspension for a ‘terror’ screen last Friday night with the initial suspension largely catching the NBL world totally off guard.

Big men setting screens in the back court to get their point guards open to bring the ball up the floor is one of basketballs oldest plays.

Wagstaff has become a master at it over his 420-game career and he set another last Friday night that helped his vice-captain Mitch Norton get by the pressure applied by Melbourne United’s Lachie Barker.

It was unfortunate that Barker turned blindly and ran right into Wagstaff and was subsequently knocked out, and suffered a concussion. However, just because that was the outcome it doesn’t necessarily mean that Wagstaff did anything.

With the 15cm height difference, naturally it didn’t turn out well for Barker but at most Wagstaff moved ever so slightly into Barker. As a result the worst result that should have ever happened was an offensive foul called on him.

At the time, no called was made at all and most assumed that would be the last heard of the incident. Then on Monday afternoon, the NBL announced Wagstaff was found guilty of ‘unduly rough play’ and would be suspended for two games over the incident.

The general reaction was shock across the NBL community because most viewed the screen set as a genuine basketball play just with an unfortunate outcome for Barker.

Jesse Wagstaff's screen on Lachie Barker.
Jesse Wagstaff’s screen on Lachie Barker.Source: Twitter

Wagstaff could have accepted a one-game ban with an early plea, but the Wildcats challenged the ban and were successful at the tribunal with the ‘Cats skipper now free to play the Tasmania JackJumpers on Saturday night.

His former three-time championship winning teammate Matt Knight was initially one of those shocked at the suspension, and hopes even after his being cleared that it doesn’t take such plays out of the game.

“I would have set quite a few just like that and thankfully I wasn’t cited otherwise I probably would have only played half the games I did,” Knight said.

“I reckon there’s a few other guys who would be in the same boat, imagine if Andrew Vlahov or guys like that got cited. They set a lot worse screens than we ever did.

“When I heard he was suspended in the first place, I was very surprised. There wasn’t a foul called on the play at the time and not a lot mentioned afterwards even.

“Screens like that happen in every game and it even happened up the other end in that same game so it will be interesting moving forward how the NBL adjudicates these terror screens. They’ve set the bar now.”

United take down Wildcats in thriller | 01:02

EMERGING BOOMER LEADING BREAKERS’ TEAM BONDING

The New Zealand Breakers have had plenty of talented squads since their last NBL championship in 2015, but none have fully clicked as a unit. Now on a three-game winning run, this current side looks different as they head back home for Thursday night.

The Breakers set the benchmark for the NBL when winning four championship between 2011-15, but the going has been tough since despite having plenty of talent with just two playoff appearances in the last seven seasons.

You can certainly excuse the past two seasons given the challenges they went through being based out of Australia, but now three rounds and four games into NBL23 and this Breakers team looks different.

They are committed to one another and have bought into their team philosophy. As a result have been the best defensive team in the league so far, are crashing the glass and playing efficient and unselfish basketball at the offensive end giving everyone a chance to shine.

The result is their first three-game winning streak since the end of the 2019/20 season as they prepare for their second home game of NBL23 on Thursday night against the South East Melbourne Phoenix.

Leading the charge for the Breakers so far has been Boomers point guard Will McDowell-White who is shining at the forefront of everything they are doing.

Even last weekend in their wins against the Phoenix and Illawarra Hawks when McDowell-White came off his sick bed, he produced a combined 29 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists.

McDowell-White has long been viewed as someone with the ability to be an NBL star and a regular Australian Boomer, and now the 24-year-old looks ready to take that leap and he’s enjoying life with the Breakers.

That’s why he willed himself to play no matter how sick he was feeling.

“I was feeling pretty bad but I knew on Saturday I was still most likely to play, but then I woke up Monday and had no idea what I was going to do. I took a nap in the afternoon and when I woke up I was close to texting our physio to say I was out,” McDowell-White said.

“But you just can’t let this group of guys down. We’ve got some good people here and you just want to play hard, and give your all for them.

“It’s a lot different to last season, that’s for sure. Even our coach Mody has been smiling so far this season and I’ve rarely seen that, but we just want to play for each other. As you can see, we’re just having fun with it and that’s what it’s all about.”

The Adelaide 36ers have copped a whack from a rival owner after their stunning upset of NBA side the Phoenix Suns.Source: Getty Images

ADDED SPICE AS SIXERS TRY TO GET TO WHERE KINGS ARE

The Adelaide 36ers have made no secret of their championship aspirations for NBL23, then they went and beat the Phoenix Suns – and the reigning champion Sydney Kings have taken note.

The 36ers are one of the proudest NBL franchises, but the going has been tough since their last of four championships in 2002.

Coach CJ Bruton is now in his second season and was accustomed to success in his own playing career winning six championships, and now he has the same expectations from the sideline.

He has put together a team this season that he feels perfectly suited the way he wants his teams to play and is bullish over their prospects with the additions of Craig Randall, Robert Franks, Antonius Cleveland and Anthony Drmic to Daniel Johnson, Sunday Dech, Mitch McCarron and Kai Sotto.

There was great expectations over the Sixers ahead of the season and then even more so when they made history becoming the first NBL team to beat an NBA opponent in a stunning performance in Phoenix to defeat the Suns.

Anthony Drmic of the 36ers celebrates from the bench during the round three NBL match between Adelaide 36ers and Illawarra Hawks at Adelaide Entertainment Centre, on October 15, 2022, in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

The 36ers entered the NBL season a little late as a result of that trip and then had a rough first up outing to the Tasmania JackJumpers, but got a win on the board on Saturday against the Illawarra Hawks.

They now take on the Kings in Sydney this Friday night with a chance to make a statement.

Kings owner Paul Smith is certainly looking forward to their arrival.

“These Adelaide 36ers mate, they dead set think they are the Golden State Warriors,” Smith said.

“They are talking themselves up that hard and we’re scared. I can assure you I can’t sleep I’m that nervous, but look it’s going to be a cracker and I’m glad we are seeing them with having recovered a bit from their trip to the States.

“I would have hated to play them and kick their arses, and have them saying they are jet lag. They should be fresh and ready so let’s see what they’ve got.”

New Sixers import Randall, coming off 28 points in the win over Illawarra, took note of what Smith but wants to let his basketball do the talking.

“I’ve seen what he said and they are the champs so they’ve earned the right to say whatever they are going to say,” Randall said.

“Right now they are the top dogs until someone knocks them off at the end of the year so it’s not any of the players job to fire back or fight back to whatever he says. But we will all be there on Friday and we have to lace them up, and see how it goes.”

36ers grab first win of NBL season | 00:50

CAN NEW ARRIVAL STOP HAWKS’ WOES?

It has been a rough start to the season for the Illawarra Hawks, they’ve already had to find a replacement import and the question has to be asked how many of their problems can new signing Peyton Siva solve.

The Hawks have done a terrific job fighting out of their weight division for a long time reaching finals in seven of the past 11 seasons, but they do appear to be battling an uphill challenge in NBL23.

The great strength of this team under rookie coach Jacob Jackomas was to be the back court with playmaking imports Tyler Harvey and Justin Robinson combined with the shooting and scoring of George King.

Then Robinson got hurt in the very first game and things have been tough since with the Hawks losing four of five games including a 26-point home defeat to the New Zealand Breakers on Monday night.

The Hawks have since announced the replacement for Robinson as Siva who played with the Breakers last season and is a proven commodity from his career largely in Europe having come out of the University of Louisville.

The 31-year-old will provide back court support to Harvey and offer another playmaker and scoring option, which they do desperately need.

Peyton Siva with the Breakers last season. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

However, he won’t be available this Monday night against the Brisbane Bullets and former Hawks forward Cody Ellis feels their problems run a bit deeper than just bringing in a new import guard.

Sam Froling has been battling hard up front for Illawarra averaging 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds a game, but the Hawks need a bit more from him and some added support with Mangok Mathiang and Deng Deng his main front court partners.

“I think it’s a good signing considering what they lost but they do have problems elsewhere and they’ve got two injury replacements playing right now,” Ellis said on Hoops Heaven’s Basketball Hustle podcast.

“Being able to have the ball in his hands more with Tyler running off screens will be good for them, and you can also have Peyton be that shooter with Tyler having the ball in his hands.

“I think that’s probably who they were after with who they lost, but I think they are struggling a bit. Guys like Sam Froling probably need to step up a little bit and there isn’t a whole lot of help there for him.

“They are going to have to try to figure things out because they are starting to fall behind already which is not good going into Round 4. It’s a good signing but I do think they need to address other aspects of their roster if they do want to make a push for the playoffs.”

HOBART, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 09: DJ Mitchell of the Bullets during the round two NBL match between Tasmania Jackjumpers and Brisbane Bullets at MyState Bank Arena, on October 09, 2022, in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Simon Sturzaker/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

BAD TO WORSE FOR BULLETS

Clearly things haven’t clicked on the court over the first four games for the Brisbane Bullets but the last thing they needed was off-court drama. That’s exactly what has crept in ahead of their Round 4 double-header.

Plenty was expected of the Bullets coming into NBL23 with the inclusions of former NBA pair Aron Baynes and Tyler Johnson to a team still featuring Nathan Sobey, Jason Cadee and other solid role players.

It’s been a horror first three weeks with four losses for the Bullets and Sunday’s blowout defeat in their home opener to the Sydney Kings saw real danger signs.

The one highlight, though, was the form of first-year NBL forward DJ Mitchell. The 25-year-old is the son of former NBL star Mike and after starting his professional career in the Netherlands, he arrived this past off-season to play in the NBL1 North at the Gold Coast Bullets, and then signed at the Bullets.

He has been a bright light in a rough patch including 20 points and 10 rebounds on Sunday against Sydney, but now that shining spark has hit a hurdle after Mitchell had a run in with coach James Duncan at practice this week.

The pair exchanged heated words with Mitchell asked to leave training and subsequently he has been suspended for this Saturday night’s clash with the South East Melbourne Phoenix with the Bullets chasing their first win.

Harking back to Sunday’s game against Sydney and Duncan couldn’t have been happier with what Mitchell was providing.

“DJ’s obviously learning and trying to get comfortable in this environment, and this was another game which he stepped up for us,” Duncan said.

“There’s some things where we can obviously improve on with some breakdowns, but he continued to play and in that end of third and beginning of the fourth, he gave us a little bit of life by getting some stops and knocking down shots. Kudos to him for continuing to play.”

Speaking after that game, Mitchell was also happy with the way his NBL career had started on top of the NBL1 championship at Gold Coast, but was desperate to help the Bullets start winning.

“The team had a rough night so that’s really all that matters. Scoring and stuff is whatever, it doesn’t mean anything without the W. We just have to get better on defence and just be able to roll with the punches, and we have to learn how to throw punches back,” Mitchell said.

“For me playing NBL1 is like to the NBL what the G League is to the NBA, and I think the games are pretty similar even though there’s a drop off in talent although there’s a lot of good players there.

“NBL1 helped me adjust to the speed of Australian basketball. Now playing NBL is taking that step up in talent and it’s about me figuring out where I fit in. I think I’ve been doing that slowly but surely.”

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