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Stakes are high for NBL Throwdown between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix


Their season is slipping away but the Phoenix have a point to prove in the Throwdown — and Melbourne United gun Shea Ili knows they’re going to “bring it”.

Melbourne United toughnut Shea Ili is expecting under-fire South East Melbourne to treat Thursday’s night’s Throwdown as an NBL finals game.

Judging by the Phoenix’s Wednesday training hitout, the Kiwi stopper is on the money.

With their top-four hopes now in the lap of the basketball gods, Phoenix put in a willing session at the State Basketball Centre, with big men Brandon Ashley and Tohi Smith-Milner in the wars.

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Ashley took a blow to the stomach from development player Tristan Forsyth, while Smith-Milner copped one in the chops during the combative practice run.

Neither was seriously injured and it’s that rough and tumble physicality which coach Simon Mitchell wants to see against Ili and United.

“I’d like to see a little of it, preferably in their uniform, giving them some,” Mitchell said.

“The last few weeks we’ve actually been pretty good on the training court in regards to our physicality and our competitiveness, we just haven’t seen the translation into the games.”

The Phoenix have lost six of their past seven and now need to win all of their next five in the run home and hope fourth-placed Perth continues to spiral.

“They’re going to come fighting; I feel like they’re going to treat this as a playoff game and they need to,” said Ili, who played a key role in United’s Monday night win over the Wildcats which snapped a two-game losing streak.

“So do we – one game’s not enough; we’re trying to finish on top of the table and we’re desperate as well as they are.

“They’re going to bring it and we’ve got to come out there and play our best.”

Mitchell said the Phoenix camp was “a little emotional at the moment” as they searched for answers to end their skid.

Ryan Broekhoff looked good during low-impact scrimmages on Wednesday, but Mitchell was coy on whether the former NBA man’s injured shoulder had recovered enough to allow him to return to the floor on Thursday.

“I hope so,” Mitchell said when asked if Broekhoff would suit up against United.

“He’ll have to get through a final fitness test and make sure he’s comfortable.

“It is a shoulder injury, it’s on his shooting arm, so the odds are against him getting back early, but his progress has been so magnificent that we’ve given him a chance.”

Ili is being talked about in NBL circles as a potential Sixth Man of the Year winner for the top-of-the-table United, and he pressed his case with his last-quarter heroics against the Wildcats.

Apart from hitting a dagger three with four minutes left in the game, Ili showed the tenacity that has made him one of the league’s most dogged players, forcing a key turnover and grabbing a huge offensive board in the dying stages.

Ili had 19 points against the Phoenix last time out and will have a job on smooth-moving import guard Xavier Munford, who says his team still has plenty to play for.

“We’re professional basketball players at the end of the day, so we’re going to go out in the game and play hard and play our best and try to get a win, no matter what the circumstances are,” Munford said of his team’s predicament.

“We’ll be physical and just operate under pressure, under that duress and stay focused, play with a lot of pace and play good basketball.

“I’m excited for it; this is my first year playing in the Throwdown, so there is a lot of anticipation built up around the city and fans and it’s just a great atmosphere.”

Originally published as South East Melbourne Phoenix will treat Throwdown like finals game, says rival star Shea Ili



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