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The odds don't look great for underdogs

SHOULD it really be a surprise come NBL playoffs time that suddenly a number of factors fall the way of our Melbourne, Perth or Sydney-based clubs? They run marquee programs in our biggest cities, regularly drawing five-figure attendances. Places such as Hobart or Wollongong can't match that.

Or Cairns for that matter. So while the regular season is great in building fan hopes and expectations, the real corporate expectation is for one of the big three to provide the champion.

I mean, how else can anyone reasonably explain Tasmania's Marcus Lee being suspended for a game - even more ridiculously two actually, reduced to one for an early plea - for what was assessed in-game during the semi final opener in Perth as an unsportsmanlike foul.

Did Lee make his hard foul against Jordan Usher a little too hard? Of that there's no doubt.

But when South East Melbourne's Gary Browne has twice punched players - Adelaide's Tohi Smith-Milner and Brisbane's Aron Baynes - and escaped suspension then the bar has been set.

The referees dealt with Lee's imprudence and none saw fit to report or cite him. So Perth did. And the NBL's amorphous Games Review Panel - the identities of whom the league does not see fit to reveal - then out of nowhere makes Lee a spectator for Game 2 of the semi finals.

No hearing, no shot at natural justice. Just - you're out! (But only for one if you take an early plea.)

What could be more ludicrous, laughable or lame?

Maybe an official missing an unsportsmanlike foul in front of him when Melbourne's Jo Lual-Acuil tackles Gary Clark late in Illawarra's road loss in Game 1? 

What should be two free throws and possession is nothing of the sort.

But an absurd offensive foul against Justin Robinson for a regulation trademark Chris Goulding flop does, of course, get called.

You don't have to look far to realise what the cynical among us think when that shite goes down because it inevitably favours the big-city team, never any regional battlers.

So while pretty much everywhere in New Zealand and everywhere in Australia not named Melbourne or Perth, NBL fans will be praying for road upsets by Illawarra and Tasmania respectively and a Grand Final Series that would harken back to Illawarra-Townsville in 2001, don't bank on it.

That isn't the deal. Look at it from a corporate viewpoint. Perth-Tasmania Game 1 at RAC Arena in Perth drew 10,624 - and that's a poor crowd for the Wildcats.

Melbourne-Illawarra Game 1 at John Cain Arena drew 8,232 - and that's very low by United standards.

Tasmania-Perth in Game 2 in Hobart's MyState Bank Arena had 4,340 in attendance. And in Wollongong's WIN Entertainment Centre for Game 2 of Illawarra-Melbourne, the biggest crowd in 14 years attended, 5,631.

So Illawarra and Tasmania pulled capacity houses for a combined total of 9,971 fans for their Game 2s.

Perth alone drew more for Game 1. Combined with United, they drew 18,856 and the likelihood is tomorrow night for their home deciders, the crowds again will be bigger.

If you're planning to market our league, entertain a massive sponsor, promote the game's progress, which looks better?

Fans of smaller market teams continue to live in hope but truth is, little victories - such as Cairns beating Melbourne all three times this regular season past, or Illawarra owning Perth - more often than not is the greatest real joy they can hope for in a season.

Championships? Illawarra has one, Adelaide hasn't been relevant for the better part of 20-plus years, Cairns' best is reaching two championship series, Brisbane also is a long lost power, New Zealand beset with internal issues, South East Melbourne yet to master how to finish a season with the same team with which it started.

Tasmania is the freak, playing for a championship in its inaugural season, and reaching semi finals in both Years 2 and 3. And it has existed for exactly three seasons.

But those who believe in miracles would actually be witnessing one if Illawarra and Tasmania won their respective Game 3s to then meet for the 2024 Championship.

The likelihood is both lose or at the very best, only one gets through so the NBL still has a least one 10,000-plus venue to showcase.

For just a moment, set aside your competitive instincts and kick in your commercial ones and you'll realise nothing written here surprised you - other than maybe those actual crowd numbers.

So it ultimately doesn't matter whether you believe the situation as it plays out tomorrow is deliberate or simply an example of human nature afflicting referees. 

Like it or not, history shows your Championship Series options are Melbourne-Perth, Illawarra-Perth or Melbourne-Tasmania. Tending to lean toward the last option there but will still be riding every play, every call and every non-call, like everyone else who believes in miracles.

Mar 12

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