NBL 2023: Adelaide 36ers’ faint, playoffs dashed with loss to Melbourne United, CJ Bruton

Regrets? CJ Bruton has had a few in an NBL season that Adelaide entered amid much fanfare but is set to end with his talent-laden 36ers outfit missing the playoffs.

Adelaide was brave against a red-hot Melbourne United, but Saturday night’s seven-point loss was a knockout blow to the side’s finals chances.

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Bruton was philosophical when asked if there were moments he could take back or wishes had played out differently in a difficult start to the season that set up a maddeningly inconsistent campaign.

“There’s more than a few moments like that, but in our lifetime we don’t get to go back and re-do,” Bruton said.

“We get to learn from our mistakes, we get to come together, build, and look for how we are going to improve when we get a chance.

“There’s definitely some moments, they’re not worth speaking about right now.”

Team chemistry has never quite come together for Bruton, even after talented-but-volatile import Craig Randall II was released after six games and was ultimately replaced by star recruit Ian Clark.

The 36ers became the first NBL outfit to beat an NBA team when they shocked the Phoenix Suns in a pre-season game.

But things have since fallen apart for Adelaide, who are all now but out of the race for the NBL playoffs.

A good run of home wins in December aside, the talented line-up hasn’t clicked often enough, with Bruton forced to make adjustments on the fly, the coach admitting after a loss to Brisbane that his team had “been Jekyll and Hyde all season”.

With games against Cairns (away), Sydney (home) and United (away) to come, the 11-14 Sixers can only hope to salvage some pride and try to avoid finishing with a negative win-loss record.

“We’ve got to keep pushing forward and keep battling,” Bruton said.

“Our guys are battling … you won’t see them quit, rollover or lay down.

“When you play elite sport that’s what you’re supposed to do … show your fight.”

At the other end of the spectrum, United is charging to the playoffs, Dean Vickerman’s side shaking off a 5-10 start to the season to go 9-2 over the past 11 games.

“At 5-10 we were in a big hole, and it took everybody to just change our mindset a little bit,” Vickerman said.

“Certainly, the Perth game (a last-gasp one-point loss) was one that could have derailed us, but we got together and just started enjoying basketball again.

“Let’s just go and have a fun time with the rest of this season and where it falls, it falls.

“Everybody kind of pepped up a little bit and we started to be more aggressive and understand that I want them to shoot the ball more and I want them to play a bit freer.

“That was the biggest change and there’s been great buy-in.”

Shea Ili will be monitored for concussion symptoms after copping a heavy knock that saw him leave the Sixers’ game early in the second half.

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