South East Melbourne Phoenix sharpshooter Ryan Broekhoff is set to watch his team battle for a postseason spot from the sidelines, with the 32-year-old suffering a suspected grade one groin strain against the Perth Wildcats on Sunday afternoon.
The injury could sideline Broekhoff for 2-3 weeks, with the South East Melbourne injury curse continuing to bite in NBL23. The Phoenix dispatched the Wildcats on Sunday to improve their record to 12-4 with their preferred starting five in the lineup.
Despite the win, the smiles were mixed with significant concern, as Broekhoff ended the game on ice.
"I'm not expecting great results. It's horrible," head coach Simon Mitchell said at the time.
"The guy just can't take a trick. It's professional sports, you just hope for the best and hopefully it's not something too bad. If history is giving us a lesson, it's probably going to not be good news for us for Rowdy."
Broekhoff was visibly emotional on the bench during the fourth quarter, with the injury occurring on a day where the sharpshooter had poured in a season-high 26 points in 25 minutes, including a 6-for-10 mark from long range.
"When he's shooting the ball well everyone raves, but it's the same guy out there whether the ball goes in or not," Mitchell said.
"You got to guard him, you've got to be out on him, he opens up lanes and space for everyone else. You've got to respect that shot whether it goes in or not. Now, when it goes in its gravy for us.
"It's the other stuff he brings, it's the leadership, it's the rebounding, it's the defence, it's the team defence, his communications out on the floor. He knows the scout inside and out every time he comes into the game. He's just the perfect teammate and that's what we miss when he's not out there. He was wonderful tonight and I just hope for the best."
The Phoenix are 12-7 when Broekhoff plays this season and 2-5 when he misses. Last season, the team posted an 11-7 record when he played and fell to 4-6 when he was sidelined.
"Last year when he was out, we fell in a hole. I think this year with the addition of Trey Kell into the group, we felt like we could cover that a bit more. We haven't had a lot of success when he's been out this year either, but it's hard to say it was the Rowdy thing because every time he's been out, he's taken a few teammates with him," Mitchell said.
"Our focus is doing the best we can each game, we prepare thoroughly, we'll go through the film, we'll get on the training track, we'll do everything we normally do, and our concerns will be with the guys in uniform. If he's not there, so be it, it's next man up."
Mitchell will have his work cut out for him on a number of fronts in the final two regular season games and (possibly) beyond, with the five-man group of Broekhoff, Mitch Creek, Gary Browne, Alan Williams and Trey Kell III carrying a big load when they've played together.
Despite the Phoenix best five appearing in just 16 out of 26 games, they have played the second most possessions as a five-man lineup group in the league (390 possessions), only trailing the Sydney Kings starting group (429 possessions) and well ahead of the third most used group from Perth (273 possessions).
Broekhoff has already missed seven regular season games this season, Browne has missed nine, while Kell has sat for five.
One likely candidate to enter the starting lineup could be Ruben Te Rangi, who notched his 300th NBL game against the Wildcats. Te Rangi provides some versatility defensively from a positional standpoint, with Mitchell praising the young veteran postgame.
"I thought he played a big role tonight; he played various roles. He came in, had some minutes on Cotton, played the five spot, he's a bit of a swiss army knife for us," Mitchell said. "I thought he fulfilled all the roles we asked of him tonight."
The lineup of Creek, Browne, Williams, Kell and Te Rangi have played just 60 possessions together as a unit in NBL23.
More than anything, the Phoenix will lose by far their best outside shooter, which could be a major concern for a team that shoots fewer threes than any team in the league.
Broekhoff is connecting on 39.2% of his 5.1 long range attempts per game this season, with Kell next on the list among rotation players, with a clip well down at 34.6%. If you remove Broekhoff's outside shooting all together, the Phoenix are just 172-for-551 (31.2%) on the season.
Overall, the Phoenix launch a 3-point attempt on just 34.8% of their field goal attempts, the lowest mark in the league. Losing their number one volume shooter will add a layer of complexity to an inside-outside offence.
Currently tied with United record wise, the crosstown rivals are both 14-12 on the season with two games to play. The Phoenix do own a 1.4% lead on United, which could play a factor if they end the regular season locked in the win column.
A fully healthy Phoenix lineup has looked like a team capable of contending for the championship. To once again see the floor with their best five players, they are going to have to survive the next few weeks without the all-important Broekhoff.
South East Melbourne Phoenix host the Cairns Taipans on Wednesday night. Tip-off is at 730pm live on ESPN and Kayo, followed by The Jump with Andrew Gaze and Lanard Copeland.
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