Tomorrow night either the Fluid Recruitment Otago Nuggets or Property Brokers, See Me Media Manawatu Jets will celebrate their first ever Sal's NBL title - it will be a triumph in what has been the most robust and physically demanding season of all.
It has also been a season that has captured the hearts and minds of the public. From the unique player draft to the 10 games per week spread across five nights format, on so many levels basketball has been thrust back into the living rooms of fans and they've loved it.
On the court we have seen the emergence of a new group of Kiwi stars. In 2020 this has been a homegrown league and the fans have been captivated by it. And, after six gruelling weeks, we are now down to the most important game of all.
Get your tickets at the door or reserve your seat by pre-purchasing HERE.
For one low price (Adults $20, Students $10, children $5) you get entry to the Tall Ferns Showcase (5pm) and the Sal's NBL Showdown Grand Final.
For our grand finalists, the Nuggets and Jets will enter game number 17 in six weeks when they lock horns at 7:30pm and they both have every reason to feel confident about their chances following strong wins in Thursday night's Semi Finals.
The Nuggets cleaned up the battle-weary Canterbury Rams, while the Jets found a way past the Taranaki Airs in a see-sawing affair.
For the Nuggets, representing the South Island, all of Dunedin is sure to be crammed into homes, bars and clubs around the city to cheer on their favourite basketball team. Not only has the Showdown provided the Nuggets with a path back into the NZNBL, it has delivered a renewed interest in the city's basketball team and now a potential first ever title awaits.
For the Jets, a sole showing in a Grand Final back in 1992 saw them lose out to the Canterbury Rams, but now 28 years on they get another crack and they look eager to finally claim a piece of silverware. Could season 2020 be their year?
Ironically, the Nuggets and Jets are the two teams that held open their first three picks in the NBL's unique Player Draft in early June, both decided to go with live picks rather than lock up pre-selected players. And now, two months on, that decision has paid dividends for each squad.
At the draft, the Nuggets took Jordan Ngatai, Jarrod Kenny and Jordan Hunt, while the Jets snapped up Tom Vodanovich, Hyrum Harris and Jayden Bezzant. Without doubt all six players have proven to amongst the competition's very best.
And now, as the nation celebrates what has been an equally fun and engaging season, we find ourselves anticipating a classic contest, a showdown between two teams determined to make history, which of course one of them will.
Looking at the match-up, the Nuggets will go in favourites. The southerners finished on top of the ladder and through their 14 regular season games they met the Jets three times, all of which ended in victories for the team affectionally known as the Nuggs.
The two teams also met on night one of Finals Week in the Qualifying Final, a clash that ended in another win for the Nuggets.
So that's four meetings and four Nuggets wins. That alone does count for something.
Of interest across their previous four meetings is the scoring average for the Nuggets, a rather large 109 points, while they are only conceding 90 points. It's as big of a scoring gap as any match-up between two teams in the whole competition this season.
Both teams look to have very settled starting line-ups. The Nuggets will go with Jarrod Kenny, Josh Aitcheson, Jordan Ngatai, Kane Keil and Jordan Hunt, while the Jets will roll out Jayden Bezzant, Ashton McQueen, Hyrum Harris, Tom Vodanovich and Taane Samuel.
The match-ups are intriguing and all equally important;
The respective benches are also loaded with talent, though the Nuggets look to have a little more depth. Already this season we have seen the spark that players like Akiva McBirney-Griffin, Matt Bardsley, Richie Rodger and Benoit Hayman can deliver.
Interestingly, Hayman didn't step on court in Thursday night's Semi Final, as to why we don't know.
Manawatu's bench is a mixed bag - Nelson Kirksey (the only American in the league) and Nick Fee play the most minutes, while three or four others rarely get a look at too many minutes. The short rotation certainly won't change for this game.
They key playmakers for each team constantly put up big numbers and their individual performances will be critical in this contest.
Jordan Hunt 19.5pts, 6rbs, 1.8 treys per game
Jordan Ngatai 18.6pts, 5.7rbs. 4.5ast, 2.1 treys per game
Jarrod Kenny 11.5pts, 3.8rbs, 5.1ast per game
Tom Vodanovich 22.3pts, 10.2rbs, 4.2 treys per game
Hyrum Harris 14.5pts, 11.5rbs, 6.6ast per game
Jayden Bezzant 17.9pts, 3.3rbs, 3.6ast per game
When looking at each team's strengths and weaknesses you can definitely see patterns, but will they play to form?
The Nuggets will stay in the contest, they won't go away. One of the real highlights of their season has been the team's depth behind their big three. Across the team, there looks to be real unity. With Kenny and Ngatai leading the way, this group plays for one another, they enjoy being on court together, they like to get out and run. This sort of bond will be hard to break. If they maintain their good shooting and withstand the physicality of the Jets, you know the Nuggets will be right there come the final whistle. Look for the way Ngatai and Kenny team up with and feed Hunt, and look for the impact Josh Aitcheson and Kane Keil make. And finally, look for the fantastic army of supporters who will be there in full voice!
The Jets are fun to watch when they're scoring freely and quickly, but their robust nature and physical presence does land them in hot water a bit. It's important the Jets stay locked in and don't become distracted - if that happens, the Nuggets will swiftly capitalise. Vodanovich and Harris must stay in the game, if either of them departs it will spell big trouble. Taane Samuel is a very important cog, the young centre has all the moves and can score in bug bunches, but equally he must do a job at the defensive end and stop Hunt's influence in the game. Jayden Bezzant is also a big factor, his match-up with Kenny will go a long way to deciding this game.
It promises to be a great game. The Nuggets have never won a NBL title, in fact they've never been in a Grand Final. The Jets have made the final game of the season just once (1992) and that didn't go to script. The nerves will be there, but so too will the excitement. To win the Jets starters must stay in the game, must stay switched on and they must produce. For the Nuggets, they just need to take Manawatu's physicality head-on, use their depth, run the floor and keep playing their team-first brand of basketball. Provided they don't get taken out of their game style, they will be right there when it matters most. As for predicting a winner, it's way too close to call, which means we have the perfect match-up to decide the 2020 Sal's NBL Showdown.