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'Kings still the benchmark': Bruce

18 Nov
3 mins read

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By Jasper Bruce - AAP

Sydney is ready to remind Melbourne who are the Kings of the NBL.

Shaun Bruce insists the Sydney Kings still set the benchmark for the NBL as they prepare to meet ladder-leading Melbourne United for the first time this season.

With Jo Lual-Acuil Jr back in the post and Chris Goulding dead-on from deep, United have recaptured their heavyweight status after missing the most recent post-season.

Melbourne (9-2) sit two wins clear atop the ladder, though have played one more game than second-placed Sydney, and are championship favourites with bookmakers.

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Under new coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah, Sydney (7-3) have maintained the up-tempo brand of basketball that won them the past two championships.

But a scheduling quirk has denied them the chance to meet modern-day rivals United since last year's inaugural Christmas Day fixture.

Sunday's road clash looms as their sternest test of the season to date but the Kings will not be overawed by the external hype around United.

"They're one of the better teams, for sure, but I wouldn't say they're the benchmark," Bruce told AAP.

"I think we're still the benchmark. We're still building but I think we're going to be the team to beat all year.

"It would only mean so much to talk about it (beating United), it's about going and showing it. Games like Sunday are what that's for. 

"It'll be a packed house down there, a hostile environment on the road, it'll be a good challenge for us and one we're looking forward to."

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The two sides match up on each other well. 

Both have elite one-two punches at five, with Melbourne's Lual-Acuil Jr and Ariel Hukporti set to take on Sydney big men Jordi Hunter and Jonah Bolden.

Elsewhere, elite defensive guard Shea Ili will go a long way to deciding the game as he covers Kings import and former league MVP Jaylen Adams.

"All over the court there's going to be great match-ups," Bruce said.

"It's just one of those contests that's going to be really exciting."

United welcome forward Luke Travers back from the concussion he suffered against former side the Perth Wildcats on November 6.

But Melbourne's ex-NBA guards Matthew Dellavedova (calf) and Ian Clark (hamstring) will not return from injury until early December after the FIBA break.

"'Delly', just to start with is a high-level defender," said coach Dean Vickerman.

"Ian's been a good defender as well. (The Kings) are a team that if you can move the basketball well, you can find some effective three-point shots. 

"Hopefully other guys can step up in that area where Ian's magnificent for us, shooting the basketball."

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