Mantas Rubstavicius played a crucial role in Round 16, and continued his run of impacting in New Zealand wins.

22 Jan
By Dan Woods for

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Injuries and illness continued to beset the NBL24 Next Stars class in Round 16, but the key absences of Alexandre Sarr, Bobi Klintman and Trentyn Flowers across the round were countered by stellar performances from Mantas Rubstavicius and Ariel Hukporti.

New Zealand is continuing to mount its Finals challenge, and the performances of Mantas Rubstavicius are likely to prove crucial. His 15 points in the Breakers’ 25-point drubbing of South East Melbourne continued the trend that his side currently hold a 5-0 record when the Next Star has scored 15 or more points.

 Rubstavicius has established himself as one of New Zealand’s biggest three-point scoring threats and hit both his attempts from distance against the Phoenix.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Mantas is key ?<br><br>The Lithuanian Next Star has scored 15 points or more in each of the <a href="">@NZBreakers</a>&#39; last five wins ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL Next Stars (@NBLNextStars) <a href="">January 22, 2024</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

He also pulled in two boards and dished one assist.

The continued absence of Jo Lual-Acuil Jr in Melbourne’s active roster saw Ariel Hukporti continue his run of starts for the ladder-leaders and, despite foul trouble negating his impact on proceedings later in the game, the German was one of few shining lights for United in a tough loss to Tasmania.

Hukporti battled former Melbourne import Marcus Lee and in-form ex-New Orleans center Will Magnay for the JackJumpers and opened his game with three blocks in the first quarter.

He also added 13 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes of action.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Not in Hukporti&#39;s house ?<br><br>The <a href="">@MelbUnited</a> Next Star has swatted three shots in the first quarter alone ?<br><br>Watch the NBL ?? <br>?? ESPN via Kayo<br>?? ESPN3 + ESPN App <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL Next Stars (@NBLNextStars) <a href="">January 19, 2024</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

AJ Johnson played one of his most complete games for Illawarra in the Hawks’ heart-breaking loss on the buzzer to Cairns in their Round 16 opener.

He may have played just 11 minutes, but he added eight points and pulled in six crucial rebounds.

Johnson continued his run of more extended minutes under Justin Tatum, and while he was once again impressive in the Hawks’ defeat to Adelaide, he struggled to have the same level of impact with four points.

Rocco Zikarsky was absent from Brisbane’s defeat to Perth in the Bullets’ Round 16 opener, which meant injury and unavailability robbed fans of the next chapter of his battle with fellow Next Star Alexandre Sarr.

He made his return in Brisbane’s win over Cairns and scored two points in just under a minute of action.

Alex Toohey continued his run of starts for the Kings in the clash with Perth on Sunday afternoon, however he was powerless to stop former Utah guard and three-time NBL MVP Bryce Cotton from pulling the Wildcats to victory over the reigning champions.

Toohey ended the game with four points from just over 21 minutes of action.

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