Serious injury cloud over Breakers' Hudson
The Breakers are hoping for the best but fearing the worst as they await a diagnosis on a knee injury to backup centre Will Hudson that threatens the rest of his Australian NBL season.
Hudson banged his knee early in Saturday night's 96-94 overtime victory over the Sydney Kings, and was able to play just 11 minutes as it became clear the injury was worse than first feared.
Now, the Kiwi back-to-back champions, who are riding a 12-game winning streak, face a potential nightmare scenario where Hudson could be ruled out long-term, but they are unable to qualify a replacement in time to participate in the post-season.
Under NBL rules, any replacement player has to take part in seven regular season games to be eligible for the playoffs roster.
The Breakers only have six games remaining - so effectively have no choice but to hope Hudson can recover to rejoin the team in time to continue his role as a high-impact backup centre capable of sliding into the four spot if required.
The Breakers have already assured themselves a semi-final spot as they chase the title threepeat, but still have plenty to play for as they look to nail home court advantage.
Hudson had a scan on his knee yesterday and had an early-evening appointment with team surgeon Bruce Twaddle today to determine the extent of the injury.
Breakers physio Anousith Bouaaphone's gut feel is that it's a grade two strain that typically has a four to five-week recovery period.
That would likely see the big man due back just before the end of the regular season which ends with the March 22 visit to Perth.
"It could be better, it could be worse, that's why we don't want to speculate till we know for sure," said Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis today.
"We'll know more on it tomorrow but certainly he'll be out for Friday's game against Wollongong,"
Any decisions are pretty much taken out of Lemanis' hands anyway, so until Hudson is fit again he'll have to make do with Mika Vukona, Dillon Boucher and Leon Henry taking their turns playing out of position.
Vukona is more than capable of sliding into centre when Alex Pledger rides the pine, though the Breakers will have to be creative in how they deal with their lack of size.
The 23-year-old Wisconsin native has emerged as a key figure for the 19-3 Breakers this season, bringing energy, a low-post presence and solid rebounding off the bench where he's looked more and more comfortable as the campaign has gone on.
"He's certainly found how he can contribute to this group, and that's been for me the most pleasing thing over the last five or six weeks -- the evolution of the team and understanding how we all fit together.
"He's found his way to contribute and certainly helped us by doing that."
Hudson is averaging 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds this season and shoots it at an impressive 54 per cent clip. Most importantly, he's brought a steadying presence whenever he's come into games.
"You always know what you're going get from him and how hard he's going to play," added Lemanis. "He's going to post and seal hard which is difficult for opposition to deal with and he provides some driving lanes for our guards.
"He's going to rebound well and he's going to play defence. And that's a fantastic place to build from."
The onus now falls on Pledger to take on a bigger workload at centre, and Saturday night's nine-for-13 18-point haul against the Kings was a positive sign he's ready to step up after his recent ankle problems.
Vukona also assumes massive importance for the Breakers now too with his ability to muscle up on opposition big men.
Lemanis may need the aggressive Tall Blacks skipper to ease back on his fouls and be prepared to play more minutes while Hudson is out.
Henry, too, should benefit with extra minutes, either backing up at small forward or at power forward where he's a valuable floor stretcher.
Whatever they do, the Breakers are going to have to be creative as they deal with the likely absence for the next few weeks of a player who has become increasingly important to their cause.
- © Fairfax NZ News