Penney's playing through the pain
The numbers paint the picture of a form slump, but take in a Breakers training session as they prepare for Thursday's home NBL match against the Townsville Crocodiles and you'll see Kirk Penney is hurting about a lot more than just a few missed shots.
Penney has had single-figure scoring nights the last two outings as the New Zealand franchise has extended its record winning streak to six with victories over the Perth Wildcats (home) and Gold Coast Blaze (away).
He scored just six points on two-of-eight shooting in the emotional 108-94 victory over the Wildcats last Thursday, and had eight (four-of-11 from the field) in the 110-88 blitz of the Blaze on the Gold Coast at the weekend.
This might have caused a furrowed brow or two for the Breakers coaches if not for the fact that they know Penney, hitherto a 27 points-a-game contributor, was playing through the pain barrier.
On Tuesday, when Fairfax Media called into Breakers training, Penney was applying ice to his badly sprained left thumb (also heavily taped) and to his neck which was giving him heck. But, hey, at least he'd come through training which was more than he was able to do prior to the Wildcats match.
Just a stone's throw away outstanding point guard CJ Bruton was almost encased in ice as he nursed an array of strains, reflecting the fact that the Breakers may sit atop the league with a 13-3 record, but there's still some pain to go with the gain.
"It's just getting through it," said Penney with a rueful smile. "I'm just a bit banged up right now, and obviously my minutes have gone down because of it. On the flip side guys are stepping up and playing great, so there's no reason for me to be out there anyway.
"Phill [Jones] is shooting the ball great, Ozzie [Forman] is doing a wonderful job, and last game Tony [Ronaldson] stepped up with his scoring. We're a real team finding weapons all over the place."
Penney, who had been in MVP form prior to the last two matches, wasn't getting too distraught over his personal situation. Nor should he either, with the Breakers already in uncharted territory in terms of success in this league.
Not only have they rattled off six wins on the trot for the first time ever, they've also now won six in a row on the road. Considering their previous best mark for total victories away had been the five achieved last season, that tells you how far the New Zealanders have come.
"We're playing through it," said Penney of the banged-up nature of himself and Bruton. "CJ last game wasn't finding his stroke like he was the game before, yet he just played through it and we're finding a way to win the games. Even if guys are out of form for the night, we're still getting the win which is what it comes down to."
Against the Blaze, Bruton also had a below-par night, making just three-of-11 from the floor. Yet Jones stepped up with another big shooting match, scoring 23 to go with the 22 he had against the Cats, and the veteran Ronaldson chimed in with a huge 25-point effort to tally his club best at the tender age of 36.
"It's brilliant," reflected Penney. "It's a sign of an extra good team. It's a sign of a championship team where you've got a lot of pieces who are capable and willing to step up when their number is going to be called upon. The guys have done a wonderful job, especially the last two or three games, stepping up and finding ways to score."
Jones has been a big part of that with the experienced world-class shooting guard showing his class the last couple of matches with Penney off his best.
"When Philly gets it going he's as sweet a shooter as there is," said Penney. "The last couple of games he's shot the ball extremely well and worked hard to get open as well. If he can continue to do that we'll be even tougher to guard when everyone else gets healthy."
Penney has been especially impressed with the improvements at the defensive end the last few weeks. "We're getting better and better and relying on each other and getting good rotation. If we do that our offence will take care of itself."
Still, Penney remains wary of the Crocs who come to town for Thursday night's matchup on a good streak of their own (three wins on the trot) and pumped for some payback after dropping two to the Breakers at home already this season.
Said Penney: "It feels like we've seen them a lot already. We know them and they know us. The last game they really made a big run in the fourth quarter and that might have given them confidence.
"We feel like we're prepared for what they're going to bring. They're a very good three-point shooting team and were shooting poorly, which was why they were losing. Now the last few games they've shot the ball a lot better and they're winning as a result.
"So it's a matter of making sure they don't get those open three-point looks."
Still, Penney knows that if it gets close the increasingly passionate home fans of the North Shore Events centre can be relied upon to sound the rallying cry.
"It was just a really fun game," he said of the fervent atmosphere for the Wildcats encounter. "I was happy with the way we played and with the way the fans got into it. They got behind us, and that's what you want at a basketball game. It certainly helps you on the court."
And right about now a banged up Penney could do with every little bit of assistance he can get.