Penney boost for bruised Breakers
It was a cheerful sight for a basketball club under the gun - sidelined star Kirk Penney out shooting hoops as the wounded NZ Breakers went through their first training session of the week.
Penney wasn't indulging in anything too physical, but he got up over 500 jumpers in a heavy shooting session that saw him moving freely and expressing his satisfaction afterwards.
In fact, the Australian NBL's reigning MVP has made such a dramatic recovery from the twin annular tears to discs in his lower back, that there's even a slight chance he could be back as early as this Thursday's third home match of the season against the high-flying Townsville Crocs.
Club officials have their fingers crossed but admit it's a longer shot than the bombs Penney was hoisting today as he looked to keep his eye in. The player said he was surprised by how quickly the back had healed, and felt like a return to full action wasn't far away, but his coach preferred a more conservative line.
"The medical staff are pretty happy with his progress, but as far as I'm aware he's still two or three weeks away," said Andrej Lemanis. "But it's nice to see him out here moving round a little bit."
It's likely the outstanding shooting guard will not be risked this week and held back for the following Thursday's home clash against the Adelaide 36ers.
Given the nature of the injury, and the value of the cargo, the club won't risk bringing Penney back too soon and have him go down with an even more serious injury. That would be just what they didn't need in a season already proving more problematic than envisioned.
Penney has not played since the first road trip of the year, when the Breakers dropped both matches against Melbourne and Adelaide, but the likelihood of him being back as early as next week should put a much-needed spring in the step of his team-mates.
The Breakers blew a royal chance to go above the .500 mark on Saturday night when they coughed up a six-point lead at the end of the third quarter to go down 65-76 to the Wollongong Hawks -- their third defeat in five matches this season. The Kiwis were outscored 30-13 in the final quarter as they went ice-cold from the floor.
That dropped the Breakers to 2-3 for the season and they'll be anxious to square the ledger on Thursday against a Crocs side (3-2) led capably by the form player in the league this year, Corey 'Homicide' Williams.
Lemanis admitted a third straight road defeat had left things a bit tense out at club HQ on the Shore.
"I'm grumpy about the fact we lost," said Lemanis. "We did enough in that game to put ourselves in a position to win and we didn't close it out, which has basically been the story of our road games so far.
"We've been in positions to win all three, and had our opportunities. It's the sort of year when you're going to have to close out games, because there are not too many easy ones, particularly on the road."
It has to be said the Breakers didn't help themselves with some atrocious shooting at Wollongong. They converted a poor 33 per cent from the floor (22/66 FG), an even worse 23 per cent from long range (7/31 3pt) and gave up 20 more free-throws to the Hawks than they managed themselves.
With those sort of numbers, there was only ever going to be one result.
Lemanis blamed the defeat on a combination of giving away too many fouls (and foul-shots) in the final quarter and missing too many makeable shots themselves. Even the normally reliable CJ Bruton went scoreless in the final period, missing all four of his attempts.
"You've just got to knock a shot down when you get it," said the clearly frustrated coach. "There were some good patches there but we couldn't put it together for 40 minutes."
It's far from panic time at the Breakers, and their heavy complement of veterans ensures there's a measured response to the early stumbles.
"All we can do is watch video, talk about it, and make an assessment," added Lemanis. "Is it what we're running or is it just a function of putting the ball in the basket? Coming out of that game it was just a function of putting the ball in the basket. We executed offensively pretty well, and got some good looks.
"With the lifetime percentages we have as a group, it would suggest things will come around."
Still, the Breakers have some issues to confront, regardless of their optimism.
Import Awvee Storey is not contributing on offence, and that's hurting. Oscar Forman, Tony Ronaldson and Tom Abercrombie are also struggling for consistency, and for this team to go anywhere near to reaching its potential it needs all four producing more measured contributions.
In that respect the Crocs game is another big one at the NSEC. With Penney's return imminent, a home win -- and more importantly a strong performance -- will be just the lift that a team struggling to live up to its publicity needs.