Will the real Breakers turn up in Townsville?
Will he or won't he? The Cedric Jackson situation hangs over the Breakers like a long black cloud heading into tonight's must-win semifinal in Townsville.
But from where big man Gary Wilkinson sits, it's more a matter of will they or won't they. As in will the real Breakers show up or not for this pivotal game of their season.
Jackson travelled to Townsville yesterday after badly injuring his ankle at Tuesday's final training run – X-rays cleared him of any structural damage, but the wheelchair that took him to the plane indicated how serious it was. No-one, including the Breakers themselves, knows whether Jackson will be able to do a Mika Vukona and play through the pain.
Or even, with one more shot at the NBA beckoning, he'd be willing to.
Jackson's outlook was officially described as "uncertain" and as coach Andrej Lemanis admitted prior to departure, they'd give him right up to tipoff time if he needed it. It may well be that touch and go.
But Wilkinson, as well as being intrigued by the uncanny parallels to last year's campaign (events are unfolding in almost identical fashion, including the injury setback), reckons the Breakers just need to concentrate on showing up with the right mindset.
The rest, he reckons, will take care of itself, with or without Jackson.
"The way we trained, we were going after it, playing playoff type basketball. That's a great sign heading over there," said Wilkinson, ignoring the fact that an intense Tuesday session did claim Jackson as its victim. "I feel good. After we lost I've had this fire burning in me ever since. The physicality is going to be brought from our end this time. That's just the way it needs to be."
The big fix for the Breakers is on defence where they were passive and ponderous last Friday. Wilkinson says attitude fixes that in a flash.
"If that's how we'd played all season we'd be a bit more worried. But we're the best defensive team in the league. It's like let's get back to what we've always done – be physical, be hard-nosed and get after guys."
Lemanis agrees. "It's about coming with a greater mindset to actually be good at that end of the floor. You don't take shortcuts, you don't expect things are going to be easy and you make the effort required."
If Jackson doesn't play, or is so hobbled that he's a passenger, CJ Bruton suddenly assumes all sorts of importance. At 36 the Aussie legend has the pedigree – four NBL titles, three Olympics, untold game-winning displays – if not the legs to fill the void.
But anyone who's attended Breakers training sessions this year has seen that Bruton still has the capacity to take games over. The Kiwi team's hopes may hinge on him being able to turn back the clock
"CJ is the type of guy who lives for games like this," said Wilkinson. "You know you can count on him to make big plays and do what's necessary to help the team win."
Added Lemanis: "With his experience and proven record of performing in big situations, there's no better person to step up."
Wilkinson acknowledges that if Jackson doesn't play it may force a rethink on the Crocs' plans. Where they'd hang off the American and play for the drive, with Bruton they have to honour his shot. "But playoffs is more about who plays harder," added Wilkinson who had 19 points in Friday's 99-82 defeat.
If the Breakers do prevail tonight, the series decider will be back at Vector on Saturday night. Tickets will go on sale tomorrow.
Breakers: Cedric Jackson, Daryl Corletto, Thomas Abercrombie, Mika Vukona, Gary Wilkinson, CJ Bruton, Leon Henry, Dillon Boucher, Alex Pledger, Josh Bloxham Townsville.
Crocodiles: Eddie Gill, Mike Cedar, Peter Crawford, Jacob Holmes, Luke Schenscher, Chris Cedar, Mitch Norton, Todd Blanchfield, Elvin Mims, Ben Allen.
- © Fairfax NZ News