Unbeaten if not unscathed, the New Zealand Breakers continue to find ways to win at the Australian NBL's annual pre-season tournament in Dandenong.
On Friday night they shook off the absence of workhose power forward Mika Vukona (knee injury) to make it two-from-two with an 81-72 victory over the Cairns Taipans that will likely earn them a spot in Saturday's tournament final.
With Vukona joining not-quite-fit Tom Abercrombie on the sideline, the Breakers were down to just eight fit players, but still had just too much in their arsenal for a Taipans outfit themselves missing a key player or two.
The Breakers led by as many as 13 in the second quarter, but saw the Snakes claw the deficit back to five by the half and actually take a brief lead midway through the third period. But the back-to-back champions steadied over the final period to edge to a deserved victory.
Cedric 'Action' Jackson had a busy night to pace the Breakers with 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in easily his best outing of the pre-season.
Centre Alex Pledger added 18 points on five-for-11 shooting and added two swats, while new recruit Will Hudson completed a good outing for the Kiwi frontline with 17 points (7/10 FG) and five boards. Veteran CJ Bruton completed the scoring assault with 10 points, including two-of-three from deep.
Sharpshooter Clint Steindl paced the Snakes with 22 points.
Dillon Boucher, who had to step into starting forward duties in Vukona's absence, liked the look of Jackson's ominous step up in standard.
"Cedric's one of those guys when he explodes there's no one who can stay with him. He picked and chose his moments tonight, and that's what he's very good at doing. He's going to have games where he absolutely dominates a ball game like he did tonight."
Boucher also liked the way Pledger and Hudson commanded the interior. "We dominated them inside. Chief started off, Will came in and followed on from where he left off, and that set the platform early.
"We've still got a long way to go to where we'd like to be, but we're making progress every game and we're finding ways to win games -- and that's what championship teams do."
But Boucher admitted a third game in three days would be a tough ask for the short-handed squad. "It's going to be tough tomorrow, no matter who we play. But this is why we play the sport, and this is the time you want to get better.
"That's what we're doing and hopefully tomorrow we'll take another step in the right direction."
The Adelaide 36ers won day two's other early game, outlasting the Sydney Kings 96-90, behind a game-high 24 points from Daniel Johnson.
NZ Breakers 83 (Cedric Jackson 19, Alex Pledger 18, Will Hudson 17, CJ Bruton 10)
Cairns Taipans 75 (Clint Steindl 24, Camerin Tragardh 12).
1Q: 24-19; HT: 51-45; 3Q: 68-63.
- © Fairfax NZ News