NZ Breakers expect test from Sydney Kings
The Breakers are bracing themselves for the most significant test of their post-Perth restoration project.
After losing their opening Australian NBL clash by a whopping 21 points at home against the Perth Wildcats, the New Zealand club have run off three straight victories to get their tilt at the threepeat back on track.
But the feeling at the North Shore headquarters this week is that tomorrow night's game against the resurgent Sydney Kings presents a significant challenge to their burgeoning game.
The Breakers are getting better.
They started with their defence, which has been suffocating since that 72-93 Perth embarrassment, and have been adding to their offensive fluency in gradual increments.
They have taken care of the Adelaide 36ers (73-59) and Townsville Crocodiles (73-71) at home and last round dispatched the Tigers 75-64 in Melbourne. It hasn't been perfect but it's been building.
Andrej Lemanis, the bookies' favourite to be the next Australian Boomers coach, rated last Friday's win in Melbourne their best of the season.
Never mind the clunky 56 per cent free-throw shooting, or the 17 turnovers, or even the 44 per cent field-goal mark.
"It was good progress," Lemanis said. "At the offensive end we started to get a bit of rhythm and you feel the unity coming. Sometimes going on the road helps achieve that.
"You take a bit of an ‘us versus them' mentality, where you've got to rely on each other.
"Our unity was great. That's the best we've played and gave me great confidence we're starting to understand it, and starting to get there."
As would the Kings appear to be.
Competition doormats for the past few years, Shane Heal's Sydneysiders took significant strides last weekend when they won both legs of the treacherous North Queensland "Sunshine Swing".
After losing James Harvey to a long-term injury, the Kings responded by beating Townsville (92-87) and Cairns (71-69) to improve their record to 3-2.
They will run out at the North Shore Events Centre tomorrow confident they can break a six-game losing streak at the Breakers' hands since they returned to the league.
"They're playing well," Lemanis said. "It's a tough league and you've got to bring your game every night."
The Kings were led at the weekend by NBL player of the week Ben Madgen, who averaged 22.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
But imports Corin Henry and Darnell Lazare, point guard Aaron Bruce, big man Ian Crosswhite, and backup big Tom Garlepp all played their parts.
Lemanis rates Heal's acumen as an offensive-minded coach and said the Kings had quickly become an efficient shooting outfit.
But the coach's competitiveness has also rubbed off in other areas.
"He has rules and accountabilities on defence that perhaps they haven't had for a couple of years.
"They're just getting better."
Breakers centre Alex Pledger was impressed by their weekend double.
"They'll be very confident," he said. "They have some very good shooters on the perimeter and a couple of good big guys inside who present their challenges."
Veteran forward Dillon Boucher feels like the Kings present the challenge the Breakers need on the back of three straight victories.
"Harvey goes down and all of a sudden their other guards all step up and it's like they never missed a beat. We've got to be on our toes because we've got a very good team playing good basketball. To take that next step where we need to go we need to play well."