Will Hudson in doubt for Breakers trip to Perth
Small ball could be the order of the day as the New Zealand Breakers face the likelihood of making the long trip to the Perth Wildcats without American big man Will Hudson.
Hudson, who backs up Alex Pledger at centre, sprained his ankle at today's training session and was rated highly doubtful for Thursday night's much-anticipated NBL grand final rematch at the new Perth Arena.
The 7-1 Breakers can equal their record winning streak with a victory, while the bristling Cats are looking to snap a three-game losing skid that's seen them slip back to 3-3.
"He's got a pretty decent ankle sprain," said physio Anousith Bouaaphone.
"We'll know more once we get scans done, but at this stage it's positive he's able to put weight on it.
"It looks like a typical ankle sprain - nothing we can't deal with."
Bouaaphone's healing hands have performed miracles in recent seasons around playoff time, but the physio indicated no chances would be taken at this stage of the season with Hudson, who is averaging 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in a little over 16 minutes a game off the bench.
"It will be a real push for Thursday," he said. "At this stage it's in his best interest and the club's best interest we take care of him and make sure he's all right for the rest of the season."
If Hudson does miss the trip (they fly out of Auckland on Wednesday afternoon), it leaves the Breakers severely undersized against arguably the best offensive rebounding side in the league.
The 1.98m Mika Vukona and 1.96m Dillon Boucher are the chief contenders to back up Pledger at centre, while natural small forwards Leon Henry and Tom Abercrombie could find themselves spending time at power forward.
It will be a scenario the aggressive Wildcats will regard as a potential advantage, and they can be expected to go hard at Pledger early to try and get him in foul trouble.
Coach Andrej Lemanis said today if Hudson missed the game, Vukona, Boucher and even Henry could find themselves battling Matty Knight and Jeremiah Trueman at centre.
"Pledge can carry a few more minutes than he's been carrying and we've spoken to Leon about his opportunities in the four spot, and this is maybe the sort of opportunity that presents for him to stake his claim.
"There are going to be periods where Pledge is out and we have to go with Mika, Dill and Leon. That can change the way we play a bit but it's all fun."
The positive news for the Breakers was that combo guard Corey Webster took a full part in training and looked ready to make a return to action after sitting out the last three games with a back injury.
Lemanis was also not reading too much into the flat patch the Wildcats had hit the last few weeks, with a big defeat on the road to the Wollongong Hawks being followed by consecutive losses to the Adelaide 36ers - the last coming in front of a record crowd of 11,562 in their home opener.
"Firstly, having five game in a row on the road at the start is hard. It wears on you. Last year we went four in a row on the road, and it starts to get long.
"Then they have their first game at home in front of nearly 12,000 people, and everyone saw us last year at Vector for the first time and that was a pretty ugly game as well, with some nerves and everyone feeling out the stadium.
"They're still a good basketball team and we need to play well to give ourselves a shot."
The Breakers also tend to bring out the best - and worst - in the Wildcats who now regard the back-to-back champions from New Zealand as their biggest rival in the league.
The Wildcats spanked the Breakers 93-72 in the season opener at the NSEC, and said afterwards they had been motivated to do so by watching the Kiwi club raise its second championship banner before the game.
The Breakers have toppled the Wildcats the last two seasons in memorable - and physical - three-game playoff series.
"They'll be fired up, but they're always fired up to play us anyway," shrugged Lemanis.
"It'll be fun going into that stadium - I think we're all looking forward to seeing it and experiencing the atmosphere."