Breakers have 'nasty' back in their game
The Breakers have the "nasty" back in their game after an inopportune week spent smelling the roses from the loftiest perch in the league.
The New Zealand club's coaching staff sensed a noticeable attitude adjustment through the first two training sessions of the week, following on the heels of last Thursday's 89-64 defeat to the Wildcats in Perth.
It was just the second loss of the season for the 7-2 Breakers but, worryingly, both of them have been against the side they defeated in an epic grand final series in April. The 5-3 Cats skinned the Breakers 93-72 in the season opener at the NSEC and now have a 2-0 -- plus-46 points -- advantage in the head-to-head, with two games to play.
Most tellingly, the men from the wild west have won both games with superior defence, rebounding, offensive execution and by bringing a greater aggression to the plate.
That realisation has left the Breakers with a decided edge about them as they go about preparing for Friday's visit by Jonny Flynn and the Melbourne Tigers.
"Today's practice was good and I thought yesterday's had an edge about it as well which is where we need to be," said head coach Andrej Lemanis today. "We need to practise well to come out and play well.
Lemanis said he'd felt that edge - what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls the "nasty" - had been missing last week, and the result was a flat performance in Perth, accentuated by eight-point second and third quarters.
"You should come out practise well every week, and that turns into game form. Obviously we're a little grumpy about how we played, but that's behind us now."
The Breakers are the sort of outfit who set the tone in practice. Their scrimmages are notoriously competitive and more than a little chippy. There was certainly plenty of feeling in the game stuff on the court today at Atlas Place.
"We felt the whole week last week we didn't have an edge about us in practice," added assistant coach Dean Vickerman. "We had different people in and out with injury and so on.
"Whether that was just winning seven games in a row or winning by a large margin (against the Crocs) which we'd been trying to do for a while and everyone took a little breath and were like 'yep, we achieved that, we knocked someone over and put our foot on them'. We felt like we took a breath last week.
"We competed for a while [against Perth], but when it got really hard over there I didn't think we had that edge about us, and no one really had it.
"It'll be there this week."
Hard-nosed power forward Mika Vukona, who had just one rebound and four points against the Cats, said the Breakers players had been "humbled" by their lack of effort in Perth.
"It was terrible man, pretty much like game one all over again," said Vukona today.
But he agreed the "edge" was very much back on the training court this week.
"That's something we lacked last week. Andrej picked up on it during the week and tried to force it through, but the guys were soft going into that game and we came home pretty humbled."
Asked the best way to respond against the Tigers, Vukona's eyes practically lit up. You know he'll be leading the way on Friday at the NSEC.
"It's about everything in the effort areas. We lacked everything there. Balls were bouncing nearby and none of us were jumping on it.
"That can be improved. Our defence, our talk, everything we'd based our last seven games on wasn't there. We know how to win and those things are going to get wins for us. We've got to go back to that."
Breakers centre Alex Pledger missed the first two days' practice with a sinus infection but was expected to play Friday. Just 300 tickets remained to be sold by midday today.
- © Fairfax NZ News