NZ Breakers need to press the go button
The New Zealand Breakers won't win a third straight Australian NBL title playing the way they are now. The good thing is they know that as well as anyone.
Even though the back-to-back champs from Auckland head into the All-Star break with a league-best 9-3 record, their basketball remains gloriously imperfect.
They've won some games handsomely - including Thursday's 97-76 shellacking of the Cairns Taipans - and some with a degree of difficulty. And they've been well and truly thumped three times - twice by the side considered the biggest obstacle between them and just the second title "threepeat" in the league's history.
It's those two defeats to the Perth Wildcats that are the most concerning. Particularly their decisive nature.
The Breakers are likely to have to go through the Cats to claim that third title and at the moment the men from the wild west have their number big time. Perth won 93-72 in Auckland to open the season and then cruised to an 89-64 victory at home.
That all but gives the Cats the tiebreaker (they are 2-0 up with two to come, and plus-46 on points) which could prove crucial.
A huge factor come playoff time should these two powerhouse clubs meet will be home advantage.
A New Zealand-Perth series is a gruelling war of attrition, both on the court where both teams play an uncompromising style, and in terms of the distance needed to be traversed.
So having game three on your court is massive. Over their two title runs the Breakers have seen all four series go to a deciding game at their home venue - and won 'em all.
That will play out over the weeks to come, but the Breakers will be wise over this holiday period to throw everything but the kitchen sink at keeping their noses in front of those Cats.
Other than that, it's largely positive for the Breakers who are very much still a work in progress at this midpoint of the season.
The encouraging thing is they have a heap of upside, with big-time performers like Tom Abercrombie, Mika Vukona, Alex Pledger and CJ Bruton still to consistently play anywhere near their best.
In Cedric Jackson they have the best player in the league, and a fellow they've been riding like a mule over the first part of the season.
At some stage they're going to need to give him a bit more support on a regular basis. Abercrombie (10ppg at 38%), who's struggling for confidence and mobility, looks a prime contender for that if he can get himself right.
Pledger, too, has yet to assert himself as the force his coaches believe he can be, and everyone knows that as the stakes go up, so too will the number of big shots Bruton starts hitting. Will Hudson, too, looks like he can influence games more than he's been able to thus far.
Lemanis sees plenty of areas where his team needs to get better, and will challenge them to do so over coming weeks.
"Defensive rebounding is one area," he says.
"If you just go on percentages, I think we're second in offensive rebounding, right there with Perth, but seventh in defensive rebounding. It's an area we can really pick up.
"We've also got to look after the ball a little better.
"I was really pleased [against Cairns] with only 11 turnovers, but we've been turning it over too much.
"And our offensive understanding can be better. We've had some good feedback from the players about getting clarity on what we're going to run on offence. We have a lot of stuff, and that's on me as coach.
Boucher liked the move to simplify things a bit and said the side's "bigs" were ready to take up the rebounding challenge.
But he agrees there's still plenty of upside as they enter the second half of the season.
"We're top of the table so we're exactly where we want to be. Yeah, we didn't really want the three losses, and we're disappointed with how we played.
"Generally, when we train well we play well, and the key is to keep battling every day, and try to get better every day. If we do that, we know we're going to put out a good performance. That doesn't necessarily mean we're going to win every game, it just means we're going to play well."
- © Fairfax NZ News