All-out defence in Breakers-Hawks battle
In a contest between the Australian National Basketball League's two stingiest defences, don't expect points to flow like South Island rivers.
The NZ Breakers (11-3) headed across the Tasman yesterday for their third game in nine days tonight (9.30pm NZ time) against the Wollongong Hawks (8-5) - one where offence will take a back seat to defence and ... more defence.
Since allowing 49 points in the opening half against the Adelaide 36ers on December 28, the Breakers' defence has rebranded itself, while the Hawks unit has ranked the toughest to break down through the season's first half.
Following some "forceful" words from coach Andrej Lemanis in the Acer Arena locker-room, the two-time defending champions have forced 34 turnovers and held their opponents to 35.8 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent on three-point attempts in six quarters of basketball.
That saw them overcome a 21-point deficit to beat the 36ers 71-66, then strangle the life out of the Cairns Taipans in a 66-61 New Year's Eve victory.
"It's been a big step up since that first half against Adelaide," said forward Mika Vukona, who has revelled as the front-man in the Breakers' suffocating full-court press defence.
"Andrej set a challenge for us during that halftime and everybody has strived for that since. It was piss-poor defence in that first half. They scored 49 points in the first half and that's too many points for any team in the ANBL to score against us."
While the Breakers lead the league in total turnovers forced, including a season-high 23 against the Taipans, the Hawks will be a test, coming in with the lowest turnover rate at 10.8 per game.
And it's not the Breakers' D that can claim a league-low 69.3 points against per game. That belongs to the Hawks.
The third-placed Hawks allowed a season-high 80 points for just the second time this season in a New Year's Eve overtime loss to the Melbourne Tigers. The other occasion was against the front-running Perth Wildcats, while they have given up scores in the 70s just two other times.
It's a big challenge for the Breakers offence, which has struggled for stretches this season, despite having the scoring threats of import Cedric Jackson, Tall Black Tom Abercrombie and veteran guards CJ Bruton and Daryl Corletto.
"We just need to go to our strengths," Vukona said. "Use Cedric, get it into Alex (Pledger) and to Tommy. It's more about us than it is about them."
There are injuries for Wollongong, with Tyson Demos, Larry Davidson and Tim Coenraad all facing at least two weeks out. The Breakers reported no major injuries.
The Hawks' home floor at 'The Sandpit' has been a formidable venue for the Breakers franchise, with just a 3-12 record there.
However, in 2012/13, the Breakers have gone 5-2 in Australia - the league's best road record - and, having averaged almost six opponent turnovers per quarter in their last six periods, fear no road arena.
"Let's hope we can keep doing that," Vukona added.
NZ Breakers: Tom Abercrombie, Dillon Boucher, CJ Bruton, Daryl Corletto, Leon Henry, Will Hudson, Cedric Jackson, Alex Pledger, Mika Vukona, Corey Webster.
Wollongong Hawks: Alex Beagley, Zac Delaney, Adris Deleon, David Gruber, Oscar Forman, Lance Hurdle, Auryn Macmillan, Rhys Martin, Glen Saville.