Breakers hope winning rhythm keeps in tune
Andrej Lemanis was a worried man just hours before Thursday night’s record-equalling Australian NBL victory over the Sydney Kings.
The NZ Breakers coach could see the tiredness in his players’ eyes as they went through their game-day shootaround, the toll of a gruelling new year schedule clearly showing.
Turns out he needn’t have fretted. As they’ve done throughout this golden summer stretch, his players were able to flick the switch when they needed to and cruised to a 95-76 victory over the Sydney Kings that equalled their club record winning streak at eight and solidified their league-best record at an impressive 16-3.
Lemanis credited unprecedented depth, veteran leadership and the rhythm that’s come with playing such a demanding schedule as being the key factors in an impressive victory - their eighth straight at home.
Despite their fatigue, the Breakers shot 51 per cent from the floor and a dazzling 11 of 22 from beyond the arc against the outgunned Kings as they extended their home record to 8-1 and kept the pressure on the Perth Wildcats who are the only club challenging for the minor premiership.
Experienced guard CJ Bruton, who was part of a bench brigade that outscored their Sydney equivalents 35-18, revealed after the game that Lemanis had been a bit jittery in the leadup.
“Drej was a little worried at shootaround, looking in everyone’s eyes and wondering, ‘do we have the energy and effort?’ So we changed a few things up in the warmup routine,” said Bruton.
“We hadn’t played too many games at home [lately], and to the boys’ credit we made sure we got a lot of shots up. That paid off as well.”
Lemanis admitted he’d been concerned before the game. He sensed a weariness borne of four trips across the ditch in as many weeks.
“People are talking about why we’re winning. You win because of good people who understand what it takes to win,” said the Breakers coach.
“I have nothing to do with warmups, but they change what they do in warmups, they respond to messages. We’ve got some great leaders in the group like CJ and Bouch (Dillon Boucher) who understand all those little things it takes to win.”
Fatigue would continue to be a factor the team had to deal with tomorrow in Wollongong as they end an intense period of eight games in less than a month. They flew out early this morning, bodies still sore from the night before.
“No doubt fatigue is part of the challenge we’re dealing with,” added Lemanis.
“But so what. What are you going to do, not play? You’ve got to find ways to overcome it.
“Our medical staff do a great job on recovery, and often it’s just as much mental as physical. Obviously there’s a physical component, but you can give into it mentally or choose to overcome it.
“This group has been fantastic at overcoming it.”
The feature of the Breakers’ winning streak is that different people are stepping up on different nights. It’s impossible to shut down their threats, because you just don’t know where they’re coming from.
Against the Kings it was Corletto, who had the first 14 points inside a dazzling three minutes, who led the scoring, with Bruton doing his bit to continue the momentum provided by the sharpshooter.
Other night’s it’s been Cedric Jackson or Tom Abercrombie or Mika Vukona or Will Hudson.
Lemanis reckons when you factor in the big strides made by Corey Webster and Leon Henry this season, he has the deepest squad he’s ever had.
“We truly play 10 deep, and what I’ve really liked this year is our ‘sticktuitiveness’. In games, no matter what’s going on, we’re able for the most part to focus on the next play, and understand it’s all about the process.”
And as Lemanis observed all these games in a short period of time do have one upside.
“There’s a good confidence about the group at the moment. We’re in a rhythm of playing games and we’re in a rhythm of winning.”
The challenge will be to keep that rhythm going for one more game in Wollongong tomorrow.
Given the energy and effort that eventuated at a sold-out NSEC on Thursday, it’s hard to see the roll stopping just yet.
Alex Pledger came through the game well on his tweaked ankle, playing 17 minutes and making five of nine shots for 11 points, five boards and a block.
And with no Breaker playing more than Abercrombie’s 28 minutes – a product of the need to keep fresh bodies on the court to play pressure defence, said Lemanis – there should be plenty of gas in the tank for the Hawks.