Unstoppable Breakers primed for Cat-fight
When irresistible force meets immovable object at Vector Arena on Friday, something's got to give.
That's the scenario confronting the record-setting New Zealand Breakers this week as they take their club-best nine-game Australian NBL winning streak into what could be a defining home clash against the Perth Wildcats.
The Breakers, on Saturday in Wollongong, thumped the Hawks 91-74 to not only take that streak into record territory, but secure a sixth straight road victory, one shy of another club mark.
The Kiwi back-to-back champions are now 9-2 in Australia this season, 17-3 overall and their past three wins have been achieved with such comfort - average margin 18 points - that it's clear they've taken their game to another level.
Then there's the 13-4 Cats.
Like Gareth Morgan's worst nightmare, these felines just won't go away.
On Friday night at Perth Arena they scratched and clawed their way to a 62-59 victory over the Townsville Crocodiles that was their 10th win in their past 11 games and fifth on the bounce.
Since starting the season 3-3, Rob Beveridge's Cats have been locked into the hoops equivalent of a staring contest with their old mates from the other side of the continent. Nobody's blinked yet.
But now we have a resolution looming over the question every hoophead on both sides of the Tasman is asking themselves.
Just who is the best team in this league?
"Of course we're thinking about them," declared Breakers centre Alex Pledger after a game in which he spearheaded an offensive rebounding clinic.
"We'll celebrate a little but when we get home and step on the practice court on Monday [today] it's all about the Wildcats.
"They've been playing very well and they always save their best games for us. They've beaten us twice this year, so it's going to be a very good game and one we're really excited about."
The Cats have thumped the Breakers twice - by a combined 46 points - but they have not clashed since November 22. The Kiwi club has been steadily improving since and presents as a completely different proposition now.
Saturday's victory, coming less than 48 hours after the home thumping of Sydney, was confirmation that Andrej Lemanis now has his veteran club humming.
The Breakers shot relatively well - 43 per cent from the floor, 48 from beyond the arc - but so dominated the effort areas that a third straight win over their so-called "bogy" club was a formality.
Cedric Jackson led a balanced offensive effort with 18 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals, with Leon Henry's 14 points off the bench and Pledger's eight offensive boards in a 14-rebound haul other features of the match.
Lemanis' men thumped the Hawks on the boards (41-26 overall and 22-6 at the offensive end), won the assist count 23-11, the steals 9-5, second-chance points 12-6 and points off turnovers 28-4. They also had nine steals to five.
So, though the game was close going into the final period (68-66), with a 23-8 final quarter, including an 11-0 run to open, the Breakers pretty quickly put the lid on the record-breaking victory. Fairfax NZ