Breakers big man Alex Pledger is calling for controlled anger from his team to counter Perth's aggressive approach as the ANBL's two great rivals go at it again in Auckland tonight.
The Wildcats don't take a backwards step to anyone, least of all the Breakers, who have pipped them in the last two finals series.
Perth have upped the ante in that department this season, mixing skill with clever tactics and no shortage of gamesmanship to two big wins - 93-72 in round one in Auckland and 89-64 in round eight in Perth.
The Breakers are determined to reverse that tonight at Vector Arena in front of a crowd of more than 9000.
The frontrunning Kiwis - three games ahead of second-placed Perth - are looking for the formula to tame the Wildcats, and Pledger didn't shy away from the need to counter the visitors' in-your-face approach.
"They have some players who I guess you could say are professionals at getting under your skin . . . those players will remain nameless," Pledger said in a not-too-subtle reference to the likes of Perth power forwards Shawn Redhage and Jesse Wagstaff along with rugged centre Matty Knight.
"So keeping your composure but also not backing down, matching their physicality, and I guess you could say getting angry, but without losing your mind. That will go a long way to help us getting a win."
Pledger knows a lot will fall on his tall shoulders against Perth, the best offensive rebounding team in the league.
He needs to get stuck into this department tonight, though it might take more than just him because of the way Perth play this crucial area.
"They are one of those teams who send all five of their players to the offensive boards, which a lot of teams don't do. They do a good job of tipping the ball back and then go again. We have to get those loose ones. If we can do that and run, we'll be in with a pretty good shot.
"We are a pretty good transition team, so if we can take care of the boards and get out and run, that will help us out a lot. But doing that is a lot harder than it sounds."
The Breakers are doing their best to steer clear of the hype surrounding this top-of-the-table clash. Pledger believes they got caught up in that in their earlier losses to Perth, where the rivalry overshadowed the buildups.
"The biggest thing we are doing for this game compared to the last two Perth games is we are just treating it like a regular game. Obviously it's a big game, one versus two, but we're not treating like it's a must-win playoff game. We're not hyping it ourselves, which is what we did the last two games."
Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis backed those sentiments, adding that a lot had happened since the two heavy losses. That includes the Breakers' club record nine-game winning streak.
Lemanis said the most pleasing thing about the Breakers' current hot form was the way they had managed to get themselves out of various holes over the last couple of months.
There's a chance they might need to do it again this evening.
- © Fairfax NZ News