Breakers bench putting heat on starters
The challenges keep coming for the table-topping New Zealand Breakers.
Despite recording their 10th win in a row with a 98-81 thumping of the Perth Wildcats on Friday night, the pace-setters can little afford to take their eye off the ball.
Only it's not just the seven other teams they need to look out for now, it's themselves.
The league leaders put on a masterful three quarters to dismiss the only team that remained unconquered this year, their slow start the only blemish on an otherwise resoundingly successful night.
But besides grabbing back some dignity after two 20-point hidings from the Wildcats earlier in the season, the win proved the internal battle for game time is as hot as ever.
The home side's bench scored almost half of the Breakers' tally at a sold-out Vector Arena, outscoring the Perth bench 45-30.
It's a fact now well accepted within the Breakers camp that nobody's position is safe and the players are relishing the challenge.
"The bench performance [on Friday] was massive and that's why I have no doubt that we'll take out this championship," said Daryl Corletto, who had 8-points including two momentum-swinging threes in the second quarter.
"We play deep, we can start anyone and there would be no drop off in the way we play. I think it showed last night when we went to the bench we kind of lifted a bit but when Perth went to the bench they dropped off."
A 14-2 run from Perth to start the game saw Andrej Lemanis calling his subs early and the change-up saw the lead cut to six at quarter-time.
Corey Webster had a career high 14-points in as many minutes while CJ Bruton also added 14 and Will Hudson 11 to go with eight rebounds.
It's a handy conundrum for Lemanis who must now find ways to balance a roster with 10 capable starters.
"Everyone could rightly demand more court time yet ultimately that's our strength and the spread of the minutes is one of the reasons I think we won the basketball game," he said.
"Everybody can come in and contribute. It's not really even a case of maintaining the flow; sometimes they can change the flow and add to it. The beauty of this group is nobody drops their heads when that happens."
Corletto credits the hectic January schedule for the Breakers' transformation from winning ugly to feared foe.
"Playing games is the best thing for you to get your rhythm back and get your confidence back.
"There's a few of us now starting to feel a bit more comfortable in the way we're playing and that comes with playing games."
The Breakers now hold a two game buffer over the second-placed Wildcats but the series split may be a stretch too far, with the Kiwi outfit needing a 30-point win in Perth to make up the points differential.
With that, the equation for home playoff security is simple.
"Perth are a quality team and they're no pushovers. I'm sure we'll face them in the finals and we need to be ready," said Corletto.
"We just need to keep winning. We've got that buffer, every game is tough but the ball's in our court."
Sunday Star Times