No Hudson, no problem as Breakers test depth
If the undermanned New Zealand Breakers are feeling a little hard done by after the Will Hudson injury blow, tonight's opponents at the North Shore Events Centre should have them feeling a whole lot better about themselves.
The Breakers this week learned they'll have to do without Hudson, their backup centre, for somewhere between four and six weeks while he deals with a medial ligament tear in his left knee.
The back-to-back champions are hoping the absence will be at the lower end of the spectrum, which should see the Wisconsin workhorse back for the last couple of rounds of the regular season.
Hudson's absence leaves the club severely undersized as they chase the all-important No 1 playoff seeding - they have already sealed a semifinal spot with six rounds remaining. At 19 wins, three losses, they hold a two-loss edge on the Perth Wildcats, though their nearest pursuers have all but sealed the tiebreaker.
That will leave the Breakers treading a bit of a tightrope over the next month, starting tonight against the snake-bit Wollongong Hawks, who would take one look at the Breakers' injury-list, and say: "Is that all you got?"
Wollongong have already seen three starters go down with season-ending knee injuries in January. They lost their backcourt of import Lance Hurdle and in-form Aussie Rhys Martin in the same game, then soon after ANBL legend Glen Saville joined them with a blow that prematurely ended his storied career.
That hasn't been the only factor, but it certainly hasn't helped as the Hawks have lost nine of their last 10, to plummet down the rankings. They are currently 9-12 and locked in a five-way battle for the last two playoff spots.
Three of those recent defeats have come at the Breakers' hands, as the New Zealand club beat them twice across the ditch (78-76 and 91-74) and once at home (72-71). The champs, riding their 11-game win streak, will be bitterly disappointed if they don't complete the sweep tonight, at what should be another sold-out NSEC.
To do so they're going to have to get by with some small ball against the Hawks frontline, with Mika Vukona, Dillon Boucher and Leon Henry all having to play bigger than their dimensions.
Coach Andrej Lemanis is confident he can get by with with a little bit of smoke and mirrors and a little bit of the depth and versatility his club are so proud of.
Plus, he cautions not to underestimate the ability of Alex Pledger to carry some extra load as the side's only legit big body.
The big centre is coming off 18 points on nine-of-13 shooting in the overtime victory over the Sydney Kings - an effort that came at the end of a week in which he did not train, while he rested his injured ankle.
"That's something people don't appreciate, at different times how much people play hurt," said Lemanis, who has been cleared to apply for the Australian Boomers coaching job. "The ‘Chief' played hurt the last three or four games, and for him to have a week off, and then come in and play as he did, was very pleasing."
The Breakers also remain as cool as the other side of the pillow. The last game was a great example of that. They survived a referee howler that allowed the Kings to take the game into overtime - an injustice the league should have looked hard at -- then fell down five early in the extra period, only to step up and make all the big plays down the stretch.
"I'm really pleased with our poise," added Lemanis. "Over this last five weeks we've been in lots of different situations, and Saturday night was another example. Everyone finds their ways to contribute at different times and particularly with the game on the line."
More of the same will be needed tonight against a Hawks side with plenty of issues of its own but which usually plays the Kiwis tough.