Reality check from Breakers' Mika Vukona
Trust Mika Vukona to provide some perspective. After a game where the hard-nosed Breakers forward underlined his championship calibre, he also reminded everyone not to go searching for negatives where they don't exist.
It was an enlightening reaction from the Tall Blacks skipper when he was asked how he thought his Breakers were travelling, following Friday night's patchy 92-84 victory over the Wollongong Hawks at yet another sold-out North Shore Events Centre.
It was the Kiwi club's 12th straight Australian NBL victory, their 10th in a row at home and takes them to 20-3 for the season - still two games clear of the Perth Wildcats.
Yet the talk at the post-game press conference was of defensive breakdowns, an inability to put teams away and battling for motivation over a coming five-week period that's light on games and heavy on practices.
That's when Vukona, who never calls a spade a digging implement, offered his interpretation of a season well on the way to setting new standards.
The Breakers, of course, are chasing a threepeat of titles. In 2010-11 they went 20-6 through the regular season en route to their breakthrough championship, and last campaign were 21-7. So, by any definition things are going swimmingly right now.
"It's great," said Vukona after going 11-of-14 from the floor for a team-high 24 points. "We're winning games. We've only lost three all season, so what can you be sad about? Everybody is happy, we're going into a 13-day break, and obviously we're going to get crabby with each other, then the next game we're going to come out pretty fired up."
Sure, there are still things the Breakers can do better, and Vukona is the first to admit that.
"We had a couple of lapses [against the Hawks] where we could have just stepped on their throat and cracked it, but we didn't do that. That's the upside for us because come playoff time you've got to make sure that doesn't happen."
Vukona was a big reason the Breakers didn't pay a price for letting a 15-point final-quarter lead all but evaporate.
He had two offensive rebounds and five straight points as the Hawks went scoreless over the final 1:56. Crisis averted. Or as Hawks coach Gordie McLeod surmised: "You want those guys on your team because they make everything happen for you."
Coach Andrej Lemanis agrees that the record is validation of a "good team that's playing well" but he did admit to some concerns around a period where they have 13 days till their next game and play just five times over the closing five weeks of the regular season.
"It's a tough time to stay motivated," said Lemanis. "I think you've seen it in the Sydney game last week, and this game. I thought we came out with good energy, but it drifted a bit.
"When you don't play it's hard to stay sharp. It's just the way it is. Playing games gets you at a level and keeps you on edge. You can't replicate that.
"This 13-day break is going to a challenge. We've got to be smart how we manage it. We're going to get sick of seeing each other. But I do like how it ends up the last two weeks when we play Melbourne twice and then go to Perth. So we play three games against quality opposition leading into the playoffs.
"We've got to be smart over this next month, finding ways to keep that edge both at practice and coming into basketball games."
- Sunday Star Times
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