Breakers big man still in doubt before playoffs
The New Zealand Breakers are still sweating on the fitness of backup big man Will Hudson ahead of Thursday's Australian NBL semifinal opener against the Sydney Kings at Auckland's Vector Arena.
The Breakers, minus coach of the year Andrej Lemanis, newly anointed league MVP Cedric Jackson and veteran forward Dillon Boucher, started preparations today with a short, sharp session at their North Shore practice facility.
The trio were travelling back from the ANBL awards night in Melbourne.
After the long trip to and from Perth for Friday's regular season finale - a disappointing 73-58 defeat to the Wildcats that snapped the 16-game winning streak - the accent today was on quality, not quantity under assistant coach Dean Vickerman.
"Today was a 45-minute session, we kept it moving quick and they responded pretty well," said Vickerman of a day more about getting the legs moving again, than anything else.
But Vickerman had to admit there was still doubt about Hudson's participation in Thursday night's semifinal series opener after the big American was still experiencing discomfort on his problem left knee.
"He hasn't got into as much practice as we'd want him to get into," Vickerman said.
"He's day-by-day. It's up to him to get his mind right about what he can get through, and what kind of pain he can deal with. We don't know where he's at yet.
"Today we just tried to sharpen him up on plays, He's missed some practices, and missed some of our play execution. It's something we've got to improve on with everybody, but something he really needs to work on."
Vickerman said he didn't know whether Hudson would play Thursday (7.40pm tipoff).
"You hope so," he said.
"We'll really find out the next couple of days about how much he's able to give us."
Vickerman said the best-of-three semifinal series against the Kings (game two is in Sydney on Easter Monday, with the decider, if required, back in Auckland next Wednesday) was a perfect scenario from a travel component.
But he cautioned that Shane Heal's Kings were a legitimate opponent who would have to be treated with the utmost respect.
"They're one of only two teams to beat us for the year and present their challenges, even without their point guard [American Corin Henry who is gone for the season with a wrist injury]." Vickerman said.
"They handled that injury loss pretty well, they've got James Harvey back in there and it makes them quite dangerous.
"Now they're starting to use some role players as lock-down defenders and they're using all their talents.
"They play us tough, they play us physical and if we are going to win the championship it's the kind of series you need.
"There's definitely a toughness about that group. They're not backing down, they'll screen hard, box out, and all those physical areas of the game they do pretty well."
The Breakers have lost their semifinal openers at home the previous two seasons on the way to the titles, and Vickerman hinted at some dissatisfaction over the draw they were handed this time round.
"The league certainly didn't want to get us that ready sending us to Perth for the last game of the season," he said.
"If you win the championship you'd think you might get the last game at home . . . it's a disrupted week."
But it should be a challenge the Breakers are more than capable of handling against a Kings side they won three of four against this season.
Friday night's loss to the Wildcats has served as a much-needed wake-up call and Vickerman sensed an edge coming back into the camp.
"We're really excited about going into this playoff game," he said.
"There's just a whole basketball buzz right now. The NCAAs are going off, the NBA is winding up, and it's fun being in the finals at this time - it's a good few weeks of basketball coming up, and we're just happy we're playing right now."