Sydney Kings standout Kevin Lisch shapes as the danger man for NZ Breakers
The Breakers did not have much success putting the shackles on Kevin Lisch last season. The league MVP torched them for 27 points a game as his Illawarra Hawks went for a season sweep over the Kiwi club.
Now the lefty Aussie-qualified, American-born guard has moved to the Sydney Kings whom the Breakers host tonight (7.30pm tipoff) at the NSEC in skipper Mika Vukona's 300th Australian NBL game for the club.
If Paul Henare's men have any hope of celebrating their captain fantastic's big game in style, and improving to 2-1 for the new season, they are going to have to do a much better job on Lisch, among other things.
The good news is that everything we've seen from the first two games indicates Henare has himself a much improved defensive unit this season in his remade roster. It's scoring the basketball where their issues lie thus far.
The Breakers won their season opener 76-71 over title favourites Melbourne United, keeping the Victorian scoring machine to just 41 percent shooting and doing an excellent job of denying key perimeter threats Todd Blanchfield and Chris Goulding the looks they thrive on. They were a combined five of 18 from the floor.
Their defence was also locked in on the visit to Perth− a 75-73 defeat − especially in the third quarter when they held the Wildcats to just eight points and seized what should have been a game-winning advantage.
But Lisch presents as a tough cover tonight, after shaking off a head knock that took him out of last Sunday's 92-78 home victory over the Cairns Taipans. He had 10 points in that one before an early end to his shift, but prior to that had logged back-to-back 20-point games as the Kings opened with a home defeat to the Brisbane Bullets and a quality road victory at Illawarra.
Last season's MVP looks for all money as though he has just taken up where he left off with the Hawks in 2015-16. And that alone should have the Breakers on high alert tonight, after seeing him light them up for 24, 17 and 40 points in the three games he played against them last season.
The former Saint Louis Billiken has plenty of help in a heavily revamped Kings roster too. Cadee is in career-best form, having dropped 20 in the win over the Hawks and 23 (16 of which came in the final quarter) as they closed out comfortably against the Taipans.
Plus, two-time NBA champion Josh Powell (with the LA Lakers) is now into his second week with Andrew Gaze's club, and looks to be settling in well. He has heavily upgraded their frontline, alongside import Greg Whittington, who had 21 points, nine boards and two blocks against Cairns, and experienced Aussie bruiser Aleks Maric.
Well-travelled Boomer Brad Newley, whose matchup with Tom Abercrombie tonight will be worth watching, has also eased into some promising form with 29 points over last weekend's twin victories.
"Lisch is one of the best players in the competition, and Cadee playing the way he's playing, they've got a lot of talent," noted Henare. "They've got big bodies too. Maric is playing very well, the new guy Powell has fitted in well, and Whittington has been a revelation.
"They've got threats across the floor, and Gaze's system of ball movement and player movement off the ball gets everyone involved. It's going to be a big job for us to make sure we're solid with our core defence."
Adds Abercrombie: "They've put a really good team together and are coming off a couple of quality wins. It's going to be a huge game for us. They've had an overhaul of their roster, and they've got some big units in there, and Newley with a lot of experience."
But Abercrombie likes the way his own group is trending, despite that slight final-quarter breakdown in Perth that let what would have been a statement road victory slip through their fingers.
"We're at that stage where we're able to start tweaking things now. We've had a few games now and we're finding out a little how we play together. Now we're able to make some minor adjustments.
"That's all a close game comes down to, just the little things. We've got to make sure we're so disciplined in executing down the stretch. But I really like what I've seen from the group so far. When we've got all those pieces in place, we're a very good team, and we've shown that already."
We should have a better idea if Abercrombie's optimism is well founded tonight. Keep Lisch on a tight leash, and these Breakers will be well placed to deliver the win that Vukona deserves on his milestone occasion.
NZ Breakers v Sydney Kings
Tonight 7.35pm, NSEC
3 Keys to Breakers victory
Contain the Kings' perimeter threat. Kevin Lisch and Jason Cadee are tough covers. Their open looks must be limited.
Get Kirk Penney and Corey Webster going. These classy shooters are too good to be bit-part contributors. Time for a breakout from one or both.
Win the inside battle. Good things happen when the Breakers dominate the boards and shade points in paint. Look for a big night from Mika Vukona who will be pumped.