Mr Fix-it has plenty to do at the Breakers

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:01 11/12/2013
Fairfax NZ

The Breakers have teamed up with Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand to help survivors like Molly put their slam-dunking skills to the test.

Alex Pledger
Photosport
DOUBTFUL: Breakers centre Alex Pledger looks set to miss another game with an ongoing ankle injury.

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An ailing starting centre, an off-kilter veteran, the second worst defence in the league and a 4-8 record one game from the holiday hiatus ... Breakers coach Dean Vickerman has a Christmas list of fix-its.

Probably the last thing he needs is runaway league leaders the 11-1 Perth Wildcats next up in Auckland on Friday.

But that's the task, and it's one the Breakers are determined to relish as they look to turn the corner with a high-profile scalp ahead of a league-wide two-week break.

Vickerman yesterday presented a composed facade at team headquarters, despite an empty road trip last weekend that saw them drop games at Perth (91-95) and Melbourne (82-84) to drop to sixth on the standings.

They have their challenges after the club's worst start since the 2005-06 calamity.

Vickerman confirmed yesterday that starting centre Alex Pledger is having tests for breathing problems that are probably the result of a big fall he took against Adelaide a few weeks back.

The seven-footer will play on Friday, but Vickerman hopes he can put his shortness of breath behind him and shake off a form funk in the process.

"Our reports are he can't do anything worse to it right now, to battle through it, and after this game he's got 16 days before we play again so there will be some time to recover," he said.

Less obvious is the solution to 37-year-old guard's CJ Bruton's issues. He's shooting 31 percent from the floor and 25 percent from beyond the arc for the season - numbers that tell a sad tale of a 17-year veteran finally facing his own mortality.

In Melbourne - his 500th NBL game - Bruton went one-for-eight and, frankly, was on the court at game's end on reputation only.

Vickerman is standing behind his proven winner, though right now that's more out of hope than anything tangible.

"His leadership over the last three weeks has been outstanding, and his shot will fall," said Vickerman, adding that Bruton deserved the key minutes in his milestone game on Sunday. "He needed to be out there, and if there was a big shot to be made I thought he was going to in that game. He'll have a better second half of the year."

There's nothing too much wrong with the Breakers' offensive game. Their 87.5 points a game is behind only Adelaide's 88.83 and they're shooting at the best clip in the league, despite Bruton's early struggles.

Unfortunately their defence cancels that out, with the 87.25 points a game they're giving up second worst in the league.

In Perth last Friday the Breakers allowed Wildcats imports James Ennis and Jermaine Beal to combine for 61 points, and in Melbourne loose defending allowed Tigers guard Mustapha Farrakhan to go nine-of-10, more or less unguarded.

"We didn't get it done on the road, but we've certainly improved at the defensive end and we've stayed pretty consistent with what we've been doing offensively," said Vickerman.

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He admits they're going to have to learn from their mistakes on Ennis and Beal on Friday after the duo have combined for 109 points in two wins over the Breakers.

"There's a lot more plays being run for those two, and a lot of it's on transition and with the three-ball. They're two areas we've really got to fix."

But Vickerman feels like his team is ready to make a statement. They ran the Cats very close in their house before Ennis' flukey banked three-pointer sealed the deal. American big Gary Wilkinson has found his form, Tom Abercrombie, too, is playing at a high level and they're working hard on hastening the education of young point guard Kerron Johnson.

"We look forward to this one," said Vickerman. "We've played Perth fairly well both times, now we just need to take that extra step. We're confident we can do a better job defensively this week." 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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