Breakers need to find some winning mongrel
The challenge is problematic, but the Breakers have to find some mongrel at a time when the Australian NBL has the fighting breeds on a short leash.
Tonight the struggling 4-8 Breakers host the surging 11-1 Perth Wildcats at Vector in their last home game until January 23 and the finale before a league-wide two-week Christmas break.
It's a huge game for the Breakers who have already lost twice to the Cats - the team they beat in the last two grand finals - and after dropping last weekend's road double in Perth and Melbourne have slipped well outside the top four.
The Breakers, as it stands, are in grave danger of missing their own post-season party (a shot at an historic fourth straight 'ship), and need to turn things round sooner rather than later. Tonight would be a much-needed injection of confidence if the purring felines can be despatched.
To do so the Breakers are going to have to play better defence than they've exhibited for most of this season, and certainly for last Friday's 91-95 defeat in Perth. Then, they allowed the Cats' import duo of James Ennis and Jermaine Beal to combine for 61 points.
They've also been guilty of letting a succession of winnable games slip through their grasp - five of their eight defeats have been by four or less, seven by 10 or under. When push has come to shove, they've been the ones stumbling backwards.
"We have to start winning," says in-form small forward Tom Abercrombie who's the team's leading scorer at 14.6ppg. "It's not a situation we've found ourselves in for a long time but it's a great challenge to try to bounce back, and use the motivation from those close losses to spur us to get after it.
"The problem is the way they're reffing it this year you can't bring out the mongrel, or you won't have any players left on the court".
Assistant coach Paul Henare, as hard-nosed a type as there was in his playing days, admits it's a challenge that requires some subtlety.
"You look at a guy like Mika Vukona who's having close to a career year (11.3ppg, 8.5rpg), and it's about energy levels and where you place that energy in the game," adds Henare. "For us it's a different type of mongrel - you trust each other, trust your systems, your rules and if you get all five guys locked in, that can be a type of mongrel where you're just really solid as a team."
Abercrombie says it's time to make a "stand" on defence, to match solid scoring numbers being put up team-wide.
"It's about stringing stops together to get some momentum. We'll go through spells where we get one or two stops, then we'll foul, put them on the line and that momentum is gone."
But Abercrombie has found defensive staunchness a problem with refs blowing fouls on suspicion. Early on that forced him to become tentative. Now he's rethought it.
"I ended up saying I've got to play the way I play and whatever happens, happens. That mindset has worked better for me.
"As a team we've done a better job in that area, though last week they tightened up on calls again and that put us on the back foot. We've just got to keep adjusting."
All is not lost, adds Abercrombie. He feels the Breakers are "not far off" cracking it with so many of those eight defeats coming down to one or two plays flipping against them.
"It's not about changing anything drastically, it's just a couple of minor tweaks here or there, and adding a couple of things we feel like can get us some better looks."
Beal and Ennis will be the first targets. They had it too easy in Perth. The Breakers need to show some bite to match their bark when it comes to containing these freescoring Americans.
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