Blow for Breakers ahead of trip to face Sydney
The New Zealand Breakers have suffered a major setback on the eve of a pivotal trip to Sydney to launch the second phase of the Australian NBL season.
Starting centre and Tall Black Alex Pledger has been ruled out of Sunday's clash against the Kings after spraining his left ankle in practice on Boxing Day, leaving the struggling defending champions severely under-sized as they look to turn their sagging season around.
At 4-9 and in the midst of a three-game losing skid, the defection of their rim-protecting big man is the last thing the last-placed Breakers need.
Pledger is averaging 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds this season.
Classy American Gary Wilkinson, who has been running more freely of late after recent back problems, will now step in to the starting centre position, with the Kiwi club likely to have to go severely small ball when he's off the floor.
Coach Dean Vickerman said it's a situation the threepeat champions are just going to have to deal with as they look to turn their season around. They probably need to win at least 10 of their remaining 15 games to have any chance of forcing their way back into the playoff picture.
"This is not the way Alex wanted to start the second half of the season," said Vickerman. "He has just come right from an injury to the other ankle and now he sprains the other one. He will concentrate on his rehab with our medical team and won't travel to Sydney.
"That means an opportunity for Gary (Wilkinson). We know he can step up and now he gets an opportunity to start, and he is looking forward to it. We are a little smaller now as a group, so it's important we pick up the slack in rebounding that Alex is so known for."
Pledger's absence will require Wilkinson, Mika Vukona and probably Tom Abercrombie to log extra minutes, and it will be vital they keep out of foul trouble.
The club will likely call on schoolboy Tall Black, and development player, Jack Salt to play a little backup centre, and his height may be needed against a Kings frontline headed by Boomer AJ Ogilvy and also including former NBA frontliner Sam Young.
Club physio Anousith Bouaaphone said Pledger's injury looked like a grade two strain which could require a three to four-week recovery period. The Breakers' next game following Sydney is in Adelaide on January 4.
The Breakers travel to Sydney tomorrow with tipoff at 4pm (NZ time) on Sunday.
In a season where very little has gone to plan so far, the threepeat champions must shake off this latest setback and find a way to pick up a much-needed victory without their most dominant big man.