Breakers' coach buoyant despite heavy defeat
The Breakers still obstinately see the glass as half full as their Australian NBL playoff destiny hangs in the balance.
The slumping Auckland club yesterday did their best to rationalise a second-straight holiday season butt-kicking at the hands of a top-two rival, declaring they still control their playoff destiny.
The champions of the past three years were pummelled 97-72 by the Wildcats at the Perth Arena on Friday night in front of a sellout crowd of 13,000. The victory completed a season sweep of their Kiwi rivals by the 15-3 league leaders.
The defeat - the second from a four-game holiday road stretch - edged the Breakers to 6-11 for the season and perilously close to the point of no return. They have 11 games remaining, and probably need to win eight to force their way into a post-season spot.
The good news is only one of those remaining games is against a top-two side (a visit to Adelaide on February 23) and the remainder feature teams also contending for the lower playoff spots.
"Our No 1 goal is to give ourselves a chance of winning the championship," said assistant coach Paul Henare yesterday. "That means making the playoffs first, and we play Sydney three times, Cairns three times, and Wollongong twice. They're all teams we're fighting with and as far as we're concerned we're well and truly still in this.
"Each game from now is almost like double points. We beat one of those teams, we get the win and they get a loss, and that's a pretty easy formula as far as I'm concerned."
The Breakers are hoping the return of Alex Pledger, who's been out a month with an ankle injury, will give them a timely boost for a short-turnaround Thursday clash against the 6-9 Wollongong Hawks at the NSEC.
Pledger is no certainty to play - fill-in Casey Frank will be retained another week - but Henare is hoping the Tall Blacks centre can get through a week of practice to prove his readiness.
"At seven feet and a pretty good athlete at that, he brings a certain skillset, size and rebounding. We've definitely missed him, and we're looking forward to getting him back."
Despite their steadfast optimism, the Breakers are going to have to shake off their dreadful inconsistency. They were outplayed in every department by the Wildcats, who dominated the contest from go to woe. Gary Wilkinson's 21 points and six boards stood out like a beacon on an otherwise sorry stats sheet.
"We haven't been able to back things up, and that's a bit of a worry and a disappointment," added Henare, who blasted his players for not being in the right head space to face the league's best side.
"Maybe we weren't in it before the game. I just think the mental errors and things that happened throughout were a product of us not being ready mentally.
"We felt we'd been able to push the best team in the league pretty well [in the previous three games], but a performance like that just compounds the disappointment."
A soft defensive effort that coughed up 57 first-half points pretty much buried the Breakers by halftime as they trailed by 20.
"That had too many free-throws and too many wide open threes," lamented Henare, who refused to blame the refereeing after Tom Abercrombie (just three points on one-of-eight shooting), Mika Vukona and Casey Frank (in just seven minutes) all fouled out.
The Breakers clearly have to refind that focus and energy by Thursday.
"We're due for a good game ... Our No 1 focus is getting the bodies right and working out how we can beat Wollongong."