Clarke main threat in Breakers must-win clash
Kerron Johnson understands full well the challenge facing the struggling Breakers this week in the form of arguably the best little man in the Australian National Basketball League.
The Breakers point guard says it will take his entire team to contain the threat of Wollongong Hawks star Rotnei Clarke in what's pretty much a must-win clash at the NSEC tomorrow night.
Clarke may be, pound for pound, the best player in this league. He can't dominate physically like the Wildcats' James Ennis, and doesn't have the pure offensive skills of the Tigers' Chris Goulding, nor the indomitable will of the Breakers' own Mika Vukona.
But the American's numbers suggest he packs serious game into a frame generously listed at 1.83 metres. He's third in scoring league-wide with 21.1ppg, shooting at a decent 47 per cent clip from the floor and 42 from deep. His 51 triples also rank third overall.
Johnson knew Clarke from their college days when as fellow mid-major point guards (Johnson at Belmont, Clarke at Butler) they kept a close eye on one another.
"He's a very good offensive player, and you've got to make every shot tough and try to wear him down on defence," Johnson said. "They do a good job of putting him in a position where he can save energy for the offensive end. You've got to find a way to make him work on defence."
The Breakers have had mixed success against Clarke thus far, winning both games but seeing him go for 20 points (8/17 FG) and 36 (13/23 FG, 5/11 3PT) in the victories.
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and with the 6-11 Breakers and 6-10 Hawks both in urgent need of a victory, Johnson wants his team-mates keyed in on Clarke.
"We've got to guard him with our whole team. Everybody has to be locked in when he has the ball, and when he's coming off screens, and we've got to frustrate him, keep the ball out of his hands and make those other players make plays.
"They revolve around him. You can't completely shut him down, but you've got to take out those spots where he goes for eight quick points, keep him off balance, keep running traps at him, and don't ever let him feel comfortable."
Johnson reckons it's all about finding consistency for the Breakers now - something they were unable to do over their post-Christmas quartet of road games when they went 2-2, but twice followed notable victories with badly off-key performances.
"To do what we want to do this year, we've got to become more consistent," said Johnson who's averaging 13.4 points, 4.0 assists and 2.9 rebounds in his first year as a pro. "We need 'em all now. These are win or go home games for us, and you never know which loss could keep you out, or which win could put you in."
The reality is the Breakers need to win something like eight of their last 11 games, though their draw is favourable. They have seven home games left, and just one against a top-two side (at Adelaide on February 23).
Johnson says belief remains high in the team, but that has to be backed up by better effort and execution on the court.
"Right now people are trying to pound us into the ground, and we've got to find that dog inside of us, and come out and fight and show that passion to our home crowd, feed off them and get these wins."
Having big man Alex Pledger back will be a huge boost, says Johnson. A final call will be made today on the readiness of his injured ankle.
"People have stuff to say when he's there, but you see how much we miss him when he's not there," Johnson says. "We've missed his shot-blocking, we've missed that anchor in the middle and we've missed his rebounding."