Breakers shoot for double over Sydney Kings
A defining fortnight looms for the NZ Breakers and their long-shot tilt at a place in the Australian NBL playoffs.
After sneaking past the Wollongong Hawks 106-101 on Thursday night, the Breakers edged to 7-11 for the season - still some way off the 8-8 mark of the fourth-placed Sydney Kings.
As it happens the Breakers are about to go back to back, home and away, against those Kings over a fortnight that could make or break the threepeat champions' shot at the post-season.
A split is the minimum requirement and, really, the Breakers could do with winning both games against possibly the only team in the top four they have a shot at hauling in.
The third-placed Melbourne Tigers' 83-80 upset of the Wildcats in Perth on Friday night has improved their record to 11-8 and it's going to be a big ask for the Kiwi club to make up that gulf.
But with Sydney in their sights and the chance to control their own destiny with those back-to-back matchups, the Breakers are steeling for a defining period, starting this Thursday at Vector.
"We're one up on them right now, but they've changed their roster a bit, added a few more pieces, and they're playing great basketball at the moment," said Breakers coach Dean Vickerman of a Kings side his team toppled in Sydney over their four-game holiday season road swing.
"It will be a great contest. It seems like we haven't been at Vector for a long time, and it will be nice to get back there. We rested a lot [last] week, and had just one hard session coming off the Perth game.
"Again we've just got to make sure we manage our loads well and have the same kind of energy we had [against the Hawks]."
Breakers small forward Tom Abercrombie, who found his groove with 20 points on seven-of-13 shooting against Wollongong, says it's about the team grabbing hold of their own destiny now.
"We've got the really hard stretch out of the way now and six of our last 10 games are at home. It's important we take care of our home court if we want to have any chance of making the playoffs.
"In that respect Wollongong was almost must-win, and we've wrapped up the series against them. That's the first team we've got a series win against this year, and hopefully we can carry on that momentum into next week."
Abercrombie feels like the slick offensive effort against the Hawks - if not some of the lax defending - will have done the world of good for the stuttering Breakers group.
"We certainly go in with a lot of confidence, but we know they're playing very well as well. They're starting to find their rhythm again after a couple of changes over the Christmas period, and have a lot of weapons. But we'll back ourselves to beat them."
The Breakers will need more of the slick shooting from the Hawks game, where they went 56 per cent from the field and 58 from deep. Reuben Te Rangi, Corey Webster and Gary Wilkinson all went three-of-three from deep, while Abercrombie and a fired-up Kerron Johnson also knocked down a trifecta of triples.
But the Breakers' defence left a lot to be desired against the Hawks as the visitors also shot 56 per cent from the field and had a mammoth 50 points in the paint.
Centre Alex Pledger, who would solve some of the defensive issues, remains in doubt with his ankle problems. Fill-in big Casey Frank will remain with the squad while the seven-footer is assessed.
The Kings, on a three-game win streak, will come to Auckland with a real spring in their step. The Breakers simply must find a way to sit the Sydneysiders on their backsides.